Laura Reinsborough of Not Far From the Tree. Photo by Hamutal Dotan/Torontoist.
The food we eat, and the sources thereof, have become the subjects of increasing attention over the past few years. In an attempt to bring farmers and the people they feed closer together, Slow Food Toronto hosted its second annual Farm-to-Home Fair at the Gladstone this past Saturday. Local farmers and food producers came out in force for some agricultural show-and-tell, and local eaters (that’s us) came to learn more about the importance of buying from sustainable, Toronto-area farms. Torontoist departed with two dozen pastured, laid-this-week eggs, and also a bit of insight into our local food culture.
We asked Paul DeCampo, co-leader of Slow Food Toronto, what someone attending the fair might learn that they couldn’t get simply by trekking down to their local farmers’ market. One difference, he said, was that the fair included a much broader range of food producers: in addition to some stalwarts from the farmers’ market scene were representatives from numerous CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture farms, which deliver a fresh box of food to you every week in exchange for an upfront financial contribution at the beginning of the growing season) and food activist organizations such as Not Far From the Tree (NFFTT). Perhaps more significantly, said DeCampo, the fair was “on one hand all about the food, and on the other it has nothing to do with the food—it’s about who you’re sharing the table with.” In other words, the goal was not just to give the hungry populace some leads on a good source of grass-fed beef but to start building a community of people all engaged in preserving local, small-scale, sustainable farms.
The food producers we chatted with were uniformly enthusiastic about the fair and excited that they were seeing a mix of familiar and new faces. Harry Stoddart, of the Stoddart Family Farm, said that “I got some leads that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise,” a sentiment echoed at just about every booth we visited. NFFTT’s Laura Reinsborough was facing more enthusiasm than she knew what to do with—the organization, which gathers fruit from urban trees that would otherwise go to waste, is already planning to expand last year’s operations and move into new neighbourhoods this year.
Southern Ontario’s small-scale agricultural community is under a great deal of pressure: the number of farms is shrinking, and the average age of farmers (now fifty-two) is going up. The Farm-to-Home Fair both raised the vexing questions and tried to offer some answers. “How are we going to be feeding ourselves twenty years from now?” asked DeCampo. And then he replied: “The only way to build a sustainable food network is to make it broad-based.” Bringing consumers into the equation, restoring some of the lost connections between farmers and city-dwellers, is one way to expand that base.