Barrie's Foodshed & Food Trade Economy
Food Systems Planning is all about planning for, creating and maintaining food distribution routes. Foodsheds are areas of surrounding land that provide all the food required to feed a particular population.
Foodsheds encompass the flow of food from the land it grows on, to the route it travels, to the markets it passes, and to the tables it ends up on.
Barrie’s foodshed has all the attributions required to support regional food security, while it’s unique geographical features and industry modernizations has turned it into one of Canada’s most lucrative food-producing bioregions.
Canada, as a whole, ranks 5th among global agriculture commodity exporters, having exported agriculture and food for a combined total of $67 billion in 2019 (food surplus was valued around $741 million). This means that Canadians grow more food than they eat.
Barrie’s foodshed also produces significantly more food than it consumes, and thus lies a new, untapped food economy.
Barrie's Foodshed Map
Video taken on the drive to The Holland Marsh to pickup lettuce. It was in August; almost 7AM EST.
Canada's Surplus Has it's Own Surplus
When Fresh Food Weekly received charitable status in 2022, the vast majority of our produce donations started coming from The Holland Marsh throughout growing seasons. In addition, all produce donations received from farmers in The Marsh were given “indefinitely”. Meaning, they have so many vegetables, they can give as much as we need, whenever we need, as long as we’re the ones who pick it up and package it.
Pretty awesome right?
Outside of the fact that our Marsh farmers are wonderful people, the reason for SUCH generosity is usually one of two main contributing factors:
The nutrient levels in the Marsh’s soil are very high, and deplete slower than other types of farmlands. As a result, farmers in The Marsh are highly coveted by grocery stores and so there’s a ton of farmers with big grocery store contracts in The Holland Marsh.
When farmers have contracts with grocery stores, they need to be able to guarantee their supply to cover all the store’s demand - whether there’s a lot or a little.
Gaetano's Green Acres
Gaetano's Green Acres Farm in The Holland Marsh, Ontario
Each case of celery has 24 stalks in it.
Gaetano's Green Acres
This is the case for Tony Gaetano, the owner of Gaetano Green Acres Farm located in the heart of The Holland Marsh, who supplies local Loblaws with various lettuces, as well as celery, and he also ships his product into the New York in the United States as well. Tony says that some grocer agreements use computers to recommend a volume based on the previous year’s sales, and then he increases production by 10 percent over the contract volume to guarantee supply. This means he has to have a minimum of two extra fields available for each item under contract. The result is usually an extra two fields of produce to be donated instead of ground back up in the soil by the till. In the event of reduced demand, they’ll harvest the product and store it in refrigerated stores until demand is back to normal. This practice has drastically limited their waste which is almost down to zero, and then they also donate to local food charities such as Fresh Food Weekly.
Tony believes that The Holland Marsh is the richest natural resource in the world, and to protect this productive soil, he says Marsh farmers have adopted conservation practices such as cover crop and oil seed radish. One prevents soil erosion and the other releases natural nutrients that become trapped within the soil. Farmers in The Holland Marsh are continuously experimenting to improve their practices and this is why it still remains so nutrient-rich.
Another key ingredient to The Holland Marsh’s excellent food growing rates, the climate in this region is ideal. A good, deep frost in the winter kills harmful bacteria and diseases, reducing the use of pesticides. Every year, Tony says he performs a soil analysis to evaluate the nutrients a plant requires for optimum quality and shelf life. Tony also performs a tissue analysis on the plant while it’s growing, to top up any nutrients that are deficient due to extreme weather conditions such as excessive rainfall or extreme drought.
Vegetable Packers & Distributors
Grocery stores classify produce by “one’s” or by “two’s”. Produce is sorted by physical appearance; perfect fruits and vegetables acceptable for selling are sorted as “ones”. Two’s on the other hand, are still edible but simply don’t look perfect. Carrots sometimes grow curly and onions can get nicked from the harvesting process, but this food is still perfectly good for human consumption.
Dominion Farm Produce Ltd., at 215 Dissette St.in Bradford, Ont., has been the longest packer and shipper of carrots and onions in Ontario. Ninety percent of what they pack is from farms in Bradford, The Holland Marsh and the surrounding areas. Due to the growing seasons of onions and carrots in our region, there’s a few months of the year in which Dominion Farm Produce imports carrots from Georgia, USA, and Mexico, as well as onions from California.
Being the longest packer of carrots and onions in a region with where carrots have a farm gate value of $130 million annually and onions have a farm gate value of $160 million annually, Dominion Farm Produce currently supplies all the major grocery store chains except for Sobeys and Walmart, with their largest customer being Loblaws. They’re also the largest donor of onions to The Daily Bread Food Bank, who pickup by the crate weekly. They also donate their root vegetables to other charities throughout the GTA including Second Harvest, The Mississauga Food Bank, HarvestHands, The Ontario Christian Gleaners to name a few.
One of our donors only donates in 1,200-pound crates!
A Regional Food Trade System
A regional food trade system between the surplus of Ontario’s foodsheds could feed all vulnerable Canadians. I’m not sure where all of Ontario’s foodsheds are, but there’s definitely one in the Niagara - London area. I see their peaches and plums in our local markets throughout Simcoe County, and I actually received an offer for a huge donation of sweet bell peppers from this region last year but had to decline due to limited transportation and labour resources.
If there was a group or charity in the Niagara Falls foodshed that would take on collecting produce donations grown in the region, we could trade our unlimited carrots, onions, celery, celery root, romaine lettuce heads, and red and green leaf lettuce heads, for their peaches, plums and cherries.
Although the vegetables listed above would be our main trading commodity (and yes, we can get onions and carrots year-round because they’re imported from California during the winter months), we also get lots of apples, and our volunteers - particularly our high school student volunteers, pick mass volumes of strawberries (June), raspberries (July), and blueberries (August) as well. Since there will always be high school students in need of 40 community service hours in order to graduate, there will always be lots of students available for picking. And who doesn’t enjoy picking berries!?
Local Food Packaging Investment
Every time an agricultural investment is made within a region’s foodshed, the result is a surplus of food. This surplus is how Canada could irradiate food insecurity for all disadvantaged Canadian populations.
Look at this brilliant investment made with this food packaging facility:
Tempo Flexible Packaging is a food packaging solutions company located in Innisfil, Ont., and in 2021, they underwent a $14.4 million dollar expansion, which included some government funding through Andrea Khanjin’s office. The company continues to make strides in new technology and new investments, and must be doing well because they’re supporting Fresh Food Weekly by supplying all of the custom-made, fully-branded, heavy-duty, recyclable delivery bags we've used to date (11,000 bags donated so far!).
Start Cultivating Your Foodshed Today
Why should you count on businesses supporting a free food trade economy for food security in your foodshed? Because businesses are run by people and there’s a lot of people who want to fight local food insecurity.
You just need to give them the opportunity to do so.
Investments strengthen food economies and strong food economies create food surpluses. These surpluses form a second surplus because THAT'S how much extra produce Canadian farmers grow! It’s this surplus that will create a second food trade economy. And excitingly, the players would be fellow philanthropists.
The Holland Marsh
Located in Newmarket, Ont., The Holland Marsh has more than 7,000 acres of reclaimed swampland, and conducts a myriad of agricultural practices, including growing food, storing it, processing it and packaging it. Between the farm-gate value of the vegetables, processing, packaging and transportation, the total estimated economic impact from the Marsh is over $1 billion each year.
The brilliant idea of farming the wetlands came from William Day, a College professor who taught courses in Agriculture in the early 1900’s. The project was funded by Ontario and Holland, and involved draining the marsh using canals and dykes.
The soil left behind continues to be packed with all the minerals needed to grow the biggest and brightest-coloured vegetables in the province.
Rendering of the Ghost Canal, as its seen along the Tom Taylor Canal.
The cooler weather, web of fresh water rivers, and melted glacier deposits of layered sand, peat, gravel, and clay forming acid peat bogs make Muskoka the perfect environment for growing cranberries.
However, over the last 20 years, Ontario's cranberry production industry hasn't grown due to the low price of cranberries.
The province of Quebec has aggressively pursued a cranberry industry thanks to government-backed loans. Since entering the cranberry market with a ton of acres, and even more growers, Quebec's cranberry industry has become even more efficient at producing better yields thanks to new hybrid variants.
Now, Ontario only has two commercial bogs: Muskoka Lakes Farm & Winery near Bala, and Upper Canada Cranberries, at the south end of Ottawa. Ontario used to have a third until 2017; Iroquois Cranberry Growers, which was owned and operated by the Wahta Mohawks First Nation peoples, and was once considered the most successful Indigenous, community-owned business in Canada.
The Blue Mountains
The waters of Georgian Bay surrounding The Blue Mountains has a moderating effect on the area’s air temperature by slowing the pace in which the air’s temperature changes.
The cliffs and hills of the Niagara Escarpment also act as a protective boundary that confines the lake-warmed air along the shoreline and thus reduces the likelihood of frost shortening the growing season in late spring and early autumn.
The Blue Mountains have been experiencing an increase in food production value as a result of investment in agriculture.
The global apple market remains competitive due to the emergence of new apple variants. Pressures are being placed on The Blue Mountains’ apple producers to modernize their mix of apple varieties. As a result, the amount of acres allocated to growing apples has declined over the last few years. More farmers are shifting to the adoption of high density apple plantings of new varieties such as Ambrosia and Honeycrisp, as well as other tree fruits; particularly cherry trees.
Bioregional Climates Dictate Surplus Food Options
Pear and plum trees were too susceptible to dying from cold winters and were mostly phased out of the region, although some smaller farms still grow them. Orchards that have prioritized high volumes of production have fully transitioned to apples only, as it’s a hardier fruit, can be stored in cold storage and last in long transport hauls.
Concord grapes used to be known as the backbone of the Canadian wine industry, as these plants are very cold hardy, widely adapted to many soil types with the proper training system and do well against local plant disease. But as you can imagine, the wine industry is even more competitive than its’ apple-industry counterpart and improved grape varieties grown in warmer climates simply taste better.