For the last three months, my freezer and fridge have been overflowing with local products: apples, tomatoes, beef, bison, maple butter, cranberry juice, goat cheese, Beau’s beer (if you can call that food), and a multitude of other products available from our local producers. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to visit these producers on site, buying directly from the farm. But many of these places are a good drive from my house, so replacing the food as we eat it is not so easy.

The problem of local food distribution was the topic of one of the OCTA Summit presentations. Lauren Baker, Executive Director of Sustain Ontario, was the presenter. In this session, we heard about the “hourglass phenomena”, in which there are lots of buyers at one end of the hourglass, and lots of farmers at the other, but there’s a squeeze in the middle when it comes to distribution.

Currently, smaller-scale farmers have several options for getting their products to market (other than farmers’ markets and on-farm sales):

  • Obtain an Ontario Food Terminal stall (which 2000 farmers do today)
  • Use refrigerated trucks from companies such as Erb to deliver the products to stores
  • Go through a distributor like Pfennings Organic Farm, which has an on-farm packing house to store and package local organic produce for distribution to the health food stores and some grocery stores.

Lauren Baker talked about some alternative distribution methods that have developed in recent years. A couple of the examples were from eastern Ontario:

1.  The Ottawa Valley Food Coop: This 3-year old food cooperative connects local food producers with consumers. Members can place an online order for the products they wish to purchase, and once a month, a delivery is made to various locations throughout the Ottawa Valley (including Arnprior, which is the closest location to Ottawa). The software ordering system was developed by the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, which donated the technology to the Ottawa Valley Food Coop.

2. Wendy’s Mobile Market: This Lyndhurst-based business (north of Gananoque) provides door to door delivery of locally grown and produced products. The delivery area includes Perth, Merrickville, Kingston,  and Brockville, among others (not all the way to Ottawa though).

For those in Ottawa, there is a similar initiative to the Ottawa Valley Food Coop on the Quebec side. It’s called Marché de solidarité régionale de l’Outaouais. The website is mostly in French, but you can read about the program in English by visiting the Croquez Outaouais site.

As I listened to the presentation, it made me think whether there is a market opportunity to deliver local food to office workers at their place of work. Customers could place their order online, and the coop could deliver it near the end of the day, in a central location. I know I would sign up for something like that, especially in the winter when my local farmers’ market is not in operation. It’s kind of a compromise between individual door to door delivery and the pick-up system. The coop would need a fair bit of cooperation from the company where they’re delivering to, especially since it would probably impact productivity as everyone goes down to get their food and then decides to leave early to get it home to the fridge!

Update – November 19, 2010: I’ve since come across another local food distribution option for people in Ottawa. The Eastern Ontario Local Food Co-op has two pick-up sites in Ottawa: one near Carlingwood Mall, and one in Orleans. The co-op itself is based in Vankleek Hill. Click here for details.