Healthy Communities Month in Woolwich, marked every April, moves into full swing starting with Monday’s Taste of Woolwich event in Breslau, moving on to a community cleanup day Apr. 21, a Clean Waterways Group tree-planting effort Apr. 24-25, and the Green Living and Tech Fair and sustainable living tours, both on Apr. 28, among a host of other activities.
With a Taste of Woolwich, the organizers hit on a range of issues at play for a healthier and more sustainable future, as food comes with economic, health and environmental impacts. Generally, the more local the food, the better the outcomes on all fronts.
The goal of the event is to showcase what’s available locally, to demonstrate how incorporating local food into our diets needn’t be a chore and to have some fun doing it.
“People will be able to get a sense of what’s available in the township and in the region,” says Anna Contini, manager of Foodlink Waterloo Region and a Taste of Woolwich planning committee member.
From a marketplace through to cooking demonstrations, the emphasis will be on what local food can do for you. While it’s early yet for local produce, except for greenhouse operations such as Floralane Produce, there are meats, grains and dairy products available year-round.
“It’s about getting people primed and tuned in to local foods,” she notes, adding “cooking with good local food and with whole foods doesn’t have to be time-consuming.”
In that vein, and part of the fun component, chef Ryan Terry of Flow Catering in Elmira will hosting a workshop in which he’ll prepare “an egger-potatowich” using a recipe devised by the Elmira Girl Guides. That group was the winner of Local Youth Recipe Challenge, which called on youth groups in the township to make creative use of local ingredients.
Another of the workshops will focus on “What Should We Pay for the Benefits of Local Food?”
Ellen Desjardin and Steve Martin will talk about the costs associated with producing food in Canada and how this impacts the prices we pay.
Local food does tend to cost a little more, but consumers benefit through fresher food and there’s a multiplier effect on the economy, as every local agricultural job support another four jobs, says Contini.
“The more educated people are about the benefits of local food, they’re more likely to pay a bit more for it.”
On the whole, we’re increasingly conscious about the quality of food we buy for ourselves and our families. We’re also more aware of what it costs the environment to have food transported thousands of kilometres to appear at local grocery stores. Then there’s the direct cost: soaring fuel prices have been reflected in what we pay at the checkout counter, not to mention the biofuels debate and the impact on grain prices.
As well, we know farmers are under incredible financial pressures, and that even as retail prices climb, that doesn’t always translate into more cash for producers. In this climate, projects such as the Buy Local! Buy Fresh! program, Local Organic Food Team Co-operative (LOFT) boxes, and community shared agriculture (CSA) programs are offering consumers food that is local, organically grown and offered up through a co-operative that sees farmers get paid directly for their goods.
Public response to such campaigns has been strong.
The local angle jibes with Waterloo Region’s Buy Local! Buy Fresh! campaign, Foodlink and community shared agricultural programs (in which people purchase a “share” in the crops at the beginning of the season and then receive regular deliveries of farm products).
Through its Public Health department, the region has been pushing the health, environmental and economic benefits of local food.
A report compiled by the department shows much of our food travels very long distances before it reaches our tables. In fact, imports of 58 commonly eaten foods travel an average of 4,497 kilometres to Waterloo Region. These imports account for 51,709 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, contributing to climate change and declining air quality.
“Since all of the studied food items could be grown or raised in Waterloo Region, a significant opportunity exists to reduce our contribution to global climate change and air pollution by replacing imports of the studied food items with food items sourced from Waterloo Region or southwestern Ontario. Replacing all the studied food items with products of south-western Ontario would produce an annual reduction in GHG emissions of 49,485 tonnes, equivalent to taking 16,191 cars off our roads. Strategies to strengthen the local food system and make purchasing local food more convenient for consumers have the potential to reduce the environmental impact of food miles in Waterloo Region,” the department reports in Food Miles: Environmental Implications.
Facts like that, along with a desire to know more about the food we eat, have helped drive the local-food trend. Events such as Taste of Woolwich put the issue into context: the focus is on fun, with the educational factor a nice fringe benefit, says Contini.