© â Telegram file photo
Mike Barsky and Andrew Maunder of Bacalao
A new report confirms what people in Newfoundlandâs food business have known for some time: Canadians are trying to eat locally more.
BMOâs third annual food survey found the top reasons people buy and eat local food are:
â° The food is fresh and tastes better (97 per cent of respondents);
â° It supports the local economy (97 per cent);
â° It supports local farmers (96 per cent).
Chris Lester of Lesterâs Farm Market in St. Johnâs says the surveyâs findings jibe with an increase in awareness of and desire for local food among Lesterâs customers, in a province that faces significant challenges in producing all its own food.
âItâs a movement thatâs probably significant to Newfoundlanders moreso than any other population on the continent, really, considering our food security and the food miles that our food actually travels,â he said Friday. âWeâve probably got one of the shortest growing seasons of any major population across the country.â
More and more farmers are concerned about extending the growing season, said Lester.
âTwenty years ago, we could only produce vegetables for 12 weeks or so, but now with plastic culture, which is the use of mini-tunnels and plastic mulch and different planting varieties, weâre starting to harvest beginning in June and weâre not finishing up until almost into December. The next step is to review the whole hydroponic idea, using greenhouses to be producing food more year-round.â
Michelle Leblanc, president of the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, said people are increasingly looking for a more local overall experience, including food, spirits and beer.
âI think itâs a sustainability thing, and reducing the carbon footprint on shipping things here, and looking for things that are from Newfoundland and to see what we can do with it,â she said. âPeople are always impressed with the local fare here, and what product can grow. Itâs not everywhere in the world you can get moose for dinner at a restaurant, or seal or rabbit, or local fish. Weâve got such a large variety here, that itâs a great way to showcase it all.â
But the province wonât be completely self-sustaining, food-wise, any time soon, she acknowledged.
âThe reality is weâre not going to grow lemons any time soon, or olives and press our own olive oil,â she said. âBut I think if we can at least harvest whatâs available at the time of the year and preserve it. Those olds methods of canning and bottling, and curing meats and salting meats, itâs all very important in keeping that security for ourselves here in the province, whether itâs bottling preserves in September when the berries are out, or bottling seal or making sausage.â
Jeremy Bonia, sommelier at Raymonds, a St. Johnâs high-end locally focused restaurant, said theyâve been able to tap into the rising desire for local food, practised by St. Johnâs restaurants such as Bacalao before Raymonds.
âItâs not like weâre the only people doing it. We were one of the early ones to embrace it at a restaurant level,â he said. âAndreaâs (Maunder, co-owner of Bacalao) been doing it at Bacalao too, serving wild game, but theyâve even upped what theyâre doing.â
Restaurants are increasingly seeing thereâs validation in using local ingredients on a menu, he said, and government, restaurants and businesses have a role to play in promoting local food and increasing the provinceâs food security. Producing oneâs own food used to be more necessary for individuals than it is today, he said.
âWeâve had it for years. Newfoundland was sustainable and local before it was even thought of as a word. Everybody had gardens. Everybody had root cellars to keep stuff over winter. They had fish in summer and bottled meat and moose in the winter. Thatâs how our grandparents survived, and even some of our parents.â