News: Talking challenges for local food

The Post (Hanover)
Thu Jun 23 2011
Byline: BY SKYLER RADOJKOVIC

CHESLEY -At a recent event held in Chesley, producers of local foods described their livelihoods and discussed the challenges they face from government regulations and market forces.

“These regulations assume that people are stupid,” said Tarrah Young of Green Being Farm, near Neustadt.

The event was titled “Stepping Up to the Plate: Buying Safe and Healthy Food,” a public information and discussion forum on local food issues, and was held at the Chesley District High School on June 6. The focus of the event was a five person panel consisting of CSA farm owners Kristine Hammel of Persephone Market Garden, and Tarrah Young of Green Being Farm, Kevin Green of Green’s Meat Market and Abattoir and Chet Calhoun of West Grey Premium Beef. The fifth member was Anne Finlay-Stewart, the owner of Around the Sound Local Food Market in Owen Sound.

There was an audience of around 50-60 people, including four local politicians who will be running in the upcoming provincial election. The event was facilitated by Barb Klages, a member of the Malcolm Branch Women’s Institute and one of the sponsors of the event. Other sponsors ranged from Foodlink Grey Bruce and the Christian Farmers Federation, to the National Farmers Union. Each panel member was given 20 minutes to elaborate on what they do for a living with regards to local food production, distribution and sales. They also described the problems they face in trying to do that, and why it can be so difficult to operate in the local food industry.

Klages introduced the event by explaining how her organization became concerned about local food after the closing of many local abattoirs, and wanted to know more about the issue. One of the things they discovered, she said, was that it was generally not the provincial regulations and policies governing local food that had changed and affected the abattoirs, but that, “What had changed was the interpretation of standing regulations.” This was a conclusion echoed by other speakers -”Regulations are holding everybody back,” stated Finlay-Stewart, when talking about the difficulties she experienced in attempting to bring local food products to interested consumers.

“The catch is that the whole thing is on the scale of Maple Leaf foods,” she said in reference to the regulatory framework used by Health and Safety officials with regards to food products sold in her store.

Calhoun described his business as having the goal of bringing local beef to consumers and that this had turned out to be very difficult to do. He described the beef industry as having too few players, of whom the dominant ones are mostly American companies looking for as cheap a product as possible. However, he pointed out the importance of consumers paying a little more for beef that supports the local economy in terms of food production. “When local farmers make money, everyone makes money,” he said.

Another issue brought up was the capital investment generally required by people in local food production in order to meet safety regulations that were described as often changing their requirements. This means, explained Kevin Green, who has been in business for 40 years, that spending money to update an operation to meet safety standards, almost never comes with a guarantee. He described spending over $200,000 in changes to his operation, and that all he can do is hope that he won’t shortly be required to spend money again in order to meet more requests from Health and Safety officials.

Panel speakers also mentioned possible solutions to the problems they undergo in trying to bring local food to consumers, and changes they would like to see. “We need regulations to recognize that going small is an option,” stated Young.

Green proposed closing the border to meat that does not meet Canadian standards, eliminating the competition that Canadian meat faces from imports that are produced under conditions that are often less strictly regulated.

The benefits of the CSA or Community Supported Agriculture model was also mentioned. One advantage is that it is a form of direct marketing, which Kristine Hammel said “. . . is one way to get access to fresh local food . . . and a closer relationship with your customers.”

 


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