Finding Food in All the Right Places

Andrew Whitley, Guy Johnston, Angela Moran and Trevor Van Hemert composed the panel. Photo: Ellie Shortt

As words like “local,” “sustainable,” and “seasonal” increasingly work their way into daily vernacular, there seems to be a greater need for in-depth approaches regarding cultivating our communities, increasing revenue for local businesses, and bettering our overall health and wellbeing. This was the precise goal of Finding Food in All the Right Places, a panel discussion on alternative ways to buy local food and support a local food economy.

The event was held on September 21, and included insights from bread expert Andrew Whitley, Guy Johnston from Michelle Rose Community Supported Fishery, and Angela Moran and Trevor Van Hemert from Main Street City Farm. Sponsorship and support was offered by VanCity who aim to foster growth in community-based farming and local sustainable food practices, as well as Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers, South Jubilee Urban Farmers, Vic West Urban Farmers and CR-FAIR.

Event organizer Rhona McAdam says she began to dream up an event like this after attending one of Andrew Whitley’s baking workshops in Scotland a couple of years ago, and heard what he had to say about the industrialization of bread. “It really shocked and fascinated me,” says McAdams. “I bought his book, Bread Matters, and it was enlightening. I found his passion for good, healthy bread and his vision of building community through baking really inspiring.”

These initial inspirations turned into a panel discussion of four speakers and dozens of attendees all eager to gain more awareness in food cultivation, production, and dissemination. “Many people know about community supported agriculture through vegetable boxes”, explains McAdams, “but baking, seafood, and eggs would make for a nice twist, and maybe stimulate some interest in more alternatives.”

The panel opened with Whitley’s discussion of over-processing and manipulation of grains, proteins and other ingredients that form into a loaf. “When industrial bakers say they need a five day shelf-life just to get it through the system to the store, it means that the ingredient board and enzyme specialists come up with a new preparations and a bundle of additives to confer some so-called freshness,” explained Whitley. “So what started out as a loaf of bread is now a cocktail of enzymes and additives which are there purely to march it through the system and aren’t necessarily good for our bodies.”

Whitley also argued that the environmental impact and social implications of the overseas large-scale bread making operations are inexcusable. His solution? To bring the symbol of life and sustenance back to its basics by encouraging artisanal bakeries. These local bakeries then call upon community based support for capitol and equipment, in exchange for nourishment and education. Whitley also suggested a system whereby bakers sell a number of loaves to a single community member at a reduced cost, who then in turn sells those loaves to friends and family – a method that creates revenue for the baker and trust in the customer

A trustful relationship with the customer was also a theme explored by Johnston, suggesting the need for greater communication between fisherman and buyer. “I like to get the chance to talk to people about the fishing industry,” he said, and explained that through greater education, customers can understand the environmental implications and economical impacts certain types of fishing may encompass. Furthermore, Johnston recommended customers pre-order their desired bounty so that fishermen don’t have to waste as much product if they over catch. Through his program, he also encourages customers to try different types of sealife native to their area, especially seafood that they might not have otherwise considered.

“We need to face the reality that we’re going to be fishing different species than we used to, and what we can do with a community program like this is talk to our customers and introduce them to species, and create recipes for items like octopus, which are locally sourced, and even popular in other parts of the world.”

The final panellists of the evening also encouraged community members to try new things, but instead of new species, the representatives from the Main Street City Farm wanted Victorians to try their hands at new skills like raising, and even slaughtering chickens – something they feel better connects people to the food they eat. The program allows community members to collectively keep a chicken coop and as a result, obtain access to fresh, local, organic and free range chickens and their eggs at minimal cost.

Van Hemert explained, “like the other topics discussed [during the] evening, our Chicken Trust is a sort of food production scheme aimed at lowering costs, creating community ties and of course gaining knowledge and skills.” Both Van Hemert and Moran continued by explaining that while many people feel that keeping their own chickens can be time consuming and costly, this method is specifically designed to share responsibly, lower costs and of course uphold environmental and ethical goals.

The evening ended with a question and answer period moderated by Gabe Epstein from the Gorge-Tillicum Urban Farmers. For more information the organizers of the event encourage those interested to get in touch with a representative from Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers, South Jubilee Urban Farmers, Vic West Urban Farmers or CR-FAIR.

—Ellie Shortt

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