Images by B. Alter: Would you rather shop here...
Way back in 2007, TreeHugger Lloyd went to Loblaws, Canada's largest supermarket chain, looking for fresh local food in July and he found: cherries.
It's three years later and things have changed--sort of. Now they have a little booth at the front of the store called "Grown Close to Home" and they are selling Ontario peaches and potatoes and cucumbers. But right behind it they have their cherries from the USA and pineapple from Costa Rica. That's a rather broad definition of local. We aren't the only ones noticing this...local farmers and shoppers are pretty annoyed too.
Or would you rather shop here?
Calling it "Grown Close to Home", the store crows that it is "bringing the
farmers market to Canadian neighbourhood grocery stores -- all in one
convenient location with bushels of variety." They are doing that for us lucky shoppers because hitting a "farmers market doesn't always fit with the realities of Canadians' hectic lifestyles."
Their definition of local and commitment to buying locally is broad. For example, Ontario peaches shipped to the western provinces are still considered part of the event. One Halifax shopper complained to the local newspaper because she "spotted plums and radishes from the United States along with rows of peaches, plums and nectarines from Ontario, with the words Grown Close to Home and the Atlantic Grown logo on the signs for some products." Loblaws apologised.
The Globe & Mail, Canada's national newspaper, points out that the farmers participating in the program are very large operations, some with hundreds and thousands of hectares, and greenhouses in Mexico and South America as well. This hardly benefits local farmers.
The Farmers' Markets Canada which represents 550 farmers markets across the country says that according to their research, farmers receive just 10% to 21% of the retail price of their produce at supermarkets, "not enough for a small family farm to survive on, while at farmers markets they get to keep an average 84%."
His aunt's fresh pies from Sharon, Ontario
We all know that the anonymity of a supermarket can't match the personal touch of a farmer's market where you can talk to the seller and hear about their vegetables. People are looking for that dialogue; that's why they are there. Research shows that "92% of farmers market shoppers said it was important to them to be able to buy food directly from a local farmer and 62% said it was extremely important."
Right now fresh produce is busting out all over; there are farmer's stands on every country road with fresh from the field corn, tomatoes, and green beans. So buy local at the supermarket if you must, but keep patronizing those small farmers at the stands and markets too.
More on Local Foods
5 Strategies for Getting the Most from Your Farmers ' Market
Help Make Farmers ' Markets Universally Accessible
Greenwash Watch : Loblaws Something Must be Done