Although asparagus season is actually still at least a few weeks (okay, months) off, I keep trying to convince myself that any day now, I’ll run up to that display in my local supermarket’s produce section and the tag will say “Product of Ontario” instead of “Product of Peru”. Of course, when local asparagus becomes available, we’ll all know it – so many local organizations have popped up over the past few years to advocate for local food that they’ll be fighting to tell us all who has the first, best and cheapest asparagus around.
Despite working with and writing about many of the various regional food advocacy groups over the past couple of years, I still have a hard time remembering who does what. Which means that the average consumer in the Toronto area is probably even more bewildered than I am. Here then, is a brief primer, separated by category, of the various organizations, what they do, and where you can find them.
Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation – designed to advocate for the preservation of the Greenbelt surrounding the Greater Toronto Area. This includes protecting wildlife and flora as well as promoting area farmers and local produce.
Foodland Ontario – Provincial government organization dedicated to promoting local produce. While they include information on various growers associations and pick your own sites, most Torontonians will recognize the ads from television (“Good things Groo-ooow, in On-TARE-eee-ohhh!!”) or will notice the distinctive green and white signage pointing out local products in supermarkets.
Harvest Ontario – Guide to Agri-Tourism in Ontario. This includes U-pick farms, farmer’s markets, farm-gate sellers, as well as wineries, festivals and events and B&B’s.
Local Food Plus – Dedicated to pairing local farmers with consumers via their own certification program. With a focus on sustainable food systems, many of the participating producers are also organic. LFP works with retailers and local restaurants such as Il Fornello to promote awareness of local products and to make them available to the consumer.
My Market – This organization runs a series of certified local farmer’s markets. “Certification” means that participating vendors must be the actual farmers who grew/produced the goods they sell, and who meet a specific set of criteria regarding their growing and selling conditions. My Market originally received some criticism from local food advocates when they first started in 2007, but have since relaxed their criteria to include producers, such as Monforte Dairy, who do not necessarily “grow” the ingredients used in the products they sell.
Not Far From the Tree – Toronto’s fruit networking project, promoting the sharing of the harvest from backyard fruit trees across the city.
Savour Ontario – Organization run by the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership (part of the Ministry of Tourism) to promote culinary tourism and dining in the province of Ontario.
Slow Food Toronto – Started in Italy with conviviums around the world, Slow Food works to promote an appreciation and respect for food that has been lost in modern society. With a focus on local, sustainable and ethical farming and marketing practices, Slow Food is, at its essence, a celebration of food from soil to plate. The Toronto convivium hosts events throughout the year including picnics and fairs, all of which are open to the public.
Toronto Food History Project – A community history project working to record the history of urban agriculture within the city of Toronto.
Toronto Vegetarian Association – Promote vegetarianism and a vegetarian lifestyle. Offers information and a resource centre for Torontonians interested in cutting back, or cutting out, meat consumption. They also offer courses and cooking classes and run the largest Vegetarian Food Fair in North America.
Wine Council of Ontario – Info on wine country tours, winemakers, events and more.
Foodshare – the powerhouse of food advocacy groups in Toronto, Foodshare works to ensure sustainably produced, good healthy food for everyone. Offering weekly produce boxes known as the Good Food Box, Foodshare also works to promote healthy eating in schools, offers community kitchen facilities and works with local groups to create community gardens.
Second Harvest – works to get unused food from local restaurants, hotels and events to groups in need such as food banks, community centres and hostels. Also run a Harvest Kitchen training program to help prospective chefs build appropriate skill sets to work in the industry.
I’ve included a brief events section here because there are a trio of outdoor events that are all similar in nature, and which many people tend to confuse.
Toronto Taste – Charity event held in June of each year to benefit Second Harvest. Features local chefs, breweries and wineries.
Feast of Fields – Charity event, hosted by Organic Advocates, held in September of each year. Designed to promote organic and sustainable farming with local producers, chefs and businesses.
Slow Food Picnic at the Brickworks – Started in 2007, this annual event hosted by Slow Food Toronto brings together local chefs and food producers to celebrate the seasonal harvest.
Next week, I’ll have Part 2 of the extensive list of groups that promote local food and markets with info on regional food promotions, organics and industry-related groups.