Living in a province that has lots of rocky soil can leave Newfoundlanders on the island dependent on the mainland, but gardeners and farmers are determined to cultivate crops.
Joshua Smee, chair of the board of directors for the St. John’s Farmer’s Market Co-operative, explains that most of Newfoundland’s food must be shipped to island, which is particularly a problem during hurricane season, when boats are tied up.
“The weather is visibility more unstable, right?” Smee says, sitting outside a coffee shop on Duckworth Street. “People are more aware of extreme weather events because those are the kind of events that disrupt the supply chain for farm products, for food. … We are heading into a future where that’s going to become more and more the norm. We need to think carefully about how we can make sure our food system is safe and secure and sustainable.”
Transporting food to the island has always been a concern, but now “it is probably a growing one,” he said, adding “there is room for growth.”
“Before Confederation with Canada, which isn’t that long ago,” Smee said, “Newfoundland was largely self-sufficient in its own food production. What we saw after that, of course, was that competition from lower-priced imports from the mainland largely had a real impact on the market here.”
Nowadays, many Newfoundlanders are more interested in knowing where their food comes from because they are worried about the province’s food security.
A new book called “Food Future: Growing a Sustainable Food System for Newfoundland and Labrador” edited by Catherine Keske, an associate professor of boreal ecosystems and agricultural sciences at Memorial University’s Grenfell Campus, explores how “local food production has the potential to generate less waste because the products may have better shelf life.”
A passion for local food fuels many local restaurants, and explains the growth in popularity of the St. John’s Farmers’ Market. It attracts so many food lovers, that after 10 years in existence it is moving from the Lions Club to the former Metrobus depot on Freshwater Road, where it will have room to grow.
“We need more farmers,” says Susan Lester, Lester’s Farm Market manager. She said the population will likely need more locally grown food in the future.
Lester said to help the food go further, local chefs are creating new recipes for local ingredients. Vegetables grown in Newfoundland, for example, can be boiled, roasted, served raw in a salad or turned into ice cream, etc.
According to Nancy Brace, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (RANL), the association has arranged events to bring local farmers and chefs together. The relationship and support between local food providers can do a lot to support food sustainability.
However, there are other reasons people like local food.
“I do find that people value farm food more than processed food,” said Emily Hunt, board member with the St. John’s Farmers’ Market. “The distance from farm to plate is so much smaller, the food just can’t help but be fresher and therefore tastier.”
Hunt says food grown closer to home will last longer, and at the Farmers’ Market, customers are able to meet the farmers who grew the produce.
“Buying directly from them means more money stays local and helps to support local farming,” she explained.
“There is a lot of emphasis right now on trying to strengthen the local farm economy,” Smee said. “(Farmers) are working incredibility hard in what is often difficult climate conditions. It is not the easier place to farm by any means, but there are people making an incredibly productive go of it and doing some really innovative things.”