Wondering who can supply you with local berries in January? Or maybe you’re looking for pasture-raised pork for your home economics class? Or perhaps you’re looking for someone who needs local oats year round?
Thanks to Get Fresh, a networking event hosted by Food Matters Manitoba, producers and purchasers are now better able to answer those questions.
“The event is really to, hopefully, build relationships between the food buyers and the producers, because I think the thing we’re missing is this relationship,” said Leanne Dunne, the ‘Manitoba on the menu’ co-ordinator for Food Matters Manitoba, and the organizer of the Get Fresh event held recently at the St. Norbert Community Centre.
She said that institutions such as high schools or post-secondary institutions may have interest in using more locally produced food, but face some significant barriers.
“It can be very challenging; there are a lot of barriers that the buyers and the sellers tell me they face, such as time, resources, money,” she said. “And another big one is relationships, either that they’ve got extremely strong relationships with a representative from one major distributor for example, or they are lacking relationships with local producers, who are hoping to sell in the Manitoba retail market.”
Seeking local supplies
Despite being rescheduled due to inclement weather last month, Get Fresh had a strong turnout.
Aaron Bernstein of Bernstein’s Restaurant and Delicatessen in Winnipeg attended Get Fresh, seeking out new sources of cabbage, beets, carrots and other local vegetables.
“We’re always open to trying new things and carrying local products on our shelves,” he said. “I’m interested in seeing what’s around, especially what’s around locally. We’ve worked with CSAs in the past, so I want to make sure that I have access to everything that’s out there, so I can bring it to my customers.”
Community-Supported Agriculture, or CSAs, are farms that rely on consumers to buy a share in that year’s production in exchange for weekly deliveries, usually of fresh produce.
Fort Whyte Farms happens to operate a CSA, and representatives were on hand to promote the program and meet with local business owners.
“The more interest we have, the better. A big part of what we do is our CSA program, and we’re always looking for more shareholders,” said Laura Lynne Hildebrand, a crew leader with the farm’s youth programming, which falls under the umbrella of Fort Whyte Alive.
“So far, today is going really well, it’s great to connect with other eaters and growers,” she said.
Hildebrand, who described the operation as a “social enterprise in sustainable agriculture,” noted pasture-raised pork and chicken are also produced, and may soon be part of the Sisler High School home economics program, thanks to connections made at the three-hour-long event.
Jon McPhail, co-owner of Jonnies Sticky Buns in Winnipeg, also participated. He was looking to shore up his supply of fresh produce over the winter months.
While McPhail has a good relationship with his suppliers, a poor harvest means that farmers he usually relies on might not be able to supply him year round.
“So I was hoping to get a few more people on my list that I can call up and sort of see what they have, and see if it’s what I need,” McPhail said. “And I think I’ve done that.”
As someone whose passion is for baking and not necessarily for business, he added that Get Fresh was also a good way to develop networking skills.
“It’s been nice to get my feet wet. I’m not very business with a capital “B” type of guy, and so this has been a bit of a stretch for me to do something like this,” McPhail said. “Now I’ve met some great people and got to know some really nice little farms I’m hoping to do business with.”
Many in attendance spoke about a growing pressure from consumers for local food, but it’s not the only thing on consumers’ minds.
“A lot of Manitobans really want to see value and don’t necessarily believe that local is worth paying more for all the time, but we want to help educate the public and move them in that direction,” said Bernstein. “It’s certainly better for the economy.”
For her part, Dunne was pleased with the way that producers were able to connect with buyers, institutional and otherwise.
“It’s certainly been very positive, more positive than we expected,” she said. “You’re dealing with incredibly busy producers and incredibly busy buyers, so it can be a challenge to find the right time for both parties, but I think overall it’s been a very positive turnout… we will get some feedback, and hopefully do this again.”