(Photo credit: (c)2016 Edmund Rek/rekfotos.com)
Throughout history, farming has been the cornerstone of many great civilizations. The ability of early societies to store food (mostly domesticated grains) in quantities beyond what they needed changed the how they ate. Efforts needed to do be nomadic and search for food, were now directed to settling and growing their own. Thousands of years later not much has changed, but things are very different.
In North America our lineage of farming has been established by cross-breeding and hybridization. The process has evolved to control crops and animals to maximized production and increased yields. In the 1950’s the population grew and industrialized farming was there to meet the demand. Aided by supermarkets, fast food chains, and interstate highways the food distribution network spread like a crack through ice. Unfortunately, the majority of the farmland was a mono-culture of mostly wheat, corn and soy. Verlyn Klinkenborg explains how, “Large-scale industrial agriculture depends on engineering the land to ensure the absence of natural diversity.” (Learn more here)
Over the past several years public health and environmental concerns has grown a geater interest in local foods and motivation for farmers and ethical food producers to connect to make the change. Focus on heritage varieties and ancient grains, raising grass-fed & grass-finished beef, wild pigs, free-range chickens and heirloom fruits and vegetables is the goal. Non profits like Slow Food are strong advocates for these endangered varieties and encourage farmers to grow them, chefs to cook them and consumers to eat these diverse foods. (See the Arc of Taste: Canada/US).
Prominent food companies (Unilever/Kraft/General Mills) are supplied by factory farms, who choose shelf life over nutrition to overcome the challenge of a vast distribution network and to meet the consumer demand of close-by convenience. Prior to this, agricultural cooperatives were necessary within smaller communities by sharing seeds, equipment, harvesting, processing, transportation even marketing within a group of farmers that enabled a local commerce that was difficult, or impossible to do so otherwise.
We are seeing the return of the agricultural co-operative with a renewed focus in quality vs quantity. There are several co-ops within the GTA who bring goods from a group of farmers close by to sell at farmers markets and CSA drop-off locations: Quinte Co-op, Hope Eco Farms, 100km Foods, just to name a few. These passionate groups offer us access to more locally grown foods and enable farmers to sell more of what they grow for a fair market price.
Beautiful produce, eggs and fresh meats are not the only benefits from buying farmer coops. Building relationships with growers show transparency into their farming methods and offer insights into heritage foods they are growing. Meeting the families to whom they are feeding is a real inspiration.
At the end of the day, when the consumer is King, better food choices are available to many of us. Big-box-stores such as (Walmart/Cosco/Loblaws) are taking note and offering local and organic foods in addition to conventional staples. These profit driven companies are finding their customers value more ethically produced foods.
For the choices and diversity of good foods to grow and become more available there will need to be challenges and a few sacrifices. Convenience for one, more time in the kitchen is another, but this can be a reality and it is becoming a reality within micro communities. If you are up for the challenge, one of the ways to participate can be as simple as eliminating white flour from your kitchen and your diet. Harken back to those early civilizations and just use whole grains purchased from a farmer or miller nearby, or someone connected the person who grow the grains. And try this for a month and see what happens. See if it sticks. See if the flavour and and the satisfaction makes a significant impression on you and your family.
Stay tuned for more details about the Evelyn’s Crackers “Whole Grain Challenge”…(continued)