As in most cities, an interest in urban food gardening and agriculture has rebounded. On a recent visit to a supermarket chain, I was surprised to see signs posted high above the fresh produce, reading: Made Near You.
What does that mean—made near you? Does it mean made in Ontario? Or did the local farmer who lives around the corner grow the food? And what constitutes local? Either way as a marketer I thought, what a clever way to get people to buy food. As a foodie, I thought they really are listening to what consumers want and need.
My philosophy remains that I am pro-farmers’ market— I like to buy local and I like to grow some of my own food. However, I still find myself pushing my shopping cart up and down the aisles of the grocery store. I am typical of most people—it’s convenient, open seven days a week and some even stay open for 24 hours.
My local is Trousdale’s Foodland in Sydenham, which I am pleased to report still means I am buying local. Foodland Ontario’s website states they were developed in “1977 as a consumer promotion program of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. They partner with producers to promote and support the consumption of fresh produce and agricultural foods.”
Supermarkets are relatively new; they’ve only been around for four generations. A difficult thing to conceive given that we often visit on average 1-2 times per week, and life without them seems unfathomable. Once we accepted the easy, convenient, affordable one-stop retail shop—we no longer required face-to-face with the farmers, the fisherman, and the fruit growers who produced our food. Today you can even exit, by simply swiping a barcode to make your payment.
I recently read, Food and the City by food writer and urban agriculture enthusiast, Jennifer Cockrall-King. The book takes you on a journey of the urban agriculture movement that is happening across the globe at the moment. In the book, she describes the ‘Pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’, business motto of Jack Cohen, who in 1919 founded Tesco, currently the United Kingdom’s largest supermarket chain at the beginning of the industrial food.
She reflects on the cultural change of urban agriculture, her happy discoveries of finding food growing in cities, in unexpected ways and unique places. Society has changed and is now counting their food miles more than ever.
“I discovered that counting my foods food miles was a luxury that others, even in my own city, didn’t have,” writes Cockrall-King.
“Many large urban centers were coming to be known as food deserts because of the total absence of proper grocery stores, which therefore resulted in less access to affordable, nutritious, fresh food in their immediate vicinity. Usually what remained were convenience stores and fast-food outlets. Food—for the first time in a many generations—is back on the political menu.”
We, as a community, are concerned about preserving local food culture, we question the miles in which our food travels, we understand the need to shorten the food chain to buffer against food shortages and price increases. We also desire to build resilient food security measures for the community.
While not the answer to the crisis in the industrial food system—supermarkets are not the enemy. Foodland Ontario, like others are now finding efficient ways to get the farm fresh food to you, in a convenient way. In fact, supermarket food chains are finally listening on other fronts too. They are buying locally produced food and meat from farmers where possible. Loblaw’s Companies Ltd. works with local food suppliers, to stock their shelves, offering education, and even supply and business strategies to these start up’s. Even cooking classes to teach consumers how to use this healthy food.
Some stores donate their surplus food to the community such as Loving Spoonful a non-profit organization (www.lovingspoonful.org) that supports access to healthy food. One of their programs is a volunteer food reclamation delivery service, which picks up fresh food from restaurants, caters and supermarkets, that may otherwise be wasted, and deliver it to over 20 local food agencies that feed the hungry in the city of Kingston. This is a sustainable way to ensure food, that is safe for consumption, may be simply mislabeled or discontinued products can get to those that are hungry.
Food and the City describes the urban-agriculture revolution happening in many cities across North America and in other places like Europe. It will inspire you to really consider the words “made near you.”
Author, Jennifer Cockrall-King will be in Kingston, Thursday, September 25, 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. as part of the Kingston WritersFest September 24-28, 2014. King will present stories and images about her visits to community gardens in Paris, urban commercial organic farms in Havana, rooftop veggie gardens in London and Seoul, food forests in Edmonton and Seattle, urban bee keepers in Toronto, and the world’s first vertical farm in Chicago. For more information or to get your tickets to other food events at the Kingston WritersFest, visit http://www.kingstonwritersfest.ca.
If you have a restaurant or a foodie biz suggestion email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow my blog LadyDinesAlot.com, on Facebook, or Twitter at #ladydinesalot