Eat Local Sudbury: from farm gate to dinner plate

Cash Crops

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Pamela Charron rings up another sale at the Eat Local Sudbury Co-op store. The storefront operation in the heart of downtown Sudbury provides one-stop local food shopping for the public and the more than 600 ELS co-op members.

With the trees and bush of Northern Ontario slowly transformed by autumn's colours, the fall harvest has yielded another bounty of freshly grown produce from the farms that stretch across the region. As a direct result of the growing popularity of community Farmers' Markets and regional food cooperatives, more of the good things that grow in Northern Ontario are making it into the kitchens of area homes and restaurants.

Eat Local Sudbury (ELS) is a not-for-profit cooperative with over 60 Northern Ontario food producers from across the regions of Sudbury, Muskoka, Manitoulin, Algoma, Nipissing and Timiskaming. With a large retail store in downtown Sudbury, these food growers and producers are benefiting from the buying power of over 600 co-op members plus the public who shop for a variety of local and regional meats and vegetables, dairy products, plus coffees, teas, as well as other value-added food products.

"The expansion of our store last May has made an exceptional difference in the flow, product offerings and customer experience that we can offer", says Peggy Baillie, Managing Director of ELS. "We've seen a substantial increase in sales, which means direct increases in purchases from local producers, processors and food related businesses." The burgeoning movement of buying more foodstuffs locally is rooted in a sensible consumer belief that everyone benefits, according to Ms. Baillie. "We work collectively with the producers to ensure that we can all grow together in a sustainable manner that ensures the long term viability of all our businesses," she says. "At the same time, more and more people who come into the store are amazed at being able to access local food, seven days a week, all year round. They want to know where their food is from and how it is grown and Eat Local Sudbury offers that."

Autumn Harvest

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Peggy Baillie, Managing Director of Eat Local Sudbury (left) and Ella Myers, a store employee, examine bushels of yellow corn grown from Sturgeon Falls. Many of the regionally grown food goods and value-added products featured at the Eat Local Sudbury shop cannot be found in commercial grocery stores.

Whether it's food quality, freshness or taste, buying locally not only supports area farms but provides a much-needed boost to the economy. In 2012, a FedNor investment of $66,000 helped Eat Local Sudbury to establish a distribution network for Northern Ontario value-added food products to help producers gain access to new markets, streamline distribution and increase sales. "This project directly influenced the growth of the organization by more than doubling sales in 12 months, which translates to over $300,000 in increased purchases from local producers," says Ms. Baillie. "FedNor's assistance is helping to ensure the success of our work continues as the organization grows."

Currently, FedNor is working with Eat Local Sudbury on the development of a business expansion plan that would see the launch of a new retail store, a food distribution warehouse, along with a food education centre. "These business ventures will be expansions to our existing work," says Ms. Baillie. "Knowing that the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of Agriculture and Agri-food industries to Northern Ontario allows us to expand our capacity and increase a local and sustainable food system for Northern consumers."

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