FarmStart’s MarketLINK program was proud to host a Local Food Pavilion at this year’s Ethnic and Specialty Food Show in Mississauga, ON. This expo is a one-of-a-kind trade show where food industry representatives come together to learn about the newest trends in food culture.

FarmStart’s Local Food Pavilion complimented the trade show’s larger All Things Organic (TM) Pavilion, which featured organic farms, certifiers, and non-profit organizations. Our objectives for the pavilion were to engage ethnic retailers, processors, chefs and consumers in discussion around purchasing local food, and to explore the potential for future linkages between these groups and local farmers.

FarmStart worked in partnership with two local farmers, Heritage Line Herbs and Whole Circle Farms, as well as Hamilton’s non-profit Eat Local Program, to set-up an attractive display booth.

Our display showcased fresh, local produce, and featured information on developing a sustainable food system. The conference organizer, Donna Wood, generously donated the space for our pavilion, with the aim of drawing attention to local food opportunities.

Talking with the food company representatives who attended the show was in some ways a dispiriting experience, as it underlined for us the enormous distance that our food system has created between consumers and farmers. Few food company representatives could tell us where or under what conditions the produce that they use for their products is grown.

Most of the Canadian-based ethnic food companies that exhibited at the show produce prepared foods, to be heated and eaten direct from the package. These companies generally outsource their production to co-packers – large companies that manufacture and package food products on a contract basis. In the prepared food industry, responsibility for food safety and sustainability is diffused among an international network of producers, processors/packagers, distributors and retailers, all engaged in a race to the bottom on price.

This system simply cannot accommodate the small- to medium-scale, sustainable farming that FarmStart supports. However, FarmStart’s Local Food Pavilion did draw many attendees and exhibitors who are looking for ways to make change. We fielded dozens of inquiries from restaurateurs and entrepreneurs who are eager to establish relationships with local producers. The West Indian pumpkins on display at our booth – kindly donated by Elgin County’s Howe Farms – attracted particular interest, especially from Caribbean-Canadian retailers and chefs looking for a taste of home.

Follow-up since the show has generated some very fruitful partnerships. FarmStart has helped connect chefs, local retail shops and new bakeries to farmers and organizations working with farmers, such as Toronto’s Local Food Plus.

Overall, the show proved to be a valuable learning experience. It was a great way to spread the word about local food and connect with people who are interested in exploring that avenue. At the same time, it revealed just how much work needs to be done to provide alternatives to the unsustainable practices of the global food system.

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