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Home Grown Dissent

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Issue: 36 Section: Food Geography: Ontario Topics: labour, food security

April 24, 2006

Home Grown Dissent

Connecting the evening news and the evening meal

by Kristen Howe

Why aren't Canadians eating food grown locally? John Bonnar
"April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain."

–T.S. Eliot, the Wasteland

On and off the fields, things have indeed been 'stirring' this spring. Thanks to the Easter weekend, grocery stores recorded some of the highest daily profits of the year. April also saw thousands of farmers literally drive their tractors into the political arena.

An estimated 10,000 farmers traveled to Parliament Hill in early April to protest their rising costs and falling incomes. They brought their tractors and the message that Canadian farmers cannot bear the burden of negative incomes produced by a dysfunctional food system.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) reports that realized net income for the average Canadian farm is between negative $10,000 and negative $20,000 per year. Meanwhile, agribusiness corporations supplying inputs such as chemicals and seeds are making record profits. Likewise, food processors, exporters and retailers are also enjoying high profits at farmers' expense, according to the NFU.

Around the same time that Canadians were spending record amounts on groceries over the Easter long weekend, tractors began blockading food terminals in Ontario. Farmers were protesting the small amount of profits they will see from grocery stores that are flooded with foreign products.

The blockades were called off at three Ottawa terminals on April 15 after discussions with federal officials led organizers to believe that the upcoming federal budget would provide help to Canadian farmers. A second victory came on April 18, when the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, which represents the heavyweights in the grocery industry, agreed to bolster the farmers' lobbying efforts and push for new regulations promoting Canadian produce on grocery store shelves.

Colleen Ross, the National Farmers' Union's Women's president and organic farmer, points out that recent farm protests in Canada are part of a larger international movement of farmers seeking social and economic justice. April 17 was the International Day of Farmers' Struggle, an event organized by La Via Campesina, a coalition of international farm organizations. Farm and food issues affect all people, says Ross: "The structure of the global food system is an issue that should concern everyone."

Although the farming crisis is a global one, Ross brings the issues back to the manageable level of the dinner table. Canadians can support farmers and local economies by eating locally grown food, says Ross who likes to "encourage…nay, hound!... people to boycott products that compete directly with Canadian grown and raised products." Even this can be tricky, however, as labeling laws in Canada "are so misleading, that even when people think they are buying Canadian, what they are often getting is some water and a container from Canada and the contents coming from China," says Ross. "For example, apple juice concentrates coming from China and reconstituted here [and] bottled and marked Canadian Number 1."

Over the long weekend in April, Ross cooked up a meal for her family at her home near Iroquois, Ontario. She used mainly local ingredients that can be frozen and canned from the garden, or bought at local grocery stores or directly from farmers markets. Although Ross does use some non-local ingredients, like olive oil and pepper, she says that many meals can be sourced locally. In Ontario, "you can find locally-grown apples, squash and even wines. Carrots and other vegetables grown and stored over winter can be found across the country. The list of high-quality Canadian foods that are available is endless," she says. "Unfortunately, it's not always easy to find Canadian-grown on the shelves," she adds. Ross suggests consumers ask specifically for Canadian-grown produce and Canadian-raised meat products.

In spring, when new crops are just beginning to stir in the fields, Ross recommends the following meal, which can be made with locally grown ingredients.

Colleen Ross' Spring Feast

"For the chicken we have free-range organic, which I raise here. First, season the chicken with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Brown the whole chicken all over in a big pan with some butter and some olive oil. Then put in a casserole dish that has a lid, but not too small to crowd the chicken. You then pour over the juice of two lemons and about two cups of milk, then about 10 cloves of garlic, crushed but not minced. Season again well. Add either tarragon leaves or basil, whatever you have, best fresh. (I freeze whole leaves that I take out and use like fresh in cooking. Better than drying everything.). This is very important. Take the lid off for the last 1/2 hour. Cook in total for about two hours, depending on size of chicken. The chicken should be nicely browned."

Ross accompanies the chicken with roasted Canadian parsnips, potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes and carrots seasoned with sea salt and pepper, olive oil, herbs, and baked in a covered casserole dish in the oven with a few table spoons of water. For dessert, Ross recommends Kawartha Dairy 100% Canadian Ingredients ice cream.

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