February 18, 2011

Vegetables globetrot the world to find your Plate in T.O

Discovering the ECV market in the GTA

Three graduate students from SEDRD at the University of Guelph last week Friday took to the streets of Toronto to understand the ethno-cultural vegetables market. Hitting up China Town (Spadina), Scarborough and Jane Street seeking popular ethnic food stores.  In their search to understand the operations in the ECV market, they looked at prices, location and availability. As they negotiated the streets of T.O the students were treated to an array of sensual experiences, exposed to a mash up of colours, food and pleasant aromas in ethnic stores.  The stores packed with ethnic food assortments from around the world, attracting waves of bustling customers rushing to get the best produce. A rat race indeed, as availability is dependent on weekly and daily importation of produce, where the customers are well aware of the right days and times to shop. As customers pour in and out throughout the day, one begins to draw a mental picture of the profitability but also the cultural wealth the city has to offer. These stores create opportunities for immigrants to culturally reminisce about their former lives through their palate, similarly divulging new tastes to many Torontonians. An indicator of Toronto’s multiculturalism was surely marked as it embraces the growth of a global economy groomed domestically.

 Below are some pictures taken on the trip

Steven Gitu
University of Guelph

Read More »

February 16, 2011

Bringing a global flavour to local veggies: The changing culture of Ontario’s produce

Imagine if Toronto residents ate only potatoes, turnips, and the occasional few carrots in the winter months. While in the early 20th century this might have been the case for the majority of urbanites, in our modern economy, people are swayed by the wide range of vegetables and abundant variety in supermarkets. What was once considered exotic food in the wintertime is now no longer limited to salad greens, broccoli, and tomatoes, but also includes baby corns, oriental celery, Thai basil, and even okra. Transportation companies are now well-equipped to haul these vegetables thousands of kilometres from California, Mexico, Chile or even further afield. But contrary to popular belief, Ontario farmers now also have the opportunity to produce some of the more exotic foods closer to home: leeks, eggplant, bok choy and Asian vegetables can all be produced within the normal growing season, short as it is. With this upsurge in new vegetable options, there are both challenges and opportunities for local producers.
Digging into the analysis of where the opportunities lie, Dr. Filson, Dr. Adekunle and Mr. Sethuratnam are three scholars from the University of Guelph who have launched a study on vegetable demand. “The question is whether there is unmet demand in urban markets and for which commodities. If we are able to show that preferences are changing and the portion of production accounted for by locally grown vegetables, Ontario farmers will be closer to knowing which vegetables will give them the most profit in years to come” said Dr. Adekunle in an interview on Tuesday.
Some of the biggest questions remaining, apart from the demand equation itself, have to do with access and incentives. Demand analysis reveals that when the quantity demanded for a certain type of vegetables goes up, supply must increase in order for the price to remain at the same level. But the analysis of demand alone cannot tell us whose tastes and preferences motivate such changes in demand. Are changes in demand coming from ethnic minorities or have preferences for exotic vegetables changed among the general populace? Furthermore, do ethnic minorities have trouble accessing their preferred vegetables at present? And what increase in supply would be necessary to bring the price of vegetables to a level that is affordable for ethnic minorities within the GTA?
A second question is the question of producers’ incentives to grow exotic vegetables. In order to seize opportunities in the Canadian market associated with unmet demand, farmers must realize that it will only be a matter of time before those market niches for rare vegetables are quickly filled. If farmers have the right incentives, such as low transport costs and a high farm gate price, they might easily shift to those products which give them a better market value. However, for many farmers, there are risks inherent in breaking into a new market. Unforeseen pests and the sales fluctuations for niche commodities might influence the decision of farmers to enter new markets.
So, as the taste for some foods waxes and others wanes, one thing remains constant: the potential growth of production for exotic vegetables in the Greater Toronto Area. By taking hold of new opportunities as they present themselves, innovative farmers show promise of being able to produce locally for Torontonians. By following the mantra from our friends at the University of Guelph “Eat Local - Taste Global”, we bring the benefits of sustainable production to our own back yard.
Christopher Yordy
Ottawa, Canada
Read More »