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‘Buy local’ can’t be understated (Editorial)

by | May 7, 2021

People waited in line for two hours, some having driven six hours to load up on tomatoes.
While it may seem like a resurfaced social media post from a year ago when the food supply chain was brought to its knees, this scenario just happened at the end of April this year at a Canadian greenhouse complex.
Platinum Produce, a 70-acre greenhouse operation in Ontario growing bell peppers and tomatoes, caused a stir when their glut of fruit lead to it offering flats of tomatoes for $5. In a week they sold over 1,600 flats. Looking at the social media traffic, many people took advantage of the low pricing to buy and donate to food banks, shelters and missions serving the hungry.
That may sound like a success and it did keep a lot of fruit from getting dumped, but the effort appears to be a band-aid over a deep wound.
In launching the curbside sale, Bonnie Verbeek, part of the family that owns Platinum Produce, laid out why they had to do it.
Area restaurants are still restricted to takeout only and that means many people are not ordering the salads they would more likely get if they were dining in the restaurants. Fewer salads means fewer tomatoes needed.
But, Verbeek said, imported tomatoes flooding supermarkets is a much bigger deal and something that’s been happening well before the shutdown.
“We just want to be able to compete in our local market,” she said in a Facebook post last month.
A new carbon tax and a hike in the minimum wage also is adding to the squeeze.
“You name it, the cost of running a business here in Ontario is astronomical.”
We sympathize. Mid-Atlantic farms face similar market challenges than competitor growers from other regions who enjoy lower costs of production, fewer regulations and longer growing seasons.
The recent Platinum Produce episode shows how a community can come together to support a local business when it’s a viral novelty, but that’s not a sustainable model, just like the truckload sales of meat in this area last year didn’t become the norm to alleviate strain in the poultry industry’s supply chain. What was sold in the greenhouse’s flash sale is miniscule compared to what it can produce and ship through its typical channels.
What would be better is what Verbeek ultimately asked for — consumers to use their voices and shopping dollars long term to request more locally-grown food in their stores. The flash sale could be a spark for that area to reshape how local food gets into stores or people’s homes somehow, but it will need to be fed to really catch on.
If the flash tomato sale generated momentum in that way, selling them so cheaply will be more than worth it.
In the Mid-Atlantic, a sustained buy-local trend has been cultivated through statewide campaigns for decades and savvy farm marketers who built their customer bases on fresh locally-grown food. Aided by pandemic-related changes, consumers have responded.
Subscription programs at farms have held strong or increased over the winter. Farm markets in the Mid-Atlantic region opened earlier that in year’s past after gaining new customers during the coronavirus pandemic and as strawberry farms open to pick-your-own traffic, it will be another indicator of the strength of the area’s buy-local trends.

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