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Wake up London!!

This morning I went down to Market to get some fresh fruit to supplement our large supply of veggies from our CSA.  I just can’t get over how fabulous all the produce looks, with beautiful carrots, beets, greens, salad ingredients, a myriad of other veggies and fruit, baked goods and even some wonderful new locally grown stone ground wheat products such as tortilla shells and pasta.  Really, there is no need to go anywhere else for food this time of year, except for animal products, which I buy inside at Fieldgate Organics.

So WHY is the market so quiet?  Why don’t Londoners buy their food there?  I just don’t get it!  I spoke at length with one farmer this morning who recently moved here from New Brunswick.  He said he lived there in a community of 7-8000 people, yet at Saturday market upwards of 10,000 people would show up.  He would sell out every time, and made a very comfortable living farming.  Here in London, a community of over 300,000, he is struggling to make ends meet.  What’s wrong with this picture?

If I were to guess, I would say the root of the problem is that this area of the country is much  more individualized than out east.  The Maritimes are well known for their strong sense of community, and for people’s friendliness and interaction.  According to the farmer I was speaking with, out east it really matters to people who grows their food, and how.  They want to meet the person who’s putting food on their tables, and build a relationship with them.  I can certainly understand that!  I know both the name and can picture the face of the producers of almost everything I buy these days.  And I feel a wonderful sense of well being and community as a result.

However, in a busy business center like London (business capital of Ontario), people have “better” things to do with their time than structure their week around when they can get local produce.  The convenience of being able to run to the grocery store any time of day or night takes precedent over the esthetic of going to market on a Saturday morning, and for some reason the produce they can buy in the supermarket keeps them satisfied.  I think that is because they don’t see what they can get at market.  Seriously, it’s a feast for the eyes as well as for the belly.  Next time I go I will be sure to bring my camera!

I really don’t know how to change this.  I’ve tried, let me tell you.  I drag my friends to market, give them all sorts of statistics, even cook delicious 100% local dishes that are super simple.  Yet only a couple are really into buying local food, and those are the ones who were doing it already.  So basically, despite everything I’ve done to learn and teach about food this year, I have made zero inroads in my immediate community.  That does not bode well for London in general.  I mean, if my friend who writes nationally acclaimed books on green living won’t shop at market, then who will?  Small organic farmers around London ship the vast majority of their produce to Toronto, which is more than happy to gobble it up.  What is wrong with this picture?

Some argue that we shouldn’t place the weight of this responsibility at the level of the individual.  I can understand this point.  Maybe the city needs to get on board more, somehow, and promote this more.  I think the city’s hands are tied though, as what can they do other than provide market space and advertising?  They can’t force people to shop at market.  And they certainly can’t force grocery stores to carry local produce.  Heaven forbid, no!  I don’t think the provincial or even federal levels of government can do that without breaking WTO rules.  Yeah neo-liberalism!  What a wonderful world you have built.

So this really does boil down to individual effort.  Sorry folks but, right or wrong, change is up to us.

Right then, London, time to step up to the plate. Get out there and support our local market!  Grab a friend or a book, and make a morning of it.  The market square has plenty of picnic tables where you can enjoy a cup of fair trade coffee (from Has Beans, just inside the market building) and locally baked goods made fresh for market every week.  Careful, though, if you start to go regularly, you just might find yourself slowing down and enjoying life more!  In fact, just this morning I found myself sitting in Victoria park reading a book with a cup of tea, rather than rushing home to my computer and chores.

As the farmer I spoke with this morning warned: Buy local, or bye local.  Think about it. Please.


One Response

  1. I am too far from you to buy directly, but I read more and more about this and would like to support local markets much more than I do. (I live in Ajax.)

    You say that perhaps the weight of responsibility should not be placed on the individual, but I’m afraid that that’s the only place where it truly belongs. If people didn’t go to Loblaws, it would go out of business overnight, simple as that. We have the power, but we must be motivated to use it.

    Don’t be discouraged by initial results of trying to get people to change their shopping habits. For me, it has taken repeated exposure to these ideas, along with numerous conversations and meanderings on the Internet, to become as aware of it as I am. Keep going and you’ll find people will actually start to change in their own slow ways.

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