Locavore (lo-ca-vore), n. – someone who eats food grown or produced locally.
Self-described locavore, and author of “Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields to Rooftop Gardens, How Canadians Are Changing the Way We Eat” book, Sarah Elton is a local food GreenHero. We contacted Sarah after hearing about her journey as a food journalist, which spans the Canadian landscape and profiles all kinds of up-and-coming local food heroes. Her story means a lot to us because she’s just like us; she’s a regular mom of two on the run (who admittedly doesn’t live to cook!), who completely transformed the way she looks at food after uncovering the origins of her daughter’s cookie (that would be China). Sarah took a moment to speak with our team from her home in Toronto. Read our exclusive interview with her below, and remember that all of us can make small changes in the way we eat for a healthier Earth.
Visit her website at: www.thelocavore.ca
You can purchase a copy of The Locavore here
Take part in our Twitter contest for your chance to win a copy of The Locavore!
GreenHeroes: What motivated you to take part in the locavore movement?
Sarah: My interest began as a journalist. I call myself a food journalist. My daughter came home from a birthday party one day with a cookie, and it looked like a gingerbread cookie that had been baked in any bakery in my neighborhood. So I flipped it over, and there on the back in small letters it read: Made in China. So, I knew that my clothes are made in China, but there was something about learning about this piece of food, that had travelled so far, that really highlighted the environmental cost of our food system. I started investigating that, and that quickly led me to report on the burgeoning local food movement.
GreenHeroes: Are you a locavore to the max? Do you strictly follow the 100-mile diet?
Sarah: I don’t follow the 100-mile diet and I don’t think anybody needs to follow it. What I do try to do is eat in a way where I try to support sustainable and local. So I shop from local farmers when I can, especially now in the summer; I’m stocking up for the winter now. I buy local, small scale and organic. I buy from farmers who I know are working their soils, enriching their soils, and treating their animals well. I only buy sustainable and humanely raised livestock – organic sustainable chicken costs a lot more money than one I can get at the grocery store wrapped in cellophane, but we don’t need to have chicken every day. And I cook everything from scratch; that’s been another part of trying to eat more locally and sustainably. We don’t eat packaged and processed foods. So you save a lot of money when you aren’t buying a packaged lasagna that’s frozen. I can make that same lasagna with local organic ingredients and come out ahead. And definitely health-wise come out ahead.
GreenHeroes: What are some of the challenges you face with this lifestyle?
Sarah: It’s very hard today to find out about where your food comes from. If you want to buy something at the grocery store and you want to know where it’s from, things are mislabeled. Whenever I go to the grocery store, I’m always saying to managers “the sign says its from Canada, but if you read the sticker it says its from Mexico,” and they roll their eyes at me. It’s really important that people can trust what they read. So, we need better systems. We need to have independent certification of foods so that consumers don’t have to do all the work. The average person doesn’t have 3 hours a week tofigure out where their food comes from. So organizations like Local Food Plus are great because they act as this independentthird party.They’re certifying farmers as sustainable, they’re matching them with supermarkets and big buyers of food. When you go to the supermarket you can look for the LFP logo on food so that as a consumer you know you’re supporting a local andsustainable food system.
GreenHeroes: How are food trends shifting in Canadian cities? Can you give an example from your book that shows how regular folks are changing their ways?
Sarah: In my book, I travelled across the country, to small towns, and farming communities, as well as big cities. Each chapter is an example of one piece of what we need to do to have a sustainable food system in this country.
My favourite example of how regular folk changed things in their community was in an area in New Brunswick, north of Moncton, that used to be a farming community where they would grow Brussels sprouts for processing and freezing. The company that bought the Brussels sprouts could find them cheaper elsewhere, so they stopped buying Brussels sprouts from the farmers, so the farmers had no markets. They tried to sell to the supermarkets, but this didn’t work out because the supermarkets were buying from China and California. Farms were going out of business and struggling, and one day they said, “we gotta try something – why don’t we create a network of farm gate stalls?”
Every little farm created their own little stand, and the community loved it and people came and bought their food. So they created an ecological standard for their group, now called the Really Local Harvest Coop, and now the farmers had to follow certain ecological criteria. The opportunity arose for them to open a farmers’ market in Dieppe, next to huge big box stores. On the first day of the market, 10,000 people showed up, Now, 6,000 people come to market every Saturday. This was a radical change. Finally they’ve got control of their lives, they are farming and making money.
GreenHeroes: What about urban agriculture?
Sarah: Urban agriculture is really important. It’s an important part of the puzzle in figuring out how to feed the cities of the future. When we have these huge cities, we have this growing population, and we’re developing suburban homes on farmland for our growing population. The paradox is more and more people are living in the city, so we’re pushing the farms that we need to feed these people further and further away. We’ve been able to fix this problem by transporting food long distances. But now we know this long distance food system is not sustainable, so now we need to figure out how to fix this problem.
We need to feed everybody in these big cities. So we need to maintain peri-urban agriculture and then find ways to produce a little bit of food in the city. There’s a new report out of the Metcalf Foundation that says we can grow 10% of the fruits and vegetables we eat in Toronto in the city. That’s a lot of food! We need to transform the city into a producing part of the food chain, and that will ease its environmental impact. Right now we just suck resources. But if we had a composting and an urban agriculture program in Toronto, those rich nutrients would no longer be wasted. They would be put back into the food cycle.
GreenHeroes: Do you have critics? What do they say? How do you respond?
Sarah: There is a local food backlash. They will tell you that it’s more energy efficient to grow food in the industrial food system and ship it great distances, and they will also tell you that we need industrial food to feed the world.
The major hole in their argument is that it’s just not sustainable. You’re not factoring in the larger environmental costs. And the industrial food system is destroying the natural world, and if we destroy our soil, if we pollute our water with fertilizer, if we have cultivation practices that erode the soil, and monocultures that require pesticide applications and are susceptible to disease, we’re in big trouble. Industrial food cannot serve us into the future in an era of climate change. We have to change. Some say that local farmers use more resources, but local farmers who practice sustainable agriculture are not using more resources – they’re finding ways to produce food in ways that reduce their environmental burden.
GreenHeroes: How can others take action and start eating local? What advice do you have?
Sarah: The most important thing when you’re first starting is to focus on eating in the seasons. Don’t buy asparagus in the winter; buy it in the spring. Think about what you’re purchasing and where it comes from. Try to choose products from local farmers that are sustainably raised. It’s easier and easier to do because there are farmers’ markets all over the place, and CSA (community supported agriculture) where you can sign up and receive boxes of food throughout the year. The more support we give to our local farmers, the more room they have to experiment.
Don’t forget to leave a comment here on what you’re doing to eat locally and sustainably, and visit and comment on the Tasting Local Food campaign page.
How are you eating locally? What are some of the challenges and benefits you’ve experienced from changing the way you eat and think about food? Share your story here for your chance to win a prize in our contest!
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