For a class project, a group of four students researched local food with an end goal of creating an event, communication tool or published content to demonstrate what they learned.
They brought together local farmers, processors, food organizations, chefs and purveyors at Ayden Kitchen & Bar for a networking, eating and education event. Nearly 100 people attended. What an inspiring bunch of people!
I (Melanie), had the opportunity to share our experiences about building our farm-direct meat business while four other presenters talked about local food from the perspective of a renowned Saskatoon restaurant, an urban farm venture and a rooftop gardening project at the U of S.
Did you know that Saskatchewan is only 7% self-sufficient for in-season fruit and vegetable production (excluding potatoes)? Manitoba is 57% while Alberta is 32% self-sufficient [AAFC 2005].
Did you know that Saskatchewan consumers spend $25 million annually on fruits and vegetables that could be grown here in the province?
Or did you know that Saskatchewan has the second biggest cattle herd in Canada but only 1% of what we raise goes through Saskatchewan meat plants while the 99% is exported elsewhere? [Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, 2012]
Surprised? Saskatchewan has the largest agricultural land base and the largest farms in Canada [Saskatoon Regional Food Assessment Report, December 2013, page 16]. We call ourselves the Bread Basket of the World, yet we cannot feed ourselves. We do not have the processing capacity, marketing savvy, distribution channels, and dare I say, the political will to make that feasible.
With our large production capacity, it is only natural that Saskatchewan agriculture is export focused and will remain so. However, we believe an opportunity exists for a parallel food system that feeds Saskatchewan. Market analysts tell us “We are only a million+ people here. The market isn’t big enough”. But we are a million+ people who need to eat – I’d say that’s a market!
“The 2007 Status Report by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada noted that “the increasing consumer interest in local food around the globe could shut Canadian producers out of the export markets we have come to rely upon,” making it imperative for Canada to create its own markets for locally-grown food (AAFC, 2007). It further noted that “Canada’s historical focus on an export food system has impeded efforts to build a healthy domestic food system;” and that the policy framework “is a significant barrier to local food systems.”” [Towards a Food Strategy for Saskatoon, December 2013, page 16]
We believe that becoming more food self-sufficient is not about reducing exports but rather decreasing imports to diversify and expand our economy. It’s about making the pie bigger for everyone.
Pine View Farms was local before local was a thing. When we started, there was no such thing as the 100 Mile Diet. Saskatchewan has come a long way in 20 years. Kevin and I believe in regional or local food production systems for so many reasons:
- Buying local keeps money flowing in the community. The wages we pay to our staff are spent at the local grocer, the clothing retailer, the hardware store etc. In turn, those businesses support the local accountant, lawyer, suppliers, and so on. We’re all better off when we’re all better off!
- Buying local food reduces transportation miles to market and is good for the environment.
- Did I mention flavor? Locally grown foods can be picked at the peak of freshness and flavor, resulting in a better eating experience.
- Regional food diversity is preserved and increases the culinary creativity of a community.
- Oh yeah, and you, the eater can know where your food was grown and how it was produced. In fact, you can talk to the farmer who grew it!
- Local doesn’t have to mean small either. When you put it all together, it really adds up! Data from the BALLE USA network (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) shows that in America, 2 out of every 3 jobs are created by independently owned businesses. And, for every $10 million spent in local businesses, 57 jobs are created. In contrast, for every $10 million spent at Amazon, only 14 jobs are created.
To be frank, these are challenging times for smaller, local food purveyors and restaurants. Big box stores have invaded the retail space. It’s hard to compete against the gargantuan marketing budgets, seemingly low prices and flashy lights of big box stores and chain restaurants. Plus, their distributions systems are set up to buy nationally or globally, making it basically impossible for small scale producers to get a foot in the door.
Everything has a cost though. While big box stores and chain restaurants pay wages in the local community, the corporate tax and the profits do not necessarily remain here. They leave the province or country, leaving sprawl and sameness in their wake. While the sticker price might be cheaper, the cost to our community is likely greater.
In the end, numbers alone will not convince you to love local, but we think the flavor and the people just might.
Spring is here! Now is the time to venture out and explore what Saskatchewan offers. Here are some ideas:
- Plan a “progressive supper” with friends — take a walking tour of downtown and/or 20th Street eateries and pubs, and savour a bite or drink at each place.
- Follow Saskatoon Chefs on Instagram to see what they’re creating from local, seasonal ingredients.
- Pack the kids in the car, grab a coffee and take a drive out of the city to experience the farm, and buy the ingredients you need for that night’s supper. You might capture a few moments of peace and quiet along the way, and you will definitely find some great ingredients to craft a simple dinner together at home that evening.
- Start a local supper club — either dining with friends at one another’s homes, or meeting at a different local restaurant each month.
- Support your local Farmer’s Market or buy a share in a CSA (community supported agriculture) for in-season produce and local goods. It’s fun, affordable and fresh.
Not a day goes by without Kevin and I being grateful for people like you who choose to support our farm. We wouldn’t be here otherwise. We feel privileged to do what we love — growing food, connecting with customers, sharing stories and becoming friends.
Live local. Eat local. Love local.