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