Preparing at Brewers Plate 2009
When I was first invited to the Brewers Plate in Toronto two years ago, I thought they were nuts, trying to put together an event celebrating local Ontario food before even the asparagus was poking out of the ground. Now it is the event's third year and it has slid into late May, and guests will be served perhaps a bit more than "artisanal cheeses, breads, local fish, sausages, roasts and stews of wild game and root vegetables" paired with local brews. Also this year, the all of the restaurants and all of the food will be certified Local Food Plus.
When TreeHugger first covered LFP almost five years ago, it had a different name, one contract and fifteen farmers. I called founder and President Lori Stahlbrand to find out how things have changed.
We started with the University of Toronto and fifteen farmers; now we have over 200 farmers certified and 50 undergoing the process. We have contracts with almost 20 restaurants, over 30 retailers and distributors. We are also expanding beyond Ontario, setting up in British Columbia, Manitoba and Atlantic Canada.
But what about the big food chains and the established distribution systems?
They are too tied into the global food distribution system. We are targeting the independent grocers and retailers, who make up 15% of the market; it helps differentiate them.
What about the local vs organic debate?
There is more to food than organic production. Our certification uses "organic" as the GOLD standard, and looks at a lot of other issues. We use the Cornell University Integrated Pest Management System (which "integrates, a range of biological, organic, cultural, mechanical, and chemical options for pest problems."). But we also look beyond production, at biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions and working conditions. It is all third-party inspected.
From the LFP Website: LFP certified farmers and processors work to:
1. Employ sustainable production systems that reduce or eliminate synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; avoid the use of hormones, antibiotics, and genetic engineering; and conserve soil and water.
2. Provide safe and fair working conditions for on-farm labour.
3. Provide healthy and humane care for livestock.
4. Protect and enhance wildlife habitat and biodiversity on working farm landscapes.
5. Reduce on-farm energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
What is this new Buy To Vote campaign?
It doesn't take much of a switch to local sustainable food to make a big difference in the economy. We are trying to get people to switch just $10 a week to local, sustainably raised and harvested food. We calculate that in Ontario, if 10,000 people did this, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of taking a thousand cars off the road and would create a hundred new jobs.
I would think that number is pretty universal?
It is going to vary a bit depending on the distribution system and the particular circumstances, but yes, it is probably pretty much universal. We are trying to get the message out that when you vote with your dollars for sustainable food, you are voting for:
* Local farmers and food production
* Reduced pesticide and fertilizer use
* Soil and water conservation
* Humane animal treatment
* Protection of natural species and their habitats
* Safe and fair working conditions
* Reduced energy use
So what is the connection to Brewers Plate?
Most of the chefs at Brewers Plate have pledged to serve Certified Local Sustainable food in their restaurants; Since the Brewers Plate is the only event that is overtly about local sustainable food, there is a natural fit for Local Food Plus
Waupoos LFP certified cider at Brewers Plate 2009
So what exactly do you certify?
Vegetables. Fruit. Meat. Eggs. Even popcorn! We can't certify all of the beers being served there because a lot of ingredients are not local, but we do certify a cider. (Waupoos)
Finally, what is your opinion of Pierre Desrochers? (A University of Toronto/ George Mason University Professor who thinks local food is "romanticization of subsistence agriculture".
Oh please. There is so much more to local food than just transportation. There is a culture of food, there is supporting local agriculture and creating local jobs, there is so much more, and transportation is onlhy a small part of it. And his argument! He compares growing strawberries in California to growing them in Ontario.
(we quote Desrochers here from the National Post)
Californian strawberries are grown year-round under almost ideal conditions (neither too humid nor too hot). As a result, one hectare of California land will yield over 34,000 kilograms of berries, compared to approximately 2,000 in Ontario, in the process allowing for a much more intensive and efficient use of fuel, capital, machinery and other resources.
I was just in Watsonville, California, where they grow all those strawberries. If you go to a restaurant you can't get a glass of water because of the shortages, but they are pumping it out of the aquifer to grow those strawberries. And he thinks that's sustainable.
More on Brewers Plate in TreeHugger and Planet Green:
Eight Things I learned At the Brewers Plate Local Food Fest
Brewers Plate: Making Local Food Taste Great in April is No Small Feat
Live Green. Think Local First
Brewers Plate Comes to Toronto