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For Shannon Lewis-Simpson in Harbour Main, N.L., eating and shopping local is all about making conscious choices when, and if, you can. It’s just a matter of paying attention to who is growing and producing food and where to get it.
“It’s a lot more economically and environmentally friendly to buy local. It’s a no-brainer,” Lewis-Simpson says.
Local may mean different things to different people, but it is defined by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as food from the province or territory where it’s sold or within 50 kilometres of where it’s produced when sold over provincial borders.
It’s easy enough to find food grown and made close to home at a farmers’ market. But not every community has one, and not everyone has access to that as a shopping option.
Lewis-Simpson’s main source for groceries is her local Sobeys store although she also tries to support independents like Taylor’s Fish, Fruit & Vegetable Market in Conception Bay South, as well as going directly to producers and growing her own food.
She acknowledges it can be easier to support local producers when you live in rural areas and “everybody knows someone who grows something,” whereas in urban areas, people may be more separated from their food.
For people who rely on their neighbourhood grocery store, there are ways to incorporate more regional products into your purchase.
Lynda Stewart, Sobeys Local Development Manager Atlantic, says the company carries local products in every department of their stores.
“Sobeys started as a small local company, as a meat supplier, and local sourcing is part of our foundation and we’re really committed to continue with that tradition.”
The company finds suppliers in a variety of ways – through its annual roadshow (currently a virtual event), from store managers and franchise owners, from producers reaching out to them directly, and from visiting farmers’ markets and seeing who is growing and making products in the community.
Some suppliers might be available specifically in their own community while others may choose to have their products throughout the province or country.
“We work with the individual suppliers based on where they see their business going and where we have the opportunity to grow their business.”
Stewart says Sobeys and its Foodland and Co-Op stores have signage to label when a product is from the province or Atlantic Canada.
“Quite often, you can see handwritten signs where ... our store employees have an opportunity to actually write down the community where the product is from.”
They also have signage from Taste of Nova Scotia when a product is from Nova Scotia. That’s through the Get Your Hands on Local program launched last year and is featured in many independent stores, as well as bigger retailers like Sobeys, Atlantic Superstore, and Walmart.
For customers trying to buy more food from nearby communities, Stewart suggests customers familiarize themselves with what is local. That could mean watching for labels in-store or checking out flyers and social media posts that highlight suppliers.
“I just encourage customers to really look around and look for those opportunities while they’re shopping and familiarizing themselves with what’s going on in the community.”
Lewis-Simpson suggests educating yourself on what’s in season and buying in bulk to freeze for later. (For P.E.I., there’s a handy guide here.)
“If something is out of season, you know it’s not local right away.”
Kenneth Cunningham of New Glasgow, N.S. tries to look for vegetables that are in season in order to incorporate more local products onto his dinner plate.
For him, that means a lot of carrots, turnip, cabbage, corn, and broccoli.
There’s also no shortage of Nova Scotian sauces, baked goods, and juices in store, he notes, and though that may mean spending a few more dollars, it’s often worth it.
“When you get something local that is that good, why bother getting a big branded one?“
Cunningham sees value in reducing the distance his food needs to travel, contributing less to greenhouse gas emissions from its transportation.
For Cunningham, the value in shopping locally is also supporting the economy. He notes that Nova Scotia has close to 3,500 farms in the province that employ a lot of people. To directly support them, shoppers have to buy their products, he adds.
“That’s money directly into the pockets of our community,” he says.
Lewis-Simpson shares a similar viewpoint. She says spending money with producers in your community encourages them to carry them.
“You’re supporting the economy. You’re supporting the community. You’re putting money right into the hands of the people living in your place and not some corporate entity in Toronto or wherever. That’s really important.”
Tips for eating local from your grocery store:
● Watch for labels on shelves – that could be a store’s labels or signage from a program like Taste of Nova Scotia
● Familiarize yourself with local producers in your community and keep an eye out for their products
● Buy vegetables and fruit that are in season