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Going local goes mainstream

It’s time to stop calling local food a trend.

In 2007, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon published The 100-Mile Diet, a book about their yearlong experiment with eating only locally grown foods. The book was a bestseller and popularized the idea of eating local – bypassing food that had been shipped over borders and oceans in favour of buying directly from farms and farmers’ markets.

Anna Contini of Foodlink Waterloo Region says consumers are increasingly interested in local food options.
Anna Contini of Foodlink Waterloo Region says consumers are increasingly interested in local food options.

The book may have given it a catchy title, but the concept has been around much longer. Foodlink Waterloo Region has been publishing its Buy Local! Buy Fresh! map showing local food sources for nine years.

Foodlink’s marketing director, Anna Contini, noted the map’s listings have stayed largely the same for the past few years, but demand has picked up in recent years as the idea of eating locally has gained traction. They printed close to 40,000 copies this year, and people are eager to get their hands on it.

“It’s a highly sought-after commodity,” she said.

Contini noted that Waterloo Region is a mecca for shoppers looking for locally-grown and raised food, with the cities surrounded by farms offering a wide range of products and the region dotted by farmers’ markets.

Contini has also seen a resurgence in “old-fashioned” skills like canning, pickling and freezing, which allow people to extend the season for local food through the winter.

“I don’t see it as a trend,” Contini said. “It may have started as a trend, but it’s become more mainstream.”
Local farmer Stuart Horst agrees. He sees more and more customers stopping by his on-farm market north of Elmira. His regular customers stop by weekly or twice a week to pick up fresh produce.

“There’s an increase this year again; we have almost yearly increases,” he said. “I think the local food movement is here to stay. It’s not a fad.”

The Horsts extend the season for fresh produce into the winter with greenhouse-grown tomatoes, available from March to mid-December. Stuart’s goal is to add more greenhouses and eventually have fresh tomatoes available year-round.

Horst also sees more grocery stores carrying more locally-grown food, in response to demand from customers.

Elmira Foodland owner Doug Pagett said each Foodland store is allowed to do a certain percentage of outside buying, which their store uses for local produce. He does the buying himself, at the Elmira Produce Auction as well as directly from farmers.

The auction runs from April to October or November, and after it ends, there are a few farmers who have things like squash and potatoes that can be stored. Last year they were able to carry locally-grown produce until well after Christmas.

“It’s not quite year-round, but it’s getting there.”

Pagett is hoping to expand local buying beyond produce in the future. As the Buy Local map makes clear, local food means much more than produce; the map includes meats from beef to emu and rabbit, dairy, grains, preserves and syrup.

The map launches today (Saturday) at the Kitchener Farmer’s Market at 10 a.m. The map is available at local libraries, farmers’ markets and tourist information centres.

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