“Local” and “organic” aren’t necessarily the best choices for us or the environment

It is a chilly Saturday morning in the middle of December, but as soon as I step into the WISE Hall on Adanac Street, I immediately feel warmed by the festive atmosphere.

Lots of people are busy buying garlic, squash, jam, cheese and dried apples from farmers who have travelled from Abbotsford, Naramata or Cawston to sell Vancouverites their products to the sound of live music.

This is my first visit to the Winter Farmers Market, and as I walk around with my yellow cloth shopping bag that proudly says “You are what you eat; prepare to meet your maker,” I realize this place is less about buying food than about meeting people and building social capital.

A farmer from Pemberton tells me everything about Russian Blue potatoes, a variety that I have never seen before and looks more like beet than potato. I taste Capri Bianca goat cheese while looking at pictures of the farm’s happy goats and learning from the vendor that his brother once forgot to put blue in the Blue Capri cheese and gave birth to the new Capri Bianca variety that I am munching on now.
 

When I am ready to leave the market, my bag is full of the romantic stories all the farmers told me about the great products they grow in B.C., and I feel good about having learned so much about the land where I live. I feel more connected to my local community.

Meeting the farmers, hearing the personal stories, and getting their advice on how to prepare the veggies almost made me forget everything about how I typically buy food in a grocery store. I usually look at labels for guidance on how to buy food that’s good for me and doesn’t harm the environment.

Sure, there are various signs at the Farmers Market: “Certified Organic,” “Naturally Grown,” “Wild” and “No Spray.” I am not sure what all these terms really mean, but here, at the market,
it’s as if labels don’t matter in the face of trust and a good handshake with your local farmer. It almost seems impolite to look at labels.

 

Consumers often turn to labels when it comes to buying sustainable food. It’s easy to assume that organically grown food products are the best choices from an environmental perspective, so you’d think that organic labels would make purchasing decisions easy. However, in Canada organic products are certified by various regional organizations that don’t follow
consistent standards.