We all want to save money at the grocery store, but rising food prices are making that more and more difficult in many countries. Transportation costs are partly responsible for that increase, so how can we get nutritious food – produce in particular – to everyone with a minimum amount of travel?
We always hear about the terrible events happening around the world, the degradation of the environment and problems with the food industry. I was pleasantly surprised to see a recent episode of The Nature of Things (specifically Suzuki Diaries: Future City) full of positive news about how Canadian cities are moving towards sustainability and environmental protection. Urban food production was discussed throughout the episode, and was a topic that I found particularly inspiring.
The city of Vancouver has a Community Garden program which they tied into the Olympics in 2006, challenging citizens to create 2010 new plots as part of the city’s Olympic legacy. Vancouver also has a grass-roots organization called Inner-City Farms which partners with homeowners to grow produce instead of grass on their lawns. They sell Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares to residents of Vancouver which provide weekly boxes of the local vegetables during the growing season.
In Montreal, a one-of-a-kind, roof-top greenhouse produces food on a large scale, harvesting up to 200 heads of lettuce every day. Lufa Farms assembles food baskets from all of this food which they send to a series of drop-points around the city. The greenhouse operates all year, does not use pesticides, and flourishes on a unique type of hydroponic technology. At McGill, the Edible Campus project reclaimed some space to grow vegetables and produces one tonne of produce per year. Some of this bounty supports Santropol roulant, a volunteer meal-delivery service with its own roof-top garden that provides another two tonnes of produce for their meals.
Here in Ottawa, we have a few similar organizations. Just Food is working towards a sustainable food approach for Ottawa through a variety of methods including community gardening and awareness campaigns. We have several farmers markets that operate around the city, depending on the time of year, including The ByWard Market, The Ottawa Organic Farmers’ Market, Main Farmers’ Market and Ottawa Farmers’ Market. There is also Ottawa Organics & Natural Foods for CSA food box deliveries year-round. They supply organic produce grown as locally as possible depending on the growing season, as well as a selection of other local and organic products.
The cost-conscious consumer will notice that local or organic does not always mean cheaper produce. There is some research on what is in season and comparison shopping needed to get the most out of the money you spend, but I think locally produced – and even urban farmed – produce is going to become more and more important as transportation costs continue to rise. I think Lufa Farms is on the right track in terms of large, urban operations, and I hope we see more innovations like theirs.