In search of a localized food system for Hamilton

Hamilton Eat Local has been completely overwhelmed by the positive response to our second annual local food map. Local food – it seems – is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and we’ve received a lot of feedback on what local food enthusiasts would like to see in Hamilton in the future. Here’s a rundown:
The recurring issue that arises is distribution – how to get more local food to more consumers? Farmers’ markets, on farm markets and CSA delivery programs are enjoyable, relatively convenient and great sources of fresh, healthy food but it is difficult, and often expensive, for most residents to travel beyond the urban boundary for locally grown food and the vast majority
of our local farmers do not attend local farmers’ markets. Moreover, there are only a handful of active farmers at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market – the more central of the two and the general consensus is that there should be many more. The chorus is consistent: “I want to eat local, but it’s easier not to.”
There are those who believe in the benefits of eating locally and incorporate this into their businesses, such as Chef Jeff Crump of Ancaster Old Mill, who makes a point of going the extra mile (literally) to source his menu with fresh locally-grown ingredients. He often works closely with his suppliers to ensure quality and supply. Many businesses strive to include local foods on their menu and shelves because they know that by buying local they are providing customers with the fi nest food available. On farm markets and stores are another terrifi c source of
locally grown food as many farmers retail products raised and produced by their friends and neighbours. However, it remains a logistical challenge to drop off the food service delivery truck route and purchase ingredients from up to a dozen individual suppliers.
There are many different models of local food distribution that can inspire similar developments here, in our city. One example is the Elmira Produce Auction Cooperative (EPAC) - a mini-terminal at which farmers from within a 75 km radius of the warehouse are able to sell their produce to buyers at market prices. Local Food Plus (LFP) has successfully launched its own
producer certifi cation program meant to clearly highlight local, sustainably produced food. LFP certifi ed food is now available for purchase at the University of Toronto as well as retailers such as Fiesta Farms and the Big Carrot. The City of Ottawa recently welcomed the offi cial opening of the Ottawa Valley Food Co-op, a 100 member organization (including 20 producers) whose
goal it is to source and distribute locally grown food year round.
These organizations and scores of others highlight that it’s possible to relocalize the food economy in a way that benefits producers, consumers and all those other actors who strive to insure the sustainability and integrity of our local food system. Hamilton has one of the finest and most productive agricultural economies in the province. We boast one of the most diverse
ranges of agricultural production in the region and enjoy proximity to the country’s largest market for local food. Add to that a growing food scene, a passionate environmental and social justice community, a strong and vibrant farm community, and a supportive political environment and Hamilton has what it takes to become a provincial leader in supporting a sustainable local food system for generations.

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