© ‚ÄĒ Telegram file photo
Mike Barsky and Andrew Maunder of Bacalao
A new report confirms what people in Newfoundland‚Äôs food business have known for some time: Canadians are trying to eat locally more.
BMO‚Äôs third annual food survey found the top reasons people buy and eat local food are:
‚Äį The food is fresh and tastes better (97 per cent of respondents);
‚Äį It supports the local economy (97 per cent);
‚Äį It supports local farmers (96 per cent).
Chris Lester of Lester‚Äôs Farm Market in St. John‚Äôs says the survey‚Äôs findings jibe with an increase in awareness of and desire for local food among Lester‚Äôs customers, in a province that faces significant challenges in producing all its own food.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a movement that‚Äôs 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,‚ÄĚ he said Friday. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve probably got one of the shortest growing seasons of any major population across the country.‚ÄĚ
More and more farmers are concerned about extending the growing season, said Lester.
‚ÄúTwenty 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, we‚Äôre starting to harvest beginning in June and we‚Äôre 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.‚ÄĚ
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.
‚ÄúI think it‚Äôs 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,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúPeople are always impressed with the local fare here, and what product can grow. It‚Äôs not everywhere in the world you can get moose for dinner at a restaurant, or seal or rabbit, or local fish. We‚Äôve got such a large variety here, that it‚Äôs a great way to showcase it all.‚ÄĚ
But the province won‚Äôt be completely self-sustaining, food-wise, any time soon, she acknowledged.
‚ÄúThe reality is we‚Äôre not going to grow lemons any time soon, or olives and press our own olive oil,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúBut I think if we can at least harvest what‚Äôs available at the time of the year and preserve it. Those olds methods of canning and bottling, and curing meats and salting meats, it‚Äôs all very important in keeping that security for ourselves here in the province, whether it‚Äôs bottling preserves in September when the berries are out, or bottling seal or making sausage.‚ÄĚ
Jeremy Bonia, sommelier at Raymonds, a St. John‚Äôs high-end locally focused restaurant, said they‚Äôve been able to tap into the rising desire for local food, practised by St. John‚Äôs restaurants such as Bacalao before Raymonds.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not like we‚Äôre the only people doing it. We were one of the early ones to embrace it at a restaurant level,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúAndrea‚Äôs (Maunder, co-owner of Bacalao) been doing it at Bacalao too, serving wild game, but they‚Äôve even upped what they‚Äôre doing.‚ÄĚ
Restaurants are increasingly seeing there‚Äôs 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 province‚Äôs food security. Producing one‚Äôs own food used to be more necessary for individuals than it is today, he said.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve 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. That‚Äôs how our grandparents survived, and even some of our parents.‚ÄĚ