Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Support The Local Food Economy

Mr. Donald Ziraldo the newly appointed Chairman of the Vineland Research and Assessment Centre in Niagara, calls 'Local Food' the "21st Century term for 'Terroir' ". This makes great sense to me since prior to the 'great age of transportation, supermarkets and quick food' the economy was pretty much locally driven. By local here I mean that all the food products were conceived, planted, raised and harvested within a hundred or so mile area. Very little production came from elsewhere. So basically, local food is an old concept whose time has come again.
If any person was to resurrect the concept, Mr. Ziraldo is certainly the man! His foresight was responsible for bringing Canadian wine to world standards by the introduction of the "Boutique Winery". He surged ahead in the production of vinifera only vineyards. Not satisfied with just that, Mr. Ziraldo made sure the quality of Ontario's (Canada's) wine met with strict regulations by introducing the Vintners Quality Alliance (V.Q.A.) and if that was not enough, Agritourism (or Agrotourism) became one of his passions. So, yes, this fellow would definitely be the one to at least in part, come up with this movement.
I said that this makes sense. If you look at what the French mean by 'wine terroir' the term could be translated to mean complex relationship between geography, climate, geology and soil composition. Add to that the human factors of wine making and local marketing and you have somewhat of an explanation.
One has to keep in mind also that part of the 'terroir' is also what one would be dining along with the wine. Now wider definitive question comes to mind. Should not what is grown or produced alongside the wine (same area, district, appellation etc.) be as important as the wine and thus part of "its" terroir.
We in Canada have been growing grapes for a mere two hundred years (if you want to credit the Jesuits who started the ball rolling). The French, Italians, Germans, Greeks have been specializing in the wine industry for thousands. It hardly seems a problem to imagine that out of these thousands of years, local/district food and wine specialty matches have evolved. If you do not believe this then take a trip to the South of France and try the local wine and food. If they do not seem made for each other, I do not know what would be. The same goes for Greece, Germany, Romania etc.
One need only look to the Niagara Peninsula which was the "Archdeacon" of food and fruit production long before it became famous for wine. Now that wine has achieved its prominence, much is being done to combine the characteristics of the its wine and food-----successfully!
The same can be said for other Ontario wine regions including the newest area Prince Edward County. Here, 'terroir' can be seen in its newest and yet best form as a combination of soils, climates, human interaction, tourism, artists, local food and of course wine! It's still finding its "balance" but it's coming fast!
Ironically, last May, long before I read Mr. Ziraldo's report to the University of Toronto at Hart House (Given on March, 2008), I was approached by Ms. Penny Contreras, Community Developer in the Commissioner of Social Services Office, asked me to do a tasting for the United Way as sort of a fund raiser. It developed into a major dinner gala hosted by local talent, with local government and supplied by Jackson-Triggs wines matched to food donated by the local farm co-operative. The event could have been used as an expression of local terroir.
Supporting Local Food Initiatives makes great sense.
First of all it supports the local economy. By buying local we are becoming more in tune with nature by reducing carbon consumption (fuel). The food is fresher, riper, tastier and healthier. It also aides other industries such as the tourism industry. Land destined to be used as parking lots, malls or buildings now can be used for food production thus keeping the Eco-system healthy. It will give more incentive for farms and responsible land usage.
I remember, when I was about 7 years old, I used to go down Victoria Street to Gordon Street in Whitby. There were farms with cattle and horses there. I have pictures of me feeding the cows grass through the fence. Where there was a barn is a mall. Where there were cows is now a sports complex and where the horses trod is now a parking lot. I would much rather have the "progress" reversed. In a way, the Local Food Initiative may bring some of that back!
For further information concerning this and other similar topics go to the following: and