Province can’t afford not to produce and buy local: professor

Cory
Cory Hurley
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Gabriella Sabau, an economics teacher with Memorial University Grenfell Campus, picks up some local products from the Farmers Market on O’Connell Drive recently.
— Star photo by Geraldine Brophy

The sustainability of a population is often judged on how well it produces for itself, from the products and services to, more importantly, the food. This three-part series takes a look at the importance of local produce and what it means to western Newfoundland.

CORNER BROOK  Agriculture has a bright future in western Newfoundland, if farmers are innovative and receive the necessary support, according to a university professor.

Gabriella Sabau, an economics teacher with Memorial University Grenfell Campus, believes the key to success for the local agriculture industry is small-scale production. However, that farm has to be creative in its operation, maximizing its revenue generation, she said.

Sabau — who co-organized “Our Food, Our Future, Growing the Agriculture Industry” in Corner Brook last November — said in general small-scale farms are not efficient because they lack the economies of scale to be successful. However, integrated approaches such as animal and produce husbandry, is her recommendation. She suggests a full local operation such as producing hay to feed animals on the farm and using the animals’ manure to produce organic crops.

However, it is equally important for the consumer to support local, she says. It is a necessity to have a means to provide produce to the customers without intermediaries to raise prices.

This is where a farmers market is key. Attempts in the past have failed to generate the participation of farmers and the public interest required to grow the concept. The catch-22 problem is something she cannot put her finger on in terms of a solution. However, seeing no farmers market in Corner Brook this summer is something she is not happy with.

“I don’t know why we couldn’t make it work,” she said. “I feel a farmers market is really important in Corner Brook to have an outlet for farmers to come and sell.”

She envisions a market with an abundance of local farmers, combined with the crafts and jams that were so popular, but also a unique offering. She said providing an opportunity for local fishermen to see their catches at a market would be an attraction.

It is something that has to start small and grow big. However, Sabau does acknowledge the farmers themselves were not participating in the market that was being held in Corner Brook.

“Maybe the location was not right or it was not advertised enough for the farmers to know we are meeting and it is available,” she said.

There is also a need for a change in consumer attitudes and habits, according to the professor. She said the local market which opened on O’Connell Drive recently is a great option for local shoppers.

“I think we should be proud we have these farmers,” she said. “Same as the fishers, we wouldn’t even know we have a thriving fishery in the province. People should be boasting about it. We should be supportive of it.”

There are signs around the city stating support local. However, Sabau said there needs to be a greater effort. Directions as to where and what to buy local needs to be advertised. And the consumer must listen.

“Maybe it is more convenient to walk into a large convenience store and buy the stuff, but it is not healthy and, at the end of the day, is actually more expensive,” she said. “You need to pay for transportation and pay for intermediaries who are bringing the stuff here, instead of dealing with local producers.”

She is not a big fan of the carbon tax concept, but would like to see a carbon quota placed on food. She believes the additional cost would often just be something the consumer would absorb. A quota, however, ensures there is a greater need for local produce.

“I believe a quota is better than a carbon tax because the environment doesn’t care about the money we pay,” she said. “It cares about the pollution we move around.”

The professor said she has not heard much about the growing interest in restaurants to offer local produce on their menus. Madison’s in Steady Brook is one such example. Chef Nathan Hornidge said in a recent interview with The Western Star this is expected to become more common locally. Sabau believes it is a great idea.

Overall, she said Newfoundland and Labrador needs to become more independent, and more self-sustainable. She 90 per cent of the food in the province is shipped or flown here. Food security is a major concern, according to Sabau.

“We can’t afford not to produce and buy locally,” she said.

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Corner Brook, Madison Steady Brook Western Star

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  • Backyard Farmer
    September 03, 2013 - 15:29

    In my experience there aren't enough local farmers--there's no abundance--to warrant a farmer's market. Those with produce have their own sales outlets.Many local gardens--including the community gardens---have very limited production. It's more for exercise, the process, than the harvest.