Saturday, August 7, 2010

Local Food Plus

I've been looking forward to writing this post since Wednesday evening. In anticipation, I began thinking about the kinds of pictures I could take to accompany the text, but came up empty because my local grocery store has not partnered with Local Food Plus (LFP) to offer certified local, sustainable food. Sure, there are lots of Ontario-grown peaches and corn in the fruit and veggie section, but there's no way to know how many pesticides I'm ingesting when consuming this produce. LFP is trying to change that.

Ah, a picture! This is the button I received for taking the Buy To Vote pledge. In case it's too blurry to read, the inside of the circle reads, "certified, local, sustainable". More on that later.

On my way home on Wednesday evening, I felt excited and inspired - hence my desire to write this post. I had just attended a seminar, as part of a volunteer training session, led by none other than the President and Founder of LFP, Lori Stahlbrand. In 2005, this food superhero came up with the idea of creating a certification system to benefit not only the local farmers who use sustainable methods in growing food but also people like you and me who want to know where our food is coming from and to which extent it is either damaging or preserving the natural environment... and our bodies!

You may be asking yourself, "What makes the existing food system so environmentally unsustainable, anyway?" Lots of things! Traditional farming methods have negative effects on:
  • water quality: toxic chemicals from pesticides and fertilizer end up in the groundwater
  • soil quality: the land is farmed so intensely that the nutrients are depleted and not replenished (hence the ever-increasing need for fertilizer)
  • biodiversity: endless fields growing the same crop and no remaining wild areas result in a loss of habitat for many species
  • air quality: I don't even want to hazard a guess at how many greenhouse gas emissions spew out of a truck while it carries strawberries from California to my neighbourhood
Add to that the negative income experienced by many farmers in this province (they are, on average, earning less than their predecessors did during the Great Depression, says Lori), and urban sprawl eating away at agricultural areas, and we're left with a pretty bleak picture. It follows, then, that a sustainable food system must be local (within realistic limits), financially viable for farmers, processors, and consumers alike, ecologically sound, socially responsible, and protective of biodiversity. How does that translate into LFP standards? In order for farms to achieve and maintain certification, they must make efforts in each of the following areas:
  • sustainable production systems: reduce/eliminate synthetic pesticides and fertilizers as well as hormones, antibiotics, and GMOs, and conserve soil and water
  • labour: provide safe and fair working conditions for employees
  • livestock: provide healthy and humane care for the animals being raised on the farm
  • biodiversity: protect and enhance wildlife habitat
  • energy conservation: reduce on-farm energy consumption and greenhouse gases
LFP has come a long way in five years. University of Toronto students (80,000 and counting) and Town of Markham employees are eating local, sustainable food in their respective cafeterias, and residents in and around the Greater Toronto Area can enjoy this same privilege in numerous restaurants and grocery stores in the region. LFP is slowly but surely churning out more and more partnerships in Ontario and British Columbia, and they have begun certifying farmers and processors in Atlantic Canada and the Prairies.

Okay, this post is getting long. Still with me? Still remember my button, pictured above? I wear it proudly on my purse to help spread the word about the importance of supporting a sustainable food system. It was given to me when, at the Green Living Show earlier this year, I signed a pledge to "vote with my dollars" and shift $10 of my weekly food expenses to certified local, sustainable food. I'm pretty sure I've done much more than that since joining the Young Urban Farmers CSA (see my previous post about it)! Apparently, if 5,000 of us take the pledge, we can cut enough greenhouse gas emissions to equal taking 500 cars off the road and pump enough new money into our local economy to create 50 new jobs, each year, and that's just in Ontario!

So if you support these values, take the pledge already!

And if you're looking for places to shop and eat local and sustainable food, consult this guide.

Happy harvest.

1 comment:

  1. I've read that it takes 49 calories of energy for every 7 calories of strawberries to travel from California to Ontario... which is pretty sad.

    LFP sounds pretty cool, though!