Local is where it’s at.

Written by Michael Hawkins

May 23, 2014

Local tomatoes for sale. (photo: Michael Hawkins, Wicked Ideas)

Ever wonder how you’d eat if you had to live on local food?

The Conservation Council of New Brunswick wants us to think about food grown closer to home and has renewed it’s campaign to spread that message with a tour around the province. They’ll visit local markets and provide information on what you can buy and where that supports local food producers of all kinds.

Eating locally is a growing movement but Canadian diets are still predominantly national foods from major grocery chains.

The 2007 book The 100-Mile Diet, a Year of Local Eating by Canadian writers Alison Smith and J.B MacKinnon set out to make a point about local eating, a concept that was still very novel just seven years ago.

Their mission was to do it from their apartment in Vancouver. Farms are not as prevalent in their area of Southwest B.C. as they are in the Prairies but there are substantial growing operations nearby, plus an ample supply of wild foods they learned to depend on. It had its challenges but the couple managed to learn a lot and eat a healthy diet locally.

I’ve imagined trying to do the same thing in my hometown of Thompson, Manitoba, the coldest city in the 10 provinces which sits about 750 kilometres north of Winnipeg. The nearest farm is a good 400 kilometres away, as is the nearest cow, chicken or pig. So right off the bat, all meats and dairy are out, including life-giving bacon. Fruits? Forget it.  My dad did a decent job growing a few vegetables in our backyard garden when I was growing up and he swore a Nova Scotia red potato grew better in the layer of fertile earth above the permafrost of Manitoba’s north than it did in his native Nova Scotia. So theoretically on the 100-mile diet, we could at least enjoy a nice selection of vegetables up there.

Fishing is limited to a few fresh water species and the seasons are limted so fish would be a challenge. Walleye was a lovely fish but with the lakes and rivers frozen solid for seven months, getting your mitts on one isn’t super convenient. Meats would likely be limited to moose, and of course in very limited supply depending on your hunting skills. You’d also have to acquire a taste for it, which is another challenge.

So while scurvy shouldn’t set in on a 100-mile diet in Northern Manitoba, it would be a struggle to say the least.

So how about here in New Brunswick? Around here, the idea of eating local gets a lot easier.

The sheer variety of foods grown in New Brunswick is staggering, and much of it is done at a scale that could actually feed the population.  Cows, chickens, pigs, turkey, lamb and other livestock are all easy to find locally, so all those meats are on the table along with all the dairy and eggs and incredible cheese you can eat. Grains and a huge variety of vegetables are available locally.  New Brunswick corn, apples, blueberries, strawberries and fiddleheads are as good here as you’ll find anywhere in the world, and of course we have the best potatoes this side of Idaho.  Last summer I even got my hands on some locally-grown ginger at a local market.

From any of the bodies of water that surround New Brunswick from North to South, we have a jaw-dropping supply of some of the world’s best seafood.  Lobster, crab, clams, scallops, mackeral and Atlantic salmon are all easy to find depending on where you live in the province.

With that in mind, it actually seems odd we need a provincial campaign to remind us to buy the local stuff, but that’s the reality. Like most Canadians, we’ve become far too accustomed to buying cheap processed food literally by the crate. It is easy to find scallops, potatoes, apples, beef and bacon here that wasn’t produced anywhere near here, often not even from Canada.

Buying locally has virtually no down side. The quality of the food is almost always noticeably better, the price is usually the same or very competitive to the long-haul equivalent and the end result is growth for our food producers in New Brunswick and strength for a key pillar of food security in the province.

Watch for the tour at your local farmer’s market and read more about the campaign here.

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