Thursdays are busy days for Susan Crump, Sheryl Rae and Colleen Woods.
That’s when the owners of The Green Pantry in Lacombe prepare food for pickup by customers who have placed orders through their online grocery service. Products range from bison to frozen berries, but most have one thing in common — they’re produced locally.
Visitors to www.thegreenpantry.ca will find beef from Trowlesworthy Farms of Mirror, chicken from B.K. Pure Country Meats of Bashaw, pork from Sun Beame Farm of Pine Lake, vegetables from TR Greenhouses of Lacombe, baked goods from Black Forest Bakery of Olds, cooking barley from Progressive Foods of Clive, honey from Nixon Honey Farm of Innisfail, and much more.
“Probably 95 per cent of our product is coming from, what I would call, Central Alberta — which would be between Edmonton and Calgary,” said Crump.
“The meats and the vegetables and the perishable things are as close to Lacombe as possible.”
Inspired by the popularity of farmers’ markets, Crump and her partners launched The Green Pantry last August. They wanted to support local producers, lessen the environmental impact of food transportation, and give grocery shoppers a fresher and more natural alternative.
“We think it’s a healthier option,” said Crump, pointing out that many of The Green Pantry’s products are grown naturally or even organically.
Food security was also a motivation, she said, stressing the importance of a region not becoming dependent on producers elsewhere.
Regardless of the reasons for its creation, The Green Pantry has struck a chord with many people. About 150 have registered on the business’s website, with about 30 to 40 of these regular customers, said Crump.
The Green Pantry has even established a second pickup location, in Red Deer, and more could follow elsewhere, she said.
There are other places Central Albertans can go to satiate their appetite for local food.
At the south Red Deer Sobeys, they’ll even find ratings of just how local individual products are.
The 2110 50th Ave. grocery store, which is owned by Trevor Aslin and his wife Petra, is one of 10 Alberta food retailers participating in The Localize Project — an initiative by Edmontonian Meghan Dear. A former ag-researcher and marketing consultant, Dear has rated some 800 retail products on the basis of their location of production, source of ingredients, producer’s residence and the sustainability of the production process.
Each item is assigned a score between zero and 10, with 10 considered the most local. These are posted with their products in the stores.
“I really felt there was a need to demystify some of the issues around local food and create some opportunities for local food in mainstream grocery stores,” said Dear, whose system can be found primarily in and around Edmonton.
“I hadn’t actually intended to run the pilot as far south as Red Deer,” she said.
But Trevor Aslin was so passionate about local food — even exploring the possibility of establishing an “indoor farmers’ market” at his store — that Dear decided to include his Sobeys outlet.
“I’m really glad I did,” she said, describing the Red Deer store as “one of the richest pilot locations for the program.”
Aslin is also pleased with the outcome. He praises the sliding scale of Dear’s rating system as a good alternative to the potentially arbitrary process of declaring a product either “local” or “not local.”
“She’s really left it in the hands of the consumer, but she’s given you a real easy criteria to figure how local products are.”
The Localize Project food database is quite broad, added Aslin.
“Almost every single category, you could buy something local if you had to.”
He said his commitment to local food reflects a desire to help producers in the region.
“It makes sense for us to support the local economy and support those local growers and producers at whatever point we can.”
Aslin also echoed Crump’s comments about the importance of minimizing the environmental impact of food transport and of giving consumers the freshest product possible.
The Green Pantry, The Localize Project and Sobeys are all involved in a broader food movement called Growing Food Security in Alberta (GFSA). Dating back a decade, it promotes the development of community strategies to ensure a secure access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate food that’s produced in an environmentally sustainable manner.
“We want to have all players in the local food system involved, from field to fork,” said Rene Michalak, GFSA’s Red Deer-based assistant project co-ordinator.
“A lot of it already exists. It’s just there’s nobody out there really bringing it all together.”
GFSA has been identifying key participants in the food production and distribution system, and has even developed an online food map that shows their locations. It’s encouraging communities to develop their own “sustainable equitable local regenerative system.”
One outcome, said Michalak, might be a “food centre or food hub” that those involved in the system could use.
For now, Crump and Dear believe their local food initiatives are making a difference. This includes growing a consumer market that will help local producers enter the industry and expand.
“It’s really hard to close the gap between a farmers’ market and a retail grocery outlet,” said Dear, who plans to expand The Localize Project to more locations. “There aren’t a lot of bridges between those two for food businesses.”
Crump added, “This is a way that I believe we can encourage some of those younger producers to stay on the land and be able to make a living off of it.”