Frontenac County representatives and farmers came together Thursday February 15 at the Verona Lions' Hall for a potluck and brainstorming session.
The brainstorm centred around developing the local food economy with the perennial questions coming to the fore: How do we address the lack of connectedness between producers and consumers? How can we develop better road signage and online directories to get the message out? How do the idea of buying local food and an awareness of opportunities to do so become ingrained in consumers' minds so that local food can grow?
Fifteen years ago, egg signs at the ends of laneways were virtually the only evidence that farm goods were available direct to consumers.
Around this time, a campaign was created under the logo, “Eat from Kingston's Countryside.” “Feast of Fields,” a series of events where guests were treated to fine dining with food from local farms, prepared by local chefs, were organized and well received; people were meeting farmers and having experiences on farms. They began signing up for beef and chicken orders, and visiting farm gates as a means of connecting further with these newly discovered farms and their quality goods.
Among the vanguards of this push for local food awareness and increased economic viability were Andrea Cumpson of Sonset Farms, Kim Perry of Perry Farm and Food Less Traveled, and Sharon Freeman of Freeman Farms, who attended Thursday's meeting. Thanks to their efforts, local food made great leaps in the last decade. The downside has been that such initiatives take time and energy, and risk wearing out already-overworked farmers.
The county is looking at ways to bolster the work of the farming community so that the local food economy can gain momentum and farmers can focus more on production. As Richard Allen, Manager of Economic Development, explained, a committee is set to be struck, that would see people involved in the local food economy first identify what the main issues are around supply, ease of access and branding. The next step would be to decide how the committee's findings could fit into the county's workplan.
From there it is a question of how much the producer does to further its market access and how much a larger body such as a county government is needed to ensure businesses can thrive.
The meeting, with an attendance nearing 20, came on the heels of Smith's Falls' Three Rivers' Food Hub announcing that it is discontinuing the distribution component of its operations. This had been a much-celebrated step forward in local food infrastructure in the region, and its loss is a reminder that local food distribution is still in its infancy.
A few possibilities for the coming year were floated late in the meeting: a re-emergence of Feast of Fields and Open Farm Days (a series of organized farm visits) which the County could help promote.
Attendees also pondered looking into web-based programs along the lines of Good Eggs, a San Francisco-based site that acts as a grocery service for local producers and eaters.