Buying food locally and growing our own

During the provincial election campaign the main candidates in the Riding of Prince Edward-Hastings agreed on buying locally-grown, or at least Ontario-grown food, but did they go far enough? At the all-candidates debate at Loyalist College on Oct. 4, Eric Den Oueden, Progressive Conservative candidate said a Conservative government would serve Ontario-produced food in the Legislature, prisons, hospitals and schools. He also spoke about changing the regulations so locally-grown Ontario wines can be sold at farmers markets and in convenience stores.

Leona Dombrowsky, Liberal candidate, spoke about promoting Eat Ontario Freshness and Food Land Ontario, and supporting farmers markets.

Jody Jenkins, New Democrat Party candidate, served food grown within 100 miles of Belleville at his campaign launch. At the debate he quoted an employee at General Mills, Trenton saying the plant used butter for South America and he asked is this why the plant is closing. Jenkins also said the NDP wants to increase shelf space for Foodland Ontario products in grocery stores.

Jim Arkilander, Green Party candidate threw the ball into the consumers’ court saying people shouldn’t buy food, which is grown elsewhere.

The idea of the 100-mile diet or a diet based on food grown within a 100-mile radius of where one lives has become popular partly because of a book by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating. They chose the title 100 miles rather than 100 kilometres as it rolls of the tongue better.

For one year, starting in spring 2005, they decided to buy or gather their food and drink from within 100 miles of their apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia. They did this in response to the so-called SUV diet of most North Americans where each ingredient has traveled at least 1,500 miles.

Smith and MacKinnon ate lots of potatoes instead of bread and pasta as they took time to find a farmer in BC who grew wheat. In Prince Edward Hastings one could follow a 100-mile diet more easily and one could have a varied diet by eating foods in season. Smith and MacKinnon found it took time to find sources of local food and longer to make food from scratch and to can it for winter. They also found most people have limited idea of what can be grown locally.

The 100 Mile Diet gives lots of reasons for eating local and ways of connecting with others in your region.

What the Prince Edward-Hastings candidates didn’t talk about is growing one’s own food. There is an interesting program in the north east of England, which links growing food with the whole issue of sustainability. It is called Dott 07 (Designs of the Times 2007)

The project involves a year of community projects, events and exhibitions based in North East England that explore what life in a sustainable region could be like – and how design can help one get there.

There is a strong urban agriculture component of the project. In the summer and autumn 2007, thousands of people living and working in the former steel-making town of Middlesbrough, Tees Valley have been growing food on open land within the town, preparing it and serving it. The project is devoted to the cause of local food production and reducing food miles.

The bigger agenda of Dott 2007 is a healthier, low carbon economy and more sustainable local food systems. The project is helping raise awareness of the benefits and opportunities for growing and securing food for towns and cities. It is an initiative of the Design Council and the regional development agency, and enables communities and individuals to work with designers to find solutions.

There are some good examples of urban agriculture projects in Canada, such as Vancouver Urban Agriculture. The project promotes community gardens seed banks, and roof top gardens.

Another is LifeCycles, a nonprofit organization in Victoria B.C. dedicated to cultivating awareness and initiating action around food, health, and urban sustainability in the Greater Victoria community. It runs projects like sharing back yards, and the Fruit Tree Project, which turns backyard fruit trees into a valuable source of food for the community.

Locally there are projects like Food Down the Road. In Prince Edward County there is Slow Food the County