I'm a self-confessed food locavore with an insiders distaste of supermarket culture. My instincts are to support local farmers and their economic well-being. If Farmers Markets help the farmer then I'm a wholehearted supporter. But some of that enthusiasm has been drained from me over the last few years with the development of 'certified markets' and the experience of being a market customer.
I live in central North York (near the Downsview Park) and getting to markets can be expensive in both time and money. Taking transit to my closest urban markets can often be measured in hours. Besides the physical requirements to carry my groceries, I'm subject to extreme summer heat during my travels. Do I want to have my frozen meat purchase melted before I get home?
I can also drive to the markets. Then I can keep my purchases cool since I can carry coolers and ice-packs in the car, but automobile travel time in Toronto these days is no better than buses & subways. My gas costs and the environmental and personal stress created while sitting in gridlock is significant.
Recently I wanted strawberries. For decades I've driven to the pick-your-own farms close to Toronto. Now each year, they are further and further away as Toronto's new subdivisions pave over the fields. With driving time of close to an hour each way this year, I started to look for an alternative.
Although not everyone can enjoy my luck, I found just what I needed at the Highland Farm supermarket on Dufferin St. which is only a 5 minute drive each way for me. Six quarts of recently picked Ontario strawberries for $15. Hey that's cheaper than I could have picked them for myself, even before the drive to a farm! Do the farmers make any profit? I really don't know. It's difficult to get honest answers from corporations and farmers are traditionally tightlipped about their finances. And then I see garlic scapes! And at a very reasonable price of $3.28 per kilo! I thought I'd never see them except at farmers markets or at the toney overpriced supermarkets. Also in my basket: Ontario peas in the pod, fresh basil, gooseberries, and local red leaf lettuce for under 80 cents a head.
When I think of how much trouble it is for me to get to farmers markets or make farm-gate purchases. When I remember how sad and wilted much of the farmers market produce was (it had been travelling for hours on the summer highways without refrigeration). When I realize that having 'farmers' standing all day to trying sell their produce at a farmers market is not the best use of their time and expertise. Well then, maybe some of my traditional assumptions have been wrong.
Shopping in a supermarket puts the responsibility on the customer to pay attention to produce origins rather than assuming that a quasi-governmental agency has certified the farmers for the consumers protection. The Foodland Ontario logo is pretty trustworthy and has been helping shoppers identify local produce for many years. Store signs may be misleading such as the 'Bradford, Ontario' carrots that the package said were 'Product of USA'.
A well managed supply chain can provide better quality local produce for a better price than any of the current hype and promotion of farmers markets can deliver. I don't believe that this particular local supermarket chain is perfect, but for me it's become the standard for quality, convenience, selection, and price that Farmers Markets have to match and beat.