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Local food movement on the rise in Greater Sudbury

by Naomi Grant

Eat Local Sudbury turned a recent mishap into a chance to grow (photo Naomi Grant)
Eat Local Sudbury turned a recent mishap into a chance to grow (photo Naomi Grant)

It’s the end of the growing season for local food but not for the local food movement, which is going strong in Greater Sudbury.  That positive energy and community support was well represented by a recent event at Eat Local Sudbury (ELS), when vandalism destroyed their front window.  ELS seized on the opportunity to install much needed equipment that could not be brought through the door, effectively turning a bad incident into positive growth for the local food co-op.   The community rallied around this good news story, helped along by some playful buzz in the ELS newsletter and social media.

Eat Local Sudbury is one key part of a wider growing local food movement in Greater Sudbury.  Local food is also a focus of current environmental work, and one of the top four priorities agreed to by local environmental groups at the Spring 2012 Green Gathering.   Efforts focus around four key areas:  connecting people to local food, teaching basic food skills (growing, preparing, and storing local food), supporting local farmers, and advocacy.

If you’re fortunate, your first experience with local food will be food you’ve grown yourself.  The number of community gardens in Greater Sudbury has grown to over thirty, and more continue to pop up.  There is an urgent need for a community garden coordinator.  Local food groups and others have advocated for this to become a permanent city staff position, with no result so far. 

Home gardeners can find encouragement from the Sudbury Horticultural Society, and at the annual Seedy Sunday spring seed swap, supported by the Social Planning Council and others.  The Foodshed Project has continued to share gardening and community gardening skills.  Recently, however, their primary focus has been on Grow A Row, a program that connects local gardeners to food banks, increasing access to fresh produce for those in need.   A brand new project, Fruit For All, will begin harvesting urban fruit next fall, reducing food waste, and sharing the fruit among the pickers, the owner (if on private land) and the food bank.  Another program that connects people to affordable produce, including local produce, is the Good Food Box.

The market should be a natural focal point for accessing local food and supporting local farmers.  This was the market’s first year at its new location at the old train station, and the season appeared to be a success.  A second mid-week market at Anderson Farm in Lively also did quite well.  Although local produce is available at the market, so too are imports from the south.  There is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to connecting local farmers to the market.  Local food advocates would like the market to be designated a Farmer’s Market, which would require a minimum proportion of locally sourced products.  However, neither the city nor the city’s volunteer advisory committee on the market have supported this designation.

With a store-front and a growing membership, Eat Local Sudbury is many people’s easiest access point for local food.  ELS has just over 600 members, an increase of 200 from last year.  An even larger number of people receive their e-newsletter, which connects people to information and recipes for local food, but also to skill building workshops for growing and preparing food, and to local food issues and action campaigns. 

A 3-year Trillium grant supports ELS in two further projects.  A multi-farmer community shared agriculture program is another way to connect people to local food, while also directly supporting local farmers.  Providing equipment to extend the growing season was another support they were able to offer some local farmers. 

New farmers face extra challenges.  The North Eastern Ontario New Farmer Network is a new organization building on the work of FarmON to support them.  They are offering skill building workshops, networking opportunities, and other support.

Greater Sudbury has little farmland.  The current Official Plan designates an agricultural reserve of 14,500 acres, as recommended by the province.  This is markedly smaller than the 77,715 acres recommended by the Agricultural Advisory Panel and the ‘modified LEAR’ option of 42,105 acres.  Although the current agricultural reserve most likely captures the majority of highly arable soil in Greater Sudbury it does not capture other farming uses, agriculture related uses, or future potential uses with soil building, that require the larger lot sizes and have the potential land use conflict issues that come with farming.  Local food advocates estimate that 85,000 acres would be required to feed the population of Greater Sudbury, and recommend that the agricultural reserve be expanded. 

Protecting arable land is therefore especially important.  Top soil stripping has depleted this scarce resource, slowed somewhat by a topsoil by-law that critics, and the city’s own Agricultural Advisory Panel (now disbanded), labeled as weak.  City Council has regularly granted exemptions to its own Official Plan policies on rural lot splitting, resulting in further fragmentation and development of farmland.  Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury has advocated against these decisions, also recommended against by city planners.  However, Council would instead prefer to loosen current rules.  This month, the city’s planning committee voted to allow farmland to be split up into as many as six smaller lots.  They were backed by a  vocal crowd of rural residents who want to be able to do what they want with their land.  “We don’t live in a  communist country,”  Councillor Evelyn Dutrisac stated in her passionate defense of the residents right to choose.  “I’m 100% behind you,” affirmed Councillor Dave Kilgour, chair of the Planning Committee.  He added, however, that “the battle has just begun,” referring to the fact that the proposed changes would be scrutinized and likely overturned, by the province. 

Issues like this demonstrate the importance of both policy and political will.  The Greater Sudbury Food Policy Council formed last in January 2013, and advocates for policies supportive of local food and agriculture.  For example, they have worked collaboratively with city planners towards positive changes in the Official Plan.  Other work includes networking, coordination, and programs.  With staff support from the City, the Sudbury District Health Unit, and others, the Greater Sudbury Food Policy is well placed to make positive changes. 

 

Find out more about local environmental groups active in local food here.

See a summary of current work by these groups here.

To receive updates on green space issues and other local environmental issues, contact clsudbury@live.com to request the Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury e-newsletter

To ask the City to make the market a Farmer’s Market, or to provide other input on the market, fill out this survey.

Naomi Grant chairs Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury, and is an organizer of the bi-annual Green Gatherings.

 


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Naomi Grant (Naomi Grant)
Sudbury
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