The Peterborough Social Planning Council recently released the results of their “Local Food & What We Think About Buying Local: The Future of Food & Farming” survey. With responses from 538 people the information is a great starting tool for this council and its partnered organizations to use to continue improving local food initiatives. The report detailing the surveys results also brings significant attention to the changing landscape of agriculture in and around Peterborough.
While the support for local food and desire to acquire local food at farmers’ markets was overwhelmingly present in survey responses, there did seem to be a desire for more convenience.
This is likely a result of people wanting to buy as much local food as they can, but not wanting to have to visit a separate stores for local products that aren’t available at their first stop.
The very nature of local markets doesn’t permit the one-on-every-corner, open-17-hours-a-day convenience of big name grocery stores. For some customers that’s a deal breaker.
The survey also covered “farm loss.” Farm loss is incongruent with the desire for larger and more prominent local food initiatives.
Since 1971 Peterborough has lost 36% of its farms. That translates to 599 farm businesses lost and 91,000 farmland acres going out of production over the last 42 years. More than 20,000 acres have been lost in the last five years alone.
Furthermore, this report points out that the average age of farm owners and operators is on the rise, suggesting (although not definitively) that there are not enough young people prepared to inherit the farming community.
Nonetheless, the report indicates that the community of leaders, providers, and consumers supporting local initiatives, products, and markets in Peterborough seems to be very strong. There is a strong sense that the next steps will involve reaching out and educating the people who aren’t involved yet.
There is hope that increasing community education can convince more shoppers that the perceived inconvenience is worth overcoming in order to provide support. There is also hope that some farm land can be reclaimed and the agricultural community can again grow in the future.
77.7% of respondents indicated that they felt buying local is important to support the local economy and 70.1% indicated that they felt buying local is a positive choice for the environment. Most also bought local whenever possible and made buying local food a priority.
At Trent University, the desire to support local food and sustainable initiatives is very much alive and well. Initiatives such as the Seasoned Spoon evidence not only this, but the dedication of the people who volunteer their time to make these initiatives a possible and functioning reality.
The Seasoned Spoon’s successful levy campaign in the past TCSA election demonstrates that, for the people working there, the future hasn’t always been certain, but that the University community is willing to take steps to create more certainty and stability for such initiatives.
The greater Peterborough community is also visibly in support of local food. Many downtown cafes or restaurants have signs boasting the inclusion of local ingredients in signature and specialty dishes.
Furthermore, there are two farmers’ markets happening every week, one of which happens downtown and the other by the Memorial Centre. The very existence of two markets at two separate locations implies a supportive market for local products.
The committee’s report also included comments and feedback from participants. The feedback was highly diverse, with respondents saying things such as “Great job, thank you for making the promotion of local foods a priority” and “Local food that has been grown using pesticides and harvested using petroleum products is problematic.”
Another person wrote: “More education regarding local foods and why they are important would be useful. I think many people do not understand the connection between cheap oil, low food prices, malnutrition and climate change, not to mention loss of community and self-sufficiency, all of which come into play when food sources are industrialized and run according to corporate interests.”