Choose Local: Why Sustainable Farming Is Key To Ontario’s Future
Food From consumers to restaurant owners, almost everyone shops on a global scale, but by ignoring local farmers, what exactly are we giving up? According to one of Ontario’s top cooks, it’s a lot more than fresh ingredients.
Hailing from Don Mills, Ontario, Jamie Kennedy is a chef, restauranteur, and small-scale farmer with nearly forty years experience in the food industry. After studying at George Brown in the late 70s, Kennedy went to Europe as a journeyman cook, where he met his future colleague Michael Stadtländer. Both chefs returned to Canada in 1980, but were soon irked by the industry’s reliance on globally produced food.
“As someone who’s really interested in cooking from an artistic point of view, it started to bother me that the produce we were purchasing was, for the most part, imported from other parts of the world,” says Kennedy. “So, this kind of clashed culturally with what I felt we should be doing. Living in a place like southern Ontario, shouldn’t we be celebrating the bounty of this region and having that bounty be reflected in the dishes we compose, so we can start to get our own culinary identity?”
"There are obstacles to overcome, because local food production is kind of fringe when you look at the big picture."
In revolt to what they saw as a culturally dismissive and environmentally unfriendly system, Kennedy and Stadtländer started Knives and Forks, an alliance of chefs and local farmers to promote the idea of using sustainable ingredients throughout Ontario’s kitchens.
Established in 1989, Knives and Forks arose at a time when issues like carbon footprint and the overuse of fossil fuels were just joining the public conversation, which gave the group’s ideals a lot of momentum. Now, with those problems being more pertinent than ever, the idea of local, sustainable produce is at its most relevant. The public mindset has started to shift in the right direction, according to Kennedy.
“In the last 10 or 15 years, the public has really responded to supporting local agriculture. These are really important years in education about supporting local food production. There are obstacles to overcome, because local food production is kind of fringe when you look at the big picture. But, as demand increases, and the cost of fossil fuels increases proportionately with the demand for local produce, what we see over time is more parity — or at least getting closer to parity. So, we're getting there, one seed at a time.