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Plotting a course for local food

Foodlink manager Anna Contini with the 2014 map that’s now available to those looking to include more local food in their diets.[steve kannon / the observer]
Foodlink manager Anna Contini with the 2014 map that’s now available to those looking to include more local food in their diets. [steve kannon / the observer]
Locally grown asparagus is making its way to roadside stands, grocery stores and, perhaps, your plate. That means it’s also time for another favourite of local foodies: the latest Buy Local! Buy Fresh! map.

“We try to time the publishing date with the asparagus crop,” explained Anna Contini, manager of Foodlink Waterloo Region, which produces the map. Asparagus is the first crop of the area’s outdoor growing season.

Now available, the map gets its official launch May 24 at the Cambridge Market, where there’ll be a display set up outside and free copies of the new map will be available from representatives of Foodlink.

The Cambridge location is a first for the organization, with the map now in its 13th year, the first version having been printed in 2002.

While the map and much about local food is tied to spring and the upcoming growing season, Contini is quick to note local food can be sourced through all four seasons.

“There’s local food available year-round. It’s not only produce, but meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, maple syrup, preserves …,” she said. Add to the list the likes of root vegetables and fruits such as apples and “it’s possible to eat local all year.”

On the produce side, asparagus is available now, to be followed by rhubarb, spinach and other greens. Next month, fresh strawberries will be widely anticipated.

What’s in season and where to get it is part of the information package.

“That’s right on the map this year.”

Foodlink is a non-profit collaboration between farms, food processors, distributors, retailers, restaurants and other community stakeholders in Waterloo Region. The organization distributes some 40,000 copies.

Along with the map of their locations, each farm has a listing with its contact info, hours, items for sale and any additional features, such as u-pick, certified organic, farm tours or community shared agriculture.

Contini notes that a number of farm operations have gone beyond a simple stand at the laneway. Some have expanded what they grow and make available, as well as making space for the produce and other items grown by fellow farmers.

“The idea is to make it a place for convenient, one-stop shopping,” she said. “Those farm markets … are a good model.”

She points to the likes of Floralane Produce in Floradale and Martin’s Family Fruit Farm in St. Jacobs as examples of expanding the shopping experience.

“It’s exciting to see that kind of thing in the local food movement.”

Such moves only enhance the local food experience, which she’s seen a growing enthusiasm for. Foodlink is part of that, its map a model for similar efforts in Ontario and in other provinces. Beyond the map, the website – www.foodlink.ca – provides other resources for local foodies.

“There’s how to find it … and what to do with local food once you have it,” said Contini.

“We like to think of ourselves as frontrunners of the local food movement.”

The launch of the 2014 Buy Local! Buy Fresh! map takes place at Cambridge Farmers’ Market, 40 Ainslie Street, from 10 a.m. to noon May 24. The market has been in operation circa 1830 making it one of the oldest in the country. It’s been in the same location since it began.

Copies of the new map are free and are available at all public libraries across the region, as well as selected food retailers, restaurants, markets and other local businesses. Locations can be found on the website.

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