What is Behind the Trend of Local Food?



By Jennifer Reynolds - Institutional Food Program manager at Food Secure Canada

This article has been published on Food Service and Nutrition Magazine (a Canadian Society of Nutrition Management publication). You can read the full version here (Food Service & Nutrition - Volume 1 No. 3)

These days, local food seems to be everywhere: highlighted on grocery store display shelves, featured prominently on restaurant menus and popping up in cities and towns across the country at farmers market stalls.

Local food has moved from a foodie movement to become an established mainstream idea. Sourcing fresh, local ingredients is a rapidly growing trend for health care facilities, campuses and schools.

What is behind the trend of local food?

To meet the growing demand for more local food on institutional menus it’s important to start with understanding what’s behind the trend – why do people seek out local food?

1. Reduce “food miles”

The further food is transported, the higher the food miles and thus a negative impact on the environment. For many people, local food equates to a lighter environmental footprint.

2. Fresher, more flavourful food

Local food is often harvested a few hours before its sold. Think of the farm stand corn you buy in August versus the frozen corn you eat in January. That fresh cob always tastes better. Buying local also leads to greater variety, because short supply chains enable producers to grow varieties that focus on flavour (not surviving long distance transportation).

3. Celebrate eating more seasonally

Seasonal eating is a cornerstone of the locavore diet. This means eating in step with the agricultural harvest calendar and celebrating when fruits and vegetables are at peak flavour and ripeness. (You can still eat local during the winter as ingredients such as grains, meats, dairy products and root crops are available.)

4. Supporting local economies and connecting with producers

In the past decade, there has been a huge growth in ways that consumers can buy directly from food producers: farmers markets, CSA produce box programs and U-picks, to name a few. The benefits to direct purchasing relationships flow in two directions: it allows producers to retain good profit margins (keeping their businesses viable) and consumers learn first-hand about how their food is grown.

5. Transparency

Knowing more about where food comes from, how it’s produced, and what its impact is on the environment and regional economies is perhaps the key driver of the local food trend. Consumers want to know what they’re buying.

Research conducted in 2016 by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity with three key groups of consumers - Moms, Millennials, and Foodies - found that 60% wanted to know more about farming practices. Survey respondents reported that they were personally concerned about: the use of hormones in farm animals (48%); pesticides in crop production (46%); drug residues in meat, milk and eggs (45%); and eating food that comes from genetic engineered crops (41%).


Ways to start buying more local food now

Begin learning about local food in your region

Visit a farmers market or look online for a food hub in your area. Both can be a great place to start a conversation about what your interests are in local foods and what your purchasing needs are.

Tap into provincial “Buy Local” initiatives

Most provinces have buy local initiatives with directories of local suppliers. Logos and promotional materials may be available to help promote local foods featured in menus to patients, staff and visitors.

Provincial Buy Local initiatives include: Buy BC; Buy Manitoba; Foodland Ontario; Aliments du Québec; Buy New Brunswick; PEI Flavours; Select Nova Scotia; Yukon Grown.

Try adding some seasonality to your menu

Seasonal ingredients are a great way to get started with local food – as a side to a main dish or as a featured ingredient. Lots of quantity recipes featuring local ingredients are available like Strive for Five at School and Burlodge ReFresh.

Start a conversation with your existing suppliers

Your distributor wants to meet your needs. If you want to buy more local products it’s important to let them know. Learn about what local food products they already have, and if they don’t already, ask them how they can identify local foods on order lists.

Develop a local food pilot project

Once you’ve learned more about what local foods are in your area, identify a specific product you’d like to source. Ask your distributor about whether they know of a supplier or can find one, or you can develop a new relationship. You could also talk with other CSNM members since they might be interested in purchasing the same product too, the pooled demand may help make it feasible.

And when you use local ingredients make sure to tell everyone about it! Ask staff and eaters to give you their feedback and share your successes with your team, management and the wider community and you’ll be well on your way in the exciting journey of local food.

To read the full article.

Jennifer Reynolds is the Institutional Food Program Manager at Food Secure Canada and a partner in Nourish: The Future of Food in Health Care. She has over 15 years experience in working with farmers, organizations and businesses to build relationships and champion the values of local food in order to create sustainable local food systems. She has developed communications strategies, programs and policies in her work.