It is ironic that while farmers struggle to make a living people can go hungry in Hastings County. Harvest Hastings members met the Food Security Network of Hastings and Prince Edward counties at Grills Orchards on February 17 to find new ways of making local food available to people facing food insecurity.
Ruth Ingersol, Introduction the Food Security Network (FSN): Louise Livingstone introduced Ruth Ingersol from the Community Development Council for Quinte . We would like everybody to eat in Hastings County. Unfortunately not every one can,” said Ruth Ingersol. The FSN began because of this. She said there are different understanding of what it means to be food secure. The FSN has adopted the definition ‘Access to adequate, safe, affordable, nutritious, personally acceptable food.’ She pointed out individuals have different abilities when it comess to accessing food and processing it.
At present 9.27% of households in Canada are affected by food insecurity. One finds higher rates of poverty amongst lone parents, the homeless and people on social assistance and this is a real issue in Hastings County and Prince Edward County.
The FSN started in January 2009 promotes the idea of that food security in important (both in the short and long term). There are 20 - 25 members working together on the FSN. The group is involved with education and advocacy. The FSN has talked with MPPs and MPs and held a community forum.
She said people on a low fixed income have problems as money is taken out for rent, hydro and heat before food and the food budget is seen as flexible. The Community Development Council of Quinte (CDCQ) organizes community kitchens, the Food for Thought program teaching elementary students about cooking. The CDCQ also provides Good Food Boxes and Baby Boxes.
People are not just in constant poverty, she said as some people have emergency situations where they become food insecure. “It is important to raise awareness, to educate and to promote the food programs that are out there,” she said.
There are other ways to improve food security as well as providing the Good Food Boxes. The CDCQ help people who don’t know how to cook food. They are working with families in Belleville with no cooking skills. Once a mom has some recipes she gets excited about cooking.
There was a discussion about the Good Food Box and how farmers can contribute and get a fair price. Ruth Ingersol said she could get big savings by buying in bulk. A small Good Food Box costs $10 and a large one costs $20. It is hard to place an actual value on them as prices vary considerably in parts of Hastings County. A large box could be worth $35.
John Richter asked if the Good Food Box needs No 1 product or NO 2 product. Ruth Ingersol said she would buy No. 2 product if they are good quality. A large Good Food Box lasts eight to ten days and at this time contains apples, oranges, and tinned goods. She explained the more people buy boxes the greater her buying power. She doesn’t discriminate and anyone can buy a box.
Paul Lauder, who runs the Madoc Food Bank said the homeless can’t store food. He finds people who are couch surfing in Madoc often barter food for a place to stay.
Ruth Ingersol finished by saying the FSN works to create community awareness and to let people know how to access food banks, community dinners and other services. It is all about building connections.
Tim Maude suggested the ideas of having a virtual food terminal on the website.
Grills Orchards local food retail outlet: Diane McPherson said Grills Orchards used to provide apples for 60 stores from Kingston to Peterborourgh. Suddenly they were no longer allowed to pack and distribute. “The grocery chains have full control and you have to do what they tell you to do,” said Diane McPherson.
Grills Orchard used to have eight to 10 full-time employees packing and distributing apples. They switched from wholesale to retail and now have brought in other farmers on consignment and sell their products in their store. Diane McPherson talks to each farmers so she can tell her customers about them. “People know what they are getting is local and local isn’t just anything in Ontario,” she said. “We work hard for other farmers.”
Grills Orchards put apples away to have them available through May and June if it is a good season. Recently they took out 17 acres of large trees and are planting semi-dwarfs apple trees as they are more productive. Orchards are being lost as farmers are getting elderly and now in PEC grapes are grown instead of apples.
Susanne Quinlan: Director of Gleaners and Quinte Tri-Counties regional food banks: The group owns a warehouse building and is the greenest in Canada. There are 900 food banks in Ontario and every region has a distribution warehouse and all are register charities. The Gleaners website has expanded and one can now can buy a basket for one’s family and make donations online. They have raised $2,600 so far from donations made on line.
Gleaners spent $3000 on potatoes in 2010. Susanne Quinlan said they stopped buying chicken dogs and bought 1200 pounds of ground beef instead. Clayton Long picks up the animals takes them to Rhua Meats were the meat is dressed. Gleaners doesn’t want to provide cheap (inferior) meat for the clients.
The local dairy farmers give milk to Reid’s Dairy for the food banks. Reid’s process the milk for free. The food banks also buy milk for Reid’s Dairy.
“Gleaners budget for food is $50,000,” said Susanne Quinlan. “We follow Canada’s Food Guide to make sure food is nutritious.”
Gleaner’s has also created an organic garden, which is doing fairly well. It produced 3,000 kg of produce in 2010. They used using heritage seeds for Karyn Wright at Terra Edibles. They collect water from the roof and use rain barrels in the garden. They also put up 72 solar panels on the roof and installed energy efficient light bulbs and use ice for air conditioning.
They do not use plastic bags and have women making cotton bags to distribute to clients.
Ontario Association of Food Banks is supporting Bill 78, which would give farmers 100 % taxation when donating to food bank.
“Gleaners is a lean machine,” said Susanne Quinlan. “We spent $500,000 on a warehouse building and now the the mortgage is down to $140,00.” They did this though fund raising and lowering costs.
She reminded Harvest Hastings members they are invited to the Empty Bowls event at Loyalist College on March 26. They can have display tables and promote their businesses at no charge other than donating a door price.
Kevin Durkin, beef farmer in Tyendinaga, chair of Harvest Hastings: Beef farmers in Hastings County farm on land that is stony with fields that are too small for arable farming with large modern machinery, and more suited to grazing. “We have the rain that grows good grass. It is a very efficient use of land and we don’t need to irrigate,” said Kevin Durkin. “Cows are good at converting grass into protein.”
He runs a cow calf operation and feed cows all the year round on grass from May to October and on hay (dried grass) through the winter. A cow carries a calf for nine months and the calf is full grown at 12 - 15 months. In the second year the animal is weaned and fed on grass and hay.
“Costs have sky rocketed and we are getting the same price as 30 years ago,” said Kevin Durkin. “Thirty years ago we one could drive cattle down roads now the cattle need to be trucked and this is very expensive.” Locally animals are sold at auction at Hoards, sent away or sold privately.
He explained the difference between grass-fed beef and corn-fed beef. Grass-fed beef is leaner than corn fed beef and this influences how you cook beef. He also spoke about different cuts of beef from hamburger to top end cuts. This makes it complicated to market the whole animal.
Lynn Davis a beef and sheep farmer from Maple Leaf said, “China has an increasing middle class and the demand for beef is going up, which should influence the prices Canadian farmers will get. The sheep and pork farmers spoke about this issues around selling smaller animals.
Nadine Richter, Richter Greenhouse: works in partnership with her father John Richter growing flowering plants and vegetables. They do custom planting for customers, growing peppers, onions, tomatoes plants and vegetables for sale at the farm gate and at farmers’ market. “Hopefully, we will have a good season,” said Nadine Richter.They start seedlings in basement of their house then to move them to the green house and everything is ready for planting on May 24. They sell vegetables plants at the May 24 weekend.
They are also working with the Culinary School at Loyalist College introducing students to work in the greenhouses and custom growing vegetables for them.