Locavore: Sarah Elton Interview on Sustainable and Local Food

1. From a locavore perspective, what would the ideal food system look like?

We need to create sustainable food systems for communities big and small. That will require thinking about where our food comes from and asking how it is grown and what kind of environmental impact it has on the planet. Yes, this will mean a lot of local produce. Instead of buying snap peas flown in from half way around the globe, we should be choosing sustainably produced local alternatives that don’t rely on the global food supply chain that pays no attention whatsoever to environmental impact. The number one priority is to measure the environmental impact of food production and strive to nurture farming systems that cycle nutrients, that conserve water, that use energy efficiently, that don’t allow livestock waste to pollute, that foster biodiversity, that build resilience–these are the systems we need to equip us for the future.

Then the food grown in such a sustainable system also needs to foster economic sustainability–of farmers, of rural communities of cities. And that food must be accessible and affordable to everyone. Local and sustainable food systems are more likely to be able to provide for all of these important things as opposed to the long distance, corporate industrial food chain.

Do we need to build greenhouses to grow bananas here in Canada? No. And it certainly doesn’t mean that every town and city should become self sufficient, growing wheat along the sidewalks.


2. What evidence is there that a locally based food system is becoming more widely accepted? (For example, increase in farmers’ markets?)

It’s obvious that people wherever they live, when they are given a real choice between fresh food that is grown nearby, without the use of pesticides, and long distance food grown by who knows who, who knows where, people gravitate to what they know. For proof of this, all you need to do is look at the rise in farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture schemes, urban farms and all the creative ways regular folk in rural and urban Canada are supporting their local farmers. BMO released a study in August finding that Canadians are willing to pay more to support their local farmers.


3. Many urban Canadians enjoy gardening as a hobby, but how can urban farming become more of an economically viable activity? (considering lack of time and land)

There are many entrepreneurs in Canada today who are trying to figure out how to run urban agriculture businesses–their goal is to produce food in the city and make a profit. I’ve interviewed many urban farmers and while they are often running new businesses, they are doing very well. In fact, the opportunity to make money in urban farming is so great that there have been investors who are putting millions behind this idea of growing food sustainably in cities.


4. Food is wasted at every step in our food supply – how do you think this problem could be solved?

People need to shop better: buy only what they need and then use it all! I use my freezer as a way to avoid waste at the same time as easing my cooking burden. I freeze leftovers for future meals rather than throwing them out. But there are lots of websites out there with tips for how to reduce waste at home.

Individuals aren’t only to blame though. The food industry wastes a lot of food too. There have been initiatives such as Second Harvest that are helping to stop this. But we can help as consumers by not demanding perfect looking apples or bananas or lettuce at the store.


5. How do you think the mentality consumers have towards food can be shifted so we value our food more and waste less?

We need public education along the lines of what happened during the Second World War. There were posters disseminated everywhere saying “Waste Not Want Not!” encouraging people to do their part for the war effort by not wasting their food. My grandmother still chanted this to me decades later. It worked! We should all be doing our part for the climate change and food effort today.

6. Can you discuss some of the critiques or flaws of the local food movement and how these could be addressed?

Local food isn’t good enough for the future. We need sustainable food first. So local must always be paired with sustainable. That needs to be our priority if we want to have a food system that is resilient enough to cope with climate change.


7. Do you have any comments on motherhood as a locavore / urban agriculturalist?

I wouldn’t call myself an urban agriculturalist because the raccoons have won and I can’t grow much here in my garden. However, as a mother who feeds her family mostly local and sustainable food, I feel that I am introducing my kids to healthy eating. We don’t eat processed foods so they are learning to cook from scratch. They are learning to enjoy all sorts of flavours and are learning a healthy lifestyle.


8. How are Canada’s family farmers meeting the challenges inherent in today’s food system?

Organic family farms selling in local foodsheds are providing people the choice to eat locally and sustainably. They are helping to foster a food democracy where we have real control over what we eat. We must support them so they can continue to do this!


9. Which farming innovations have inspired you the most in your travels?

I’m most inspired by the amazing way sustainable food systems help small farmers in the developing world not only to increase their yields but also help them to improve their lives. When farmers sell directly to the consumer, through co-ops and alternative markets, they are able to cut out the middle man, empower themselves and make more money. The benefits go far beyond food. And that’s the magic of food! We’ve seen this same idea applied to urban agriculture in inner city North America. Good food heals so many social ills.


10. Since the term “locavore” was designated word of the year in 2007, what progress has been made in the growth of the locavore movement, and how do you envision the movement developing in the future?

The movement must pair local with sustainable. The two must become inextricably linked. Sustainable is the key to building a food system that can feed our children tomorrow, under the pressures of a growing population and climate change.

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