Sunday, 6 June 2010
About 2 weeks ago, Mr. Ferdzy and I went into Owen Sound for a dinner and talk at the Ginger Press. Sarah Elton, author of The Locavore, was the speaker and the dinner was a delicious meal made with local foods by the folks at the Ginger Press. The Ginger Press did not actually publish The Locavore, (Harper Collins has that honour) but graciously agreed to host this event. They did a superb job.
I was an idiot, and although I carefully brought my camera I forgot to take any pictures. You'll have to imagine the scene: about 25 enthusiastic, interesting and interested "local foodies", in both senses of the phrase, at a long table in the Ginger Press bookstore-café, surrounded by locally focused books. We found ourselves sitting between an Owen Sound town councillor (and the manager of the Owen Sound Farmers Market) and a pair of professional mushroom hunters, as we enjoyed smoked fish paté, salad, chicken breast with rhubarb chutney, asparagus and pickled beets as well as a lovely rhubarb fool and cookies for dessert. There were other goodies too and we ate very well indeed.
Sarah Elton, a food reporter with the CBC, travelled across Canada talking to farmers, gardeners, chefs and others about the state of agriculture in this country in order to write this book. There's a lot of rather depressing and frightening information, meticulously gathered and presented, about the parlous state affairs that prevails: farmers in every field (snerk) of agriculture struggling to survive in the face of the massive industrialization, commodification and internationalization that has transformed our food systems during the last 60 years. Fortunately, the people she's been talking to are people who are fighting back, with some impressive successes.
One of the stories that struck me the most, both in her talk and in the book, was of the Brussels sprouts farmers of Dieppe, New Brunswick. At least, they used to be Brussels sprouts farmers, before the McCain freezing plant shut down. Then, after struggling for years to survive, they realized that the only way to do it was to stop trying to compete against each other, band together and sell directly to consumers. The Really Local Harvest Co-op and soon after, the Dieppe Farmers Market, were born. On the first opening day of the Dieppe Farmers Market, 10,000 people showed up.
While this is a story of amazing success, the book is full of people who are making a go of farming in Canada, in the country in and in cities - half the book is devoted to food production in the city. Sarah talked to people growing food in greenhouses, on roofs, and on the prairies. She talked to cheesemakers, chefs and small plot intensive gardeners.
She ends up with a list of suggestions for changing our food systems. They're mostly things I've been doing for while, but it's good to see them laid out explicitly: ask questions, buy foods grown on farms practising sustainable farming, eat in season, avoid processed foods, choose organic and humanely raised meats dairy and eggs, voice your opinion, go to the source, look for restaurants where local and sustainable food is served, search out the alternative, and choose fair trade.
I admit I'm still reading the book, but I wanted to get a post up before the event faded from my mind. Normally I read books in a day, but this is a dense and information-packed book. If you are interested in food in Canada, it's well-worth checking it out.