On the whole, we’re increasingly conscious about the quality of food we buy for ourselves and our families. We’re also more aware of what it costs the environment to have food transported thousands of kilometres to appear at local grocery stores. Then there’s the direct cost: soaring fuel prices have been reflected in what we pay at the checkout counter, not to mention the biofuels debate and the impact on grain prices.
As well, we know farmers are under incredible financial pressures, and that even as retail prices climb, that doesn’t always translate into more cash for producers.
In this climate, projects such as the Buy Local! Buy Fresh! program and Local Organic Food Team Co-operative (LOFT) boxes are offering consumers food that is local, organically grown and offered up through a co-operative that sees farmers get paid directly for their goods.
Though the project is still in its infancy, public response has been strong. The organization has struck a chord with the public.
The LOFT concept is fairly simple. Each week, a wide range of produce is gathered up from each of the co-operative’s members, packaged up into a reusable plastic box and dropped off at various pick-up locations.
Customers stop by and take the box home. Inside they’ll find fresh, organic items that will vary according to what’s in season. With greenhouse growers in the mix, the service is scheduled to run all year.
“A shift to sustainable food systems provides a positive local solution to global warming, declining farm income, falling water tables and the increasing price of fossil fuels,” explained director Martha Gay Scroggins. “LOFT’s small, earth-friendly farms can produce more food per acre than industrial farms, using fewer resources, increasing biodiversity, and protecting the health of the soil, water and air that we all rely on.”
The local angle jibes with Waterloo Region’s Buy Local! Buy Fresh! campaign, Foodlink and community shared agricultural programs (in which people purchase a “share” in the crops at the beginning of the season and then receive regular deliveries of farm products).
Through its Public Health department, the region has been pushing the health, environmental and economic benefits of local food.
A report compiled by the department shows much of our food travels very long distances before it reaches our tables. In fact, imports of 58 commonly eaten foods travel an average of 4,497 kilometres to Waterloo Region.
These imports account for 51,709 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, contributing to climate change and declining air quality.
“Since all of the studied food items could be grown or raised in Waterloo Region, a significant opportunity exists to reduce our contribution to global climate change and air pollution by replacing imports of the studied food items with food items sourced from Waterloo Region or south-western Ontario. Replacing all the studied food items with products of south-western Ontario would produce an annual reduction in GHG emissions of 49,485 tonnes, equivalent to taking 16,191 cars off our roads. Strategies to strengthen the local food system and make purchasing local food more convenient for consumers have the potential to reduce the environmental impact of food miles in Waterloo Region,” the department reports in Food Miles: Environmental Implications of Food Imports to Waterloo Region.