Despite a provincial government-commissioned survey and report that concludes local food spending in the province is now one-third of shoppers’ food bill, the Cape Breton Food Hub says that is not the experience of their farmers and other food-producing members.
Readers might recall that in last week’s issue The Third we reported that a new survey, developed by the Province and the Canadian Agri-Food Foresight Institute, found between 27 and 34 percent of Nova Scotians’ total food spending went to locally produced products.
The Hub acknowledges that more research effort is needed to understand local food consumption, but that “the concerns we hear raised by our local farmers and producers do not support the reported findings. Instead, these concerns underscore numerous challenges within the current local food landscape,” said Estelle Levangie, the Food Hub’s Interim Executive Director.
The Food Hub sees what it calls a local food paradox. This exists, they say, “when most of us want to support local and purchase local food when and wherever possible, but there are various barriers, such as convenience; affordability, and accessibility, that hinder the realization of the intention,” said Levangie.
The Hub says that their farmer members and food producers face challenges when selling directly to customers. “For example, having access to markets does not necessarily increase local food production because there is no guarantee that a farmer will successfully sell what they harvest,” said Levangie.
These challenges have led the Food Hub to invest in equipment to process raw vegetables into value-added products and to continue to build its distribution network to provide opportunities to align supply and demand for the benefit of both producers and consumers.
“The Food Hub has been unwavering in its commitment to the growth of local food consumption since its creation in 2015,” said Alix Redden, the Cape Breton Food Hub’s Board Chair. “We exist to provide a deeper connection between consumers and the local food system while actively working to reduce and overcome known barriers faced by both producers and consumers.”
While the province’s agriculture minister is pleased with the results of the survey, which surpassed the government’s goal of reaching 20 percent local food consumption by 2030. The report recognized that farmers, food producers, and consumers continue to have challenges when it comes to buying local. The report puts forward some options for policy makers, including labeling local products, incentives, subsidies or technical support to enable farmers to extend growing seasons.
The Hub is already aware of these challenges.
“In response to these challenges within the local food sector, the Food Hub has already initiated strategic efforts to expand opportunities for increased local food consumption,” says Redden. “This includes acquiring infrastructure to process raw vegetable products into value-added goods, thereby enhancing the marketability of these products and creating new revenue opportunities for farmers. Additionally, we are engaged in efforts to boost local food consumption in institutions such as hospitals, schools, and other similar organizations.”
The report also encourages collaboration between the province and farmers. “By translating these findings into targeted actions, farmers, businesses, and policymakers can collaboratively contribute to a more vibrant, sustainable, and locally focused food system that benefits the province’s inhabitants and its environment alike,” concludes the report.
On collaboration, the report’s authors and the Food Hub are on the same page.
“We see considerable opportunity for further collaboration between our co-operative, its members and the provincial government to explore meaningful ways that promote and increase local food consumption and support sustainable growth for our local producers,” said Redden.
There is also agreement on the need for more education and marketing campaigns that outline the benefits of locally produced foods. While the report suggests that province should take the lead on these efforts, the Hub is moving ahead with its own initiatives.
“As an organization, we also intend to explore new avenues for consumer education, aiming to bridge the disconnect that can exist in understanding where food purchased in grocery stores originates. Through our model, the Food Hub provides food as local as possible, exclusively produced not only in Nova Scotia but right here in Cape Breton.