Ontario’s growing season generally runs from May to October and over the last several years, volunteers and neighbourhood associations have aggressively come together to animate farmers’ markets in their local park.
I live in the Beach neighbourhood in Toronto and our local farmers markets Leslieville Farmer’s Market and Fairmount Park Farmers Market are hopping places on Sundays and Wednesdays respectively. Along with small, independently owned family farmers, you will find prepared food vendors, craft beer and wine makers, artisinal food creators and local musicians.
The markets offered us a venue to start our business and to show our customers what made us special. As we grow and our products become available to more people each year, we still gravitate back each summer to where it all started – and it’s because of our connection to the small and medium sized family farmer, whom we have come to know very well.
Here is their reality: Farming is hard. Since the ’60’s and beyond, this has not been a sexy profession to pursue for a whole generation of people. Many children of farming families have chosen other careers. As the older farmers retire and the availability of young farmers continues to decline, farms get bought out and consolidated into larger land pockets, perfect for mass production of cash crops and GMO agriculture.
The facts bear out all across Canada, as shown in the these alarming statistics about farming in Canada. The average age of the Canadian farmer is 58 years old and farm sizes are increasing. This trend shows no signs of reversing.
For me, this is heartbreaking! Ontario sits on prime farmland. Small and medium sized farmers understand the direct link between their mixed farming practices and climate change – all the innovation in sustainable farming practices comes from them. Some run zero waste farms, completely off the grid and for a fact, these farmers are directly responsible for the low carbon footprint of the food we eat. No matter how much we recycle and retrofit our big city homes for energy efficiency, farmers can fight climate change much more effectively on their green pockets of land than we ever can.
As an added benefit, the produce that goes directly from farm to fork tastes like nothing else on earth. I know this first hand – our business runs 12 months out of the year. During Ontario’s growing season, the quality and aromas of locally grown produce, picked, not stored but cooked right away, is distinctly superior. What I would give to have access to freshly grown Romas all year round?
It is now that time of year, when the growing season grinds to a halt and the whole issue about food security in Ontario comes around to, once again, slap me in the face. Fresh, locally grown produce is a precious and scarce commodity for those of us living in this part of the world. Let’s not be smug about it. Our access to it will always remain precariously woeful because of our climate. If we are not into canning or preserving, most of us will revert to purchasing imported produce soon. It will not be fresh, will have traveled far, arriving with a high carbon footprint. It will likely be picked well before it ripens, stored for weeks and months and by the time it ends up on my plate, it will have reduced nutritional value compared to what I eat today.
Next season, our group of aging farmers will be a year older. Many have no succession plans to have their land continue to exist as it does today. And in 50 years, will most of Ontario’s farm lands be raped and stripped to facilitate the cultivation of mono-culture cash crops?
With these thoughts swirling in my head, it is no wonder that I uncharacteristically turn into a very unpleasant person this time of year; I get angry that so many people are oblivious to these facts; I can’t help judging and giving dirty looks to people walking around with imported carrots in their shopping carts in grocery stores, knowing that a bunch of the the sweetest, locally grown ones can be purchased – at the same price – just around the corner on Sundays from a Tony Neale of Wheelbarrow farms; I get snappy with customers at the market who did not show up the week before because it rained and Manmeet and Ruby of Healthy Choice Farms had to drive back with a truck load of unsold perishable organic spinach.
I realize that all of this is negative and wasted energy. So this year, I am channeling my efforts into doing something positive. I am going to pat as many farmers on the back as I can over the next few weeks. If I am permitted to do so, I will give one a hug and let him/her know how much I savour the fruits of their labour all season – and just how I am going to miss them when the season ends.
The abundance of food available at our mass grocer all year round has created a false sense of security about our access to food. We forget that, because of our climate, we are totally reliant on food that is shipped in from elsewhere for part of the year. And have we become so arrogant that we do not see the parallels between us and those living in refugee camps? They too are reliant on having their food shipped in.
Let’s not forget how lucky we are to live in Ontario where the family owned farm, focusing on mixed farming practices, is our one true ticket to clean air and good food. These farmers are in business from May to October and what he / she sells, picked fresh from the farm should not be taken for granted. It is is vital that we support them during their short growing season. Please folks, get out there and spend a few dollars at your local farmers market this week.
Did you know:
Nine out of ten of the world’s 570 million farms are managed by families, making the family farm the predominant form of agriculture and consequently a potentially crucial agent of change in achieving sustainable food security and in eradicating hunger in the future.
-per the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations