By Melisa Luymes
Considering that we live amongst some of the best farmland in the world, it is quite a wonder that we don’t have more access to local food in rural Ontario. Canada’s local food movement has been on the rise since the early 2000’s but seems to remain relatively weak and fragmented in the face of giant grocery businesses and their supply chains. The pandemic gave us a glimpse of the weaknesses of our global food systems, and we saw a rise in concern and demand for local food here in Ontario which was, largely, unable to deliver.
But Eat Local Huron began to deliver. Every Wednesday, that is.
Eat Local Huron (ELH) is an online farmer’s market started during the pandemic, that delivers orders to anywhere in Huron County. There are dozens of other initiatives in The Rural Voice readership area, increasing community access to local food so that people can easily find it and easily afford it. As we will see, it is easier said than done. Systemic issues require multi-faceted solutions; growing access to local food involves access to farmland, paying living wages, creating alternative supply chains, marketing and much more.
“Accessing local food is a huge contribution to living well in this area,” says Chris Spaleta, a writer who farms with his wife and family outside of Seaforth. He is now also the Executive Director of Eat Local Huron (ELH), and he has been involved from its beginning in 2021. He explains that while weekend farmers markets have done well in Bayfield and Goderich, there was a lack of access to local food in the middle of the week and in the rest of the County.
ELH delivers to any address, no matter how rural. Customers place their orders by Sunday each week, their orders are picked, baked, or juiced fresh and brought to a central hub by Tuesday, where they are packed and delivered every Wednesday. Spaleta recalls that one family ordered their groceries through ELH for the first time while they were all stuck at home sick with COVID and that they were blown away that such service was offered locally.
Eat Local Huron is a non-profit business that started off with a provincial grant and on the shoulders of Firmly Rooted Farm, with some help from Eat Local Grey-Bruce, a host of dedicated young Huron County farmers and financial support from Libro Credit Union.
It began in August 2021, after the group had worked tirelessly to set up their warehouse space in a building at Hensall Co-op Westfield, with coolers and freezers, packing space and other infrastructure. But a major set-back came only three weeks later. CTV News’ Scott Miller was planning to come that day to cover the story of Eat Local Huron, but instead he arrived to cover the story of an electrical fire that destroyed the building and all its contents.
The group considered closing its doors; the board and staff were mainly young farmers who were already stretched thin with their businesses and their growing families, leading to high turnover rates. But an outpouring of financial support from the community following the news report told them they needed to keep going.
As luck would have it, Lucas and Kelsey Seeberger from Farm Little were building a new facility on their farm near Bayfield and ELH now rents this space from them for their cold storages and for packing.
“We are still a few months away from breaking even,” says Spaleta, who acknowledges that the initiative has been a tonne of work and has been sustained by a loyal customer base, as well as grants from Libro, Huron County and other community funding. Their next step is working on larger orders for institutions, events, or restaurants, while they continue to let people know about the service. “People are slowly learning about ELH, and once they try it, they have been impressed with how easy it is to order and how great the food is,” Spaleta continues.
In 2022, the Chamber of Commerce awarded Eat Local Huron with the Huron County Economic Development New Business Award. That night, two of their local producers were also honoured: Meeting Place Organic Farm took home the Compass Minerals Environmental and Sustainability Award and Sydney Pollock of Blake Street Bakery won the John C. Grace Young Entrepreneur Award.
Eat Local Huron also works to make the connection between their customers and Huron County farms so they can see the people they are supporting. “When you buy carrots that came from Firmly Rooted Farm, for example, you are also supporting the community that Tamara and Brian are building there,” says Spaleta. “That means you’re also supporting art, laughter and singing in the field while they work,” he laughs.
In August, ELH hosted their sixth Farm Crawl and have now featured dozens of Huron County farms and producers. August’s event focused on a few producers in the Bayfield area: Bayfield Lavender Farm, Farm Little and Trick’s Creek Farm.
Bayfield Lavender Farm is owned and operated by Gemma James Smith who moved to the property in 2017 with her husband and family. She nurtured and propagated a patch of French lavender growing there, soon creating her own lavender soaps, oils, culinary lavender herb blends and teas for sale in the community. An artist through and through, with the landscape as her canvas, Gemma transformed it into a gorgeous oasis of gardens and has now opened a storefront on the property. She remains open on weekends 10-4 this fall.
Just a few minutes away, Farm Little was also open for guests, serving homemade donuts in the morning and sausage on a bun at lunch. There was a flour milling demonstration with plenty of food and fresh vegetables. Farm Little belongs to Lucas and Kelsey Seeberger, who started it in 2020. With two young children, Lucas focuses on grain milling and now butchering, while Kelsey grows vegetables. Their roadside stand on Mill Rd. is packed with flours, baking, fresh veggies, and dried goods as well, much of which can also be purchased through ELH’s website.
Trick’s Creek Farm was the third farm featured for August’s Farm Crawl. Rural Voice readers may remember them from a previous issue. The Trick family sell pastured beef, poultry, and their edible beans, processed by Cullen’s, through ELH. Fifth generation on the farm, Tom Trick hosted wagon rides of the fields and pastures and his father Bill gave tours of their 1850’s mill and dam throughout the day, with a butchering demonstration at 5 p.m. by Seeberger, showcasing various cuts of meat. Then it went on the barbeque to finish the day with a meal together.
“It is important to get people in the community to connect with where their food comes from, to see their faces and their farms,” says Lindsay Spindler, ELH’s Operations Manager, who organized the day. Spindler works with dozens of local farms and businesses to update their products on the online market every week. She recently moved to Huron County from Toronto where she was a fashion designer. She admits that she hadn’t given local or organic food much thought in the big city, but now it is becoming a passion of hers. “This isn’t just some ‘bougie’ fad, this is the direction that our society needs to be going,” she says. “We can’t be importing salad from California when its burning.”
Eat Local Huron hosted another Farm Crawl on September 23 with The Den Juice Co, Weth Mushrooms and Bayfield Berry Farm. The final farm crawl of the year will be held October 14 to Meeting Place Organic Farm, Firmly Rooted Farm and Capella Meadows. See eatlocalhuron.ca for more information.For those in other counties, have a look for local food initiatives in your area. ◊