Published: Mississauga.com, March 25, 2013

Raising the humble baingan and bhindi — eggplant and okra — are already worth big cash dollars to Ontario farmers, as per a recent study.

How big? Try $83 million.

What’s more, the total quantity of such vegetables grown annually in the province isn’t enough to satisfy the appetites of GTA residents, which is why farmers are being urged to add to their acreage of ‘ethnic’ crops.

Yet another piece of the jigsaw that shows the picture of the ‘ethnic’ resident rapidly evolving into the new mainstream — at least across several swathes of the GTA.

Interestingly, the study also notes eggplant and okra sales outside the GTA is also very respectable, at some 64 per cent.

Baingan bhartha with bhindi fry anyone?

The latest study comes from Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland), which is now joining forces with Bruce Botanical Food Gardens (BBFG) to present a workshop to southwestern Ontario farmers, food wholesalers/retailers and food distribution companies on the potential ethno-cultural crop production may hold for them.

Experts suggest the planned increase in such ‘ethno-cultural’ crop acreage holds the potential “to address the issues of access to culturally appropriate food of an expanding population in Ontario”.
The collaboration between Vineland and the BBFG will start by focusing on three key ethno-cultural food plants — okra, and two varieties of eggplant.
Okra demand

According to a recent online consumer study carried out by Vineland’s Consumer Insights and Product Innovation team led by Dr Isabelle Lesschaeve, there is a huge market potential for these crops. For instance, sales of okra across Canada in the growing season (July-Oct) top 24.9 million pounds and are valued at $49.7 million.

The study identified 46 per cent of those sales are to Ontario consumers with 36 per cent of Ontario consumption occurring within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) This also represents 64 per cent of sales occurring outside the GTA in areas across the province.

The study estimates the need for more than 1,500 acres of production to meet Ontario demand alone for this one food crop.

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