by BETTER FARMING STAFF
“This whole local food initiative is an opportunity, we just need to figure out how to capitalize on it,” says Donald Ziraldo, chair of the Vineland Research Centre. Ziraldo was commenting on the centre’s Thursday announcement that it is initiating a local food project to link producers with local food buyers and retailers.
Over the past few months, Ziraldo has also been closely involved with efforts to find a buyer for the St. David’s CanGro plant. CanGro has announced it will close the pear and peach processor this summer.
Ziraldo, along with several area politicians and other area growers, was trying to interest buyers in the plant in recent weeks but ultimately there just wasn’t enough time, he says. “We just couldn’t get all of the pieces together, it was just too little time to make things happen to finalize it (a deal),” he said.
Now, growers have removed most of the trees that had been used to grow clingstone peaches for the plant.
But Ziraldo remains hopeful a new use for the plant can be found.
In the meantime, simply replacing the trees with something else isn’t enough to turn the region’s beleagured agriculture sector around: “I think what we’re going to have to do is come up with much more creative, outside the box thinking.”
He admits that there is some skepticism that surrounds local food marketing initiatives “but the reality is you can’t compete with China on price, so let’s compete on something they can’t reproduce, which is a local brand.”
Interest in locally grown products is growing and Ziraldo says when it comes to promoting local product, the Niagara region has a strong and successful role model in the development of the VQA (Vintners Quality Assurance) program, which promotes wines made with Canadian grapes.
But there are challenges, he admits, putting at the top of the list the need for better labeling and marketing as well as obtaining the cooperation of both independent and large retailers.
The local foods program will start with 15 local growers as well as St. Davids Hydroponics obtaining certification under the Local Food Plus program. Local Foods Plus is a national non-profit organization that connects farmers with consumers.
Its certification program involves satisfying several requirements including employing sustainable production systems, providing safe and fair working conditions as well as healthy and humane care for livestock, protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat and biodiversity on working farms and reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Vineland is providing funding to hire a coordinator to administer the grower certification.
Others involved in the pilot include the Vineland Growers Cooperative, the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers and the Regional Municipality of Niagara.
Niagara growers, food producers and buyers interested in participating in the pilot can contact Vineland www.vinelandontario.ca or Local Food Plus www.localfoodplus.ca for more information. BF