The Plight of Ontario Farming
All September long, the Y’s Women Bloggers have been celebrating food. Food, glorious, food. Back in August when we sat down to pick out some topics, we thought it important to examine some of the benefits of living in the Niagara Region – *ahem* wine, being one. But also extremely important to take a closer look at the struggle facing our local farmers. In other words, and as Eating Niagara’s Tiffany Mayer so aptly puts it “a part about peach farming that’s the pits”.
Why is it that despite Niagara peaches being sold at fruit stands, neither the St. Catharines nor Niagara Falls Zehrs had any Canadian grown fruit in early August whatsoever? On the day I discovered this frustration, my boyfriend and I drove from the Zehrs in Niagara Falls out to a lovely fruit stand in NOTL where we picked up a pint of deep red cherries, peach blueberry jam, and fresh tomatoes. As Ina Garten would say, “how great is that?”
Well, as it turns out – great for us, but not the farmers.
It seems the root of this problem lies with Free Trade. Without barriers for sale in Canada, US fruit farms are able to use Canada – primarily Ontario and Quebec – as “dumping zones” for excess product, which they sell on consignment for prices so low that no Canadian farmer could hope to match. Take this year’s cherry crop as an example: the Northwest US had a record year. Once they have made their profits by selling to all US markets, the remainder is sold so cheaply here in Canada, that it wouldn’t possibly matter what the Canadian price could be. And according to Mayer, the US’ output of cherries is so great that Canadian farmers are abandoning them altogether. The unfortunate cost of free trade is that Canada can’t afford to take care of it’s own farmers; the temptation of buying cheap, imported fruit is too great. What local product does make it to our grocery stores is a drop in the bucket to the farmers who still have to compete amongst themselves.
Ron Troup of Lakelee Orchards in Jordan sites increasing Canadian fuel costs as a factor in our farms not being able to produce as cheaply as the US. Add to that rising labour costs, and you have a formula for a too thin margin for profit. According to Ron, labour used to account for 30-40% of their costs, now it’s at an unsustainable 60%. To make matters worse for all, US farm workers are being paid less than minimum wage – as low as $6.75 USD in some cases.
We are so fortunate to live in the Niagara Region. Too often I think we take for granted the pears, cherries, peaches and apples that grow – sometimes quite literally – in our own back yards. A trip out to Jordan village wouldn’t be the same without seeing the peaches growing at the side of the road. Or a scenic drive in Fenwick incomplete without a stop at the apple orchard. We simply cannot afford to lose these experiences! It’s up to the consumer to demand local product in our grocery stores. Next time you’re at Zehrs or Loblaws, take a look at where your Royal Gala apples are grown, tell the attendants you want in season local produce, and refuse to buy California peaches in August!
Last weekend I took a trip out to Lakelee Orchards to pick up some goodies from Ron’s wife Jackie’s Blossom Bakery. I was greeted by two gorgeous, friendly dogs, left with flatbread pizzas, treats and cherries. And that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you buy straight from a family farm. So why not find your inner Barefoot Contessa; grab some local peaches and whip up an old family recipe for peach pie!
Or try this recipe I found on Pinterest that I’ll probably never make, but would love to try!
Coconut Peach Cobbler
Thank you to Tiffany Mayer of Eating Niagara (check out her new book here!) And a very special thanks to Ron and Jackie Troup of Lakelee Orchards for their help in putting this post together.