Written by Judy Swain, Tri-Pop Farm, New Bothwell
Originally published by My Steinbach
A few weeks ago, in this blog, I was imagining a revolution here in Manitoba. Don’t worry, I was thinking of a quiet revolution, a food revolution… one in which our own province becomes the major source of what goes into our mouths and bellies. I asked the question: “Does salad have to be lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and cucs…in the middle of winter…in Manitoba? Surely we northern snowbirds can create a cuisine built on foods native to our own land rather than exotic foods made for tropical birds…or even Mediterranean birds. If we eat foods that are produced here, right here, as our forebears largely did, what a difference it could make to our local farmers and their families. A great stimulus. Furthermore highways in general would not take such a beating, while North America, even the planet, would consume a fraction of the fossil fuels we currently consume in bringing our food across continents and oceans. Best of all, self-sufficiency is a real benefit to every community, as it means we are less vulnerable to outside factors – fluctuations in availability, cost and quality of food produced elsewhere – fluctuations due to viruses, strikes, droughts, fire, flood, politics, dollar values, borders, etc.
Simply put we would be more connected to each other, to our neighbours, to our own lands. Our food might be fresher, might be picked closer to its true ripe date. That’s the food self-sufficiency revolution I’m conjuring for Manitoba.
Well, to my surprise and delight, I learned recently of a step in that direction by ‘Transition Winnipeg’. This is a group similar to our South East Manitoba Transition Initiative, SETI. There are Transition groups across the continent, each looking for ways to help communities become more self-reliant and leave smaller footprints on our local and planetary ecosystems.
Transition Winnipeg has spearheaded the formation of a community service cooperative, The Farm Fresh Food Hub, or FFFH. Its mission is to provide access to an urban market for small producers, while simultaneously encouraging consumers to purchase food that reduces the ecological footprint of our food system. That sounds like a step in the direction of my revolution…don’t you think? Listen more…
Their first step was to open a weekly outdoor farmers’ market. This opened in 2016 in the South Osborne area. Farmers’ markets are not new, obviously. But that area did not have one. It has been very successful. It brought small producers into the city, gave them a place to meet their public, a place to sell their produce. It has given the neighbourhood immediate access to farm fresh food and to their farmers. Even my imagined ‘closer connection’…no not of the third kind, just to our neighbours…seems to be manifesting itself as the neighbourhood has embraced their local market as a place to gather, with enthusiasm and pleasure.
Their second step, now in process, is to form a ‘food hub’, a centre where locally produced food can be gathered from smaller producers under one roof and then distributed to commercial buyers. The problem is that smaller producers are not able to sell to larger buyers under our current system, due to problems of scale and access. Likewise these larger buyers cannot realistically deal with smaller producers, even if they do want to buy locally produced foods. It is too unwieldy, inconvenient, time-consuming. The food hub would change that. Food produced locally by many individual farms and businesses will be aggregated at the centre and made available there to bulk buyers.
The hope is that the food hub will help local farms and food producers grow. That it will help make the food we eat come fresher. That it will reduce our dependency on fossil fuels to transport food. That our ecological footprint will shrink measurably.
A few years ago a varied crew of farmers and consumers in the Steinbach area met in an attempt to form just such a food hub. Many ideas were discussed but in the end I think the vision was not quite strong enough. It fizzled out.
Now here it is next door! I think we can be quite excited by this development. The Farm Fresh Food Hub will be running as a pilot project this summer, though under a different name (to be announced) so as not to be confused with the market in South Osborne. They have secured a facility and delivery vehicle and are currently getting their systems in place. They are welcoming inquiries and feedback from local producers and potential buyers as they work to put this together for all of us.
Let’s hear a cheer!
In light of recent developments related to COVID-19 and the call for social distancing, we’ve decided to officially move our annual ‘Mother’s and Others’ Day Market’ to an online platform. With regards to our plans for the South Osborne Farmers’ Market, we are closely monitoring the situation and will make a well informed and collective decision as things become more clear.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of discussion among farmers and farmers’ market operators alike in our province about what this upcoming season will look like. Many have expressed their concern that continuing farmers’ market operations, even with added precautions taken, could mean putting the health of our communities at risk. On the other hand, many local food producers and advocates are deeply worried about the impact that restaurant or farmers’ market closures will have on the local food system-- and argue that farmers’ markets are just as much an essential service as grocery stores. For example, both Alberta and Ontario have listed farmers’ markets as essential services and intend to keep them open amidst social distancing mandates. What everyone can agree on, however, is that now more than ever, Manitobans are in need of access to healthy and nourishing local food!
We believe that both these perspectives voice valid concerns and we will take them into consideration as we assess and make decisions for the immediate future of our operations.
Rest assured that the health and safety of our customers, vendors and market staff is at the forefront of our minds. At the same time, we are doing our best to find creative ways to support our producers and consumers given these circumstances. Stay tuned to our social media for more updates about how we’re dealing with the crisis and the potential changes to our upcoming season!
Asha Nelson, on behalf of Farm Fresh Food Hub