by Kathleen Mackintosh
My name is Kathleen Mackintosh and I am tired. Tired of running a small struggling business, tired of the 18 hour days, the 24hour workload and the never ending pile of to-dos. And most of all I am tired of being overlooked by the local and slow food movements, movements which I serve with unending passion and persistence. Why am I overlooked? Because my business is retail. Yes, I said the dreaded R-word of the slow food and local movements. RETAIL.
There is no doubt the local food movement is growing and along with it so must the business structures and economic systems involved in the movement. Farmers markets are popping up everywhere, ask any farmer at a Toronto market and they will tell you 2009 sales were down 25-40% from the year before. Why? We know demand is up. Could it be that the market is simply flooded with well intentioned farmers markets that are actually diluting the customer base by spreading it too thin? And if a farmer is at market, who is tending his land, who is growing my food? But really, how many farmers are actually at market these days? They put in the rare appearance but just like any other business they hire in labour to do the grunt work.
Farmers deserve our thanks and praise and admiration, they are the first step in getting good wholesome food on our plates. And there in lies the missing link in the local food movement. Getting food on our plates, as often as possible. Chefs are the other hero’s of the local food movement… they take farm fresh produce and turn it into edible delights that we imagine we can never replicate at home. Chef’s have sex appeal and let’s face it sex sells and it is exciting… the better the food porn the higher the sales. But cooking at home, that is so, well, mundane. I say to hell with that. The only way to grow the local food movement to a sustainable level and return it to an ever lasting way of life is to get the good eaters of this province cooking their own meals with fresh local sustainable ingredients. This is where the forgotten, overlooked and under-celebrated links in the local food movement come in: Distribution and Retail.
Farmers need to farm, chefs to create, when chefs are driving around to gather their ingredients or farmers are driving around to deliver them, they are not performing to their strengths. Let someone else do the driving, the quality assurance and make the connections. Folks like 100km Foods Inc are doing a great job at serving farmers, chefs and retails with good quality farm fresh foods all year round. And how about providing a regular, consistent, convenient community based locale for the good eaters of this province to access their food. Let’s face it convenience is king. In last weeks’ article Loblaw and Sobey’s were given kudos for an attempt at providing local food to their shoppers, but as always they are criticized for not carrying more local produce. The supply is not there my friends. They do what they can given the supply chains they have already built. Smaller family run, community shops -retailers like Rowe Farms, The Healthy Butcher, Fiesta Farms and Culinarium can re-create their supply chains to focus on local foods all year round, every day of the week. We are the folks that should be celebrated in the local grocery business. We, small business owners dedicating our rent, our staff, our marketing efforts, our shelf space to the products of Ontario agriculture. Our retail locations provide a consistent homage to the wonder of Ontario foods. Under our (expensive) roofs we labour to promote Ontario agriculture one steak, head of broccoli, fiddlehead or jar of jam at a time. Our staff can tell you the origins and histories and stories behind the fabulous folks who create our food, the food that you will cook tonight and a few more times this week in your own home. To drive the local food movement to a sustainable level, all links in the food chain are required. Leave one link out and the chain will break. Farm, artisan, distribution, retail and restaurant. We are all vital links in the local food and slow food movements. I am proud of the role social / community retailers play in the food chain and look forward to the day when others consider the R word to be as sexy and intoxicating as the F word (that is to say “F” for farm).
I’m not a farmer
Or an artisan
And I don’t make my own products
Or cook for others, or slap my label on a jar
And I don’t sell bananas, gogi berries, grapefruit or avocados
Although I know them to be tasty, even if very well travelled.
I have a bricks and mortar store,
Not a temporary farm market stand
I commune with customers,
Not mother nature.
And I promote and celebrate the fruits of other peoples’ labour
Not slave over a hot stove.
I can proudly look my customer in the eye and tell them the origins and path their food has journeyed
I believe in keeping farmers on the land farming, NOT making them into transportation managers.
I believe in creating convenient and consistent access to good local food, NOT a transient once a week supply.
AND THAT DISTRIBUTION AND RETAIL ARE VITAL PARTS OF A GOOD, SUSTAINABLE, ACCESSABLE FOOD SYSTEM.
YOU CAN EAT LOCAL ALL YEAR ROUND
AND IT IS PRONOUNCED LOCAVORE NOT LOCALVORE
ONTARIO IS THE SECOND LARGEST PROVINCE!
WITH THE GREATEST AGRICULTURAL DIVERSITY
AND THE BEST PLACE TO EAT IN CANADA
MY NAME IS KATHLEEN!
AND I AM A PROUD RETAILER OF ONTARIO FOOD