Local Heroes: The First in a New Series on Local Food

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In May, Jason Bangerter, the executive chef at Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ont., led a team of Canadian chefs in creating the annual “Flavours-of-Canada” meal at the prestigious James Beard House in New York.

Bangerter is one of a growing number of Canadian chefs championing local, with as much as 90 per cent of Langdon Hall’s menu featuring ingredients sourced locally. The 100-kilometre diet has achieved widespread recognition over the past decade, with several factors contributing to growing support for the local movement — from increased awareness of the sustainability, environmental and nutritional issues associated with what we eat, to closer to the heart — and stomach — factors such as taste. “To go down to the garden, pull out a carrot, brush it off and eat it, it’s like you’ve never had a carrot before,” says Bangerter.

More than 1,800 kilometres away in Halifax, Shane Robilliard is also committed to sourcing as many local ingredients as possible. The executive chef, director of Food and Beverage at the Fox Harb’r Resort constantly tweaks his menu to reflect the seasonal availability of locally sourced items such as swordfish.

Robillard says as much as 60 per cent of his produce comes from local suppliers and has a horticulturalist on-hand to grow the greens and herbs used in Fox Harb’r Resort’s meals. Yet, despite the increased championing of local food, experts say there is still a
considerable gulf between the food consumed by Canadians and where it is produced.

Kathy Macpherson, vice-president of The Greenbelt Fund, a non-profit organization that is working to increase the sale of Ontario food to public institutions, retail and foodservice channels, says the province imports approximately $20 billion worth of food each year — about $10 billion of which could be produced within its borders. Macpherson says studies have shown that replacing just 10 per cent of Ontario’s top-10 fruit-and-vegetable imports with locally grown produce would create $250 million in GDP, as well as several thousand jobs.

Joshna Maharaj, the former executive chef at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel and another long-time advocate of the local movement, says the twin forces of industrialization and food imports have contributed to a disconnect between Canadians and their food. She would like to see specific government policies that mandate minimum purchases of Ontario food by provincial institutions, as well as incentives aimed at getting farmers back to the land.

According to the 2016 Census of Agriculture, there were 193,492 farms in Canada in 2016, a 5.9-per-cent decline from 2011. The average age of Canadian farmers has also risen to 55, with more farmers over the age of 70 than under the age of 35. Bangerter acknowledges that money is also at the heart of why the local movement isn’t more widespread, but contends that customers who balk at paying more for better-quality food have their priorities mixed up.

“You’re paying money on food to put in your body,” he says. “Everybody’s fine spending $500 on an iPhone, but they don’t want to spend more than $50 for dinner? There’s a bit of education that needs to happen.”

Maharaj is encouraged, however, by what she sees as increased support for local food. “I’ve been at this now for many years, and there have been times when I felt it was just a small community that cared about this kind of thing,” she says. “But more people are asking where their food has come from, and that’s the kind of movement we’ve been hoping to build.” other month throughout 2018.

Written by Chris Powell

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