In the 1960s, British Columbians spent more on food than anything else. Statistics Canada says 19 per cent of total household expenditures went to food, making it the largest expense per household on average.
Over the years, this number has declined steadily and as of 2009, it was sitting at just over 10 per cent — less than transportation (13 per cent), shelter (22 per cent) and personal income taxes (18 per cent).
Although these days it may cost significantly less to buy a fast food burger with components manufactured thousands of miles away, local grocery retailers are making strides in convincing consumers that the benefits of buying local far outweigh the cost savings of pre-made or cheap, imported foods.
“If you look at what people spend on food today, the value is misplaced and so is the nutrition,” says Daisy Leslie-Orser, co-owner of the Root Cellar Village Green Grocer. “We would love to see a value shift among consumers as far as food is concerned. Buying local in season is always the cheapest option. Buying local out of season is more expensive. It’s a volume driven sort of thing.”
“Our prices reflect fair market value for us and for farmers,” says Phil Lafreniere, co-owner and produce ninja.
Their partner, Adam Orser agrees: “Farmers are the hardest working people on the planet . . . they’re crazy. They don’t even do it for the money, it’s all about feeding people.”
The three partners purchased the store on the corner of McKenzie Ave. and Blenkinsop three years ago and have been working hard to forge relationships with as many local farmers as possible. Produce sales make up almost 85 per cent of their business.
“I spend a lot of my day on the phone,” says Lafreniere.
During the interview, he takes a call from a local farmer. It’s the beginning of the local asparagus season. “I’ll take it all,” he says. “We buy as much as we can as close as we can and expand out from there. To do what we do, as far as providing local options, you really have to care about it.”
At the peak of the local summer growing season, the Root Cellar team will deal with between 50 and 80 local farmers, some offering only one product. They also deal with more than 35 small local grocery suppliers — for things like honey, preserves, sauces, cheese, eggs and meat.
“There is a misconception people have to do a lot of driving and go farm hopping to get local food, or that it’s really energy intensive,” says Orser.
The Root Cellar currently offers 46 local produce items; including strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, leeks and many varieties of greens like sorrel, kale and brassica. They also have 50 items from the rest of B.C.
“If you put local on a sign, you need to be able to back it up with specific information about where it came from,” Leslie-Orser says. “Victorians really walk the walk as far as the green initiative goes. If it says Okanagan, it’s not local.”
Red Barn Market
“We want to, wherever possible, have local products available,” says Sam Schwabe, one of four owners of Red Barn Market.
Schwabe purchased the market two years ago with partners Ashley Bourque, Russ Bentwell and Peter Hansen after working many years together at a large grocery retailer.
“We consider ourselves part of the 100-mile diet model and we’re trying to reduce our carbon footprint,” Schwabe says. “We try to buy as local as we can. We’ll even buy Mrs. Jones’ garlic out of her backyard when it’s in season.”
Between May and October, the Red Barn Market — which has three locations in Victoria — stocks as much local produce as possible. The Vanalman location also has a smokehouse, where they produce and package about 85 different meat products; including bacon, pepperoni and sausages, as well as smoked cheddar cheese.
“Our beef comes from Quist Farms in Duncan, the chicken comes from Mill Bay and our turkey comes from Abbotsford. We also offer local free-range chicken from May to October and local free-range turkeys around Christmas and Thanksgiving,” Schwabe says.
When the partners took over the business, they sought out the suppliers and went to the farm to meet them in person and check out their operations.
“Our delis are second to none in terms of freshness and quality,” Schwabe says. “People come to our stores because they want to shop for good quality produce and meats that will last and because they want to support the local community.”
Each Red Barn location has an information book that tells the story of each type of meat in the store. Look for a new location in Colwood opening this year.
Niagara Grocery & Fairfield Market
Partners Ken Winchester and Jennifer McKimmie rescued Niagara Grocery from a fate of selling cigarettes, candy and lottery tickets two years ago.
“There used to be more than 200 corner grocers in Victoria. Now there are only about a dozen. All those little shops that are now video stores and yoga studios with a big window in front were most likely corner grocers at one time,” Winchester says. “A lot of the corner stores that are left just sell smokes and lotto.”
Winchester and McKimmie are hoping they are filling the gap between the convenience store and the supermarket with a niche — fresh and local.
“We deal with about 60 or 70 farmers,” says Winchester. “Some only grow one thing.”
“For me, stores like this are the connecting point for all diet trends; the zero mile, 100 mile, gluten free, vegetarian or vegan. All these diet trends are a reflection of the growing awareness of what people eat,” Winchester says.
“I didn’t eat tomatoes or cucumbers all winter,” says McKimmie. “It sounds cliche, but when you eat a tomato that’s been grown locally in season, it just tastes better. It tastes like the tomatoes you had as a kid from your grandmother’s garden. It’s not just a tomato texture in your sandwich.”
Winchester says you just can’t compare. “A local free-range egg is tight with a bright orange yolk. It has more flavour. It’s delicious. It’s just eggier,” he says, laughing. “The same is true with the meat.”
Niagara carries fresh poultry from Kildonan Farms, Galloping Goose Sausages and Berkshire pork from Sea Bluff Farms in Metchosin. They also carry many varieties of local cheeses, fresh daily breads from Portofino Bakery and Bread by Matt, and line-caught Cowichan Bay Seafood. Winchester roasts his own fair trade coffee — which he sources in season from around the world. McKimmie is a tea sommelier and offers more than 30 types of tea, some her own blends.
Winchester explains that the more people buy locally, the more farmers can produce to fill the demand. “The more successful they are, the more quantity goes up and price comes down,” he says. “They are even starting to consider that demand and want to talk with us about their planting plans. Not everyone can grow tomatoes and cucumbers, because there is a demand for things like sprouted kale, bok choi and gai lan. Eating local doesn’t mean you have to give up exotic flavours.”
“There is a mindset that you’ve piled the kids in the car and gone to the mall so you have to buy a week’s-worth of groceries. You don’t see people coming out of those stores with a smile on their faces. Food should be pleasurable and by extension, finding and shopping for food should be pleasurable,” Winchester says.
Following in the success of Niagara Grocery, the duo with a passion for produce opened a second location, called Fairfield Market just over six weeks ago. Because it is a smaller store, it’s focus is on the fresh and local as much as possible.
“Push for a store in your community,” McKimmie says. “It’s worth making the trip for their health, their community and the farmers, and it leads to food security. It’s a win-win.” M
Fresh, local and free family fun
Looking for a festive way to get into the eating-local stride? Victoria is ripe with summer markets to answer your every craving from artisans’ wares and Saanich veggies to home-grown beef and farm fresh eggs.
Bastion Square Market
Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays, 11 a.m. at Bastion Square.
Bastion Square is bouncing with locally made woodwork, jewelry, glasswork, clothing, and art. Catch the street vendors, find a treasure, then get your palm read.
James Bay Market
Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Menzies and Superior
In this outdoor market you’ll find local farmers, artisans, musicians and vendours, James Bay style.
Moss Street Market
Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Moss and Fairfield.
Be sure to catch one of Victoria’s best known extravaganzas every week, where local farmers, artisans, crafters, bakers, cooks, bodyworkers, performers and creators mingle to exchange their goods in a friendly neighbourhood atmosphere. Mossstreetmarket.com.
Metchosin Farmers’ Market
Sundays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Metchosin Municipal Grounds.
Nothing says farm fresh like collecting your wares right off the field. Be sure to catch all the history along with the produce, plants and more.
Market in the Square
Sundays, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Centennial Square.
Stop by for the freshest in plant starts, meats, eggs, artisan breads, baking, preserves, flowers and more. 250-598-2593.
Victoria Downtown Farmers’ Market
Fourth Sunday every month, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Market Square.
The Victoria Downtown Public Market Society has teamed up with the Island Chefs’ Collaborative to offer locally produced meat, cheese, bread, honey, produce, sprouts, mushrooms, salt and preserves. Catch cooking demonstrations, history walks, performances and more: May 22, June 26, July 24 and Aug 28. Victoriapublicmarket.com
Markets by Danielle Pope