Eating Locally in March…in a Polar Vortex

Dana and I aren’t exclusively local though more than 90% of the food we bring into our house is locally grown.  We don’t prescribe to any one label on how we eat but we’re pretty close to locavores when it comes to our home diet (this is challenged when eating out or spending time with some friend and family).

And every winter I seem to end up reflecting on that decision; especially in March.  March and April are the leanest months of the year for fresh, local food in Toronto.  That’s especially true this year when we’ve been buried in more snow that we’ve had in years and faced the coldest weather (over the longest periods) than we’ve faced in many years.  The farmers markets have less selection and many farmers begin to close their tables as they run out of stored foods and less people attend to purchase them.

Toronto is an amazing place when it comes to local food.  We’re surrounded by farmland in all directions (even south as Lake Ontario turns east around Hamilton).  Relatively long summer months (for Canada) mean ample supplies of fruit, vegetables, meat, game fish and more.  The cold winters allow for cold storage and recent years have seen many farmers start to grow crops to sell over winter as they know there’s an appetite (pun intended!) to support the supply.

We’ve been eating this way for about 6 years.  Each year we learn new things; we didn’t get here overnight and continue to learn day-by-day.  And, when March comes, I tend to reflect on why we do this and how it’s working out.  And, as in years past, I am often surprised to find that each year gets easier (even when the previous didn’t feel like a struggle) and that we’re as committed as ever to support the farms and markets that we do.

5 reasons why eating local has become easier in recent years:

  1. Availability.  Farmers are planning for winter markets.  In addition to planning, they are investing in storage facilities to extend the harvest and are interested in attending winter markets.
  2. Low-technology.  Many of our farming friends have invested in low-cost technology that allow them to grow organic food in the winter.  Hoop houses, greenhouses and more have been bootstrapped to create affordable solutions to extend the growing season.
  3. Innovation.  Instead of looking at traditional crops, farmers have figured out alternatives (such as sprouts and shoots) that can grow in the winter without elaborate infrastructure.
  4. Our cooking ability.  As we learn more ways to use squash, sunchokes, sweet potatoes and other winter food we gain diversity on our table.  If the ingredients are limited (compared to summer), our imagination and ability in the kitchen can bring variety to our plates.
  5. Our evolving pantry.  As we preserve more food and learn other ways and recipes to do so, our pantry becomes more interesting.  This evolution allows limited options to be transformed into endless combinations.

If you eat locally, what are your options/ what do you do to get through the winter months?

The CFIA Defines Local… again. And Messes up… again.

It was almost a year ago when the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) launched a definition for the word “local” and I vetted our concerns.  The definition was simultaneously too stringent (it limited local to 50 kilometers which would almost make “local” food a commercial impossibility within large city limits) while also being way too hole-ridden (using the word ‘or’ meant ambiguous application was possible).

The CFIA Defines Local... again.  And Messes up... again. Local Food Food Politics CFIA Canadian Food Inspection Agency

A different definition of local food from 2011 where we redistributed the 100-mile circle into a dinosaur-like shape that covered Southern Ontario and even parts of the north.

The definition stayed in tact from last June without much noise until April when the CFIA ordered a hamburger joint to remove the word “local” from it’s marketing material. The story received a lot of press – many people thought that the distance would have been considered local but, because there were more than 2 counties separating the farm from the restaurant, it could not be labelled “local.”

On May 10th, the CFIA quietly revised the legislation and announced an ‘interim‘ definition (with no announced timeframe before revisiting. (more after the break) [Read more...]