Musings about our farm, organic farming, regional foods and markets.

Plus, what's in the news about foods, systems and regulations around the world.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Sticker Shock!

Supermarket salad greens advised on January 23 that in December, lettuce in supermarkets was priced on average 21.8% more than a year before; apples 11.8% more; oranges 8.8% more. These price increases and the resulting sticker shock experienced by Canadian supermarket consumers reflect the extended drought afflicting California growers and the nosedive of our currency against the greenback.

There is no need to buy cauliflowers at $8 a head when they are out of season! Right now, Canada imports more than 80 per cent of its fruit and vegetables each year, the majority of which comes from the U.S., according to the University of Guelph's 2016 Food Price Report. This is an absurd ratio, given that Canada exports a huge amount of produce only to import the same products in a different guise, with carrots being cited in the CBC report. The 20% of our food grown here could be way higher if supermarkets were open to changing their modes of purchase, making the distribution chain more efficient by focusing on local supply.

Wheelbarrow Farm stand at Fairmount Park Farmers Market

Farmers markets utilize such a simplified supply chain. They rent space to local certified farmers who sell direct to customers on a regular basis, sometimes year-round. What could be more ideal than buying your food fresh, local, and often free of chemicals, additives and GMOs direct from the people who procured the seeds, grew the crop and brought it in season to their local market? What is more, this produce is not subject to currency fluctuations, droughts and floods and associated production and fossil-fueled delivery problems in far-off places. Nor is there a string of middlemen taking a cut.

Our farm, Rolling Hills Organics, has certified our produce as organic for the past 15 years. The ever-changing weather means that some growing seasons years are more challenging than others. And through these ups and owns that are part and parcel of small-scale farming , our prices have remained stable and have not increased in several years despite inflation in the economy as a whole. For some, our produce may appear expensive. However, when the extreme freshness, nutritional value and organic nature are taken into account, we believe that our products represent great and durable value for money and multiple benefits to health. Compare this to the spike in supermarket prices. As consumers, our family shops less and less at supermarkets as they are full of highly processed foods which are misleadingly labelled (with no mention of GMOs except for the non-GMO certified). The produce is mostly imported as we have established, having traveled an average of 2,000 miles on fossil fuels.

Yet some in the local food movement argue for food being 80% locally-produced and 20% imported, an inverse of the current industrial food system. This feels like a realistic yet ambitious target, and one worth aiming towards. Their UK-based Food Zones Chart illustrates a vision for a sustainable food and farming system that many local farmers at farmers market are already building.