What The Heck Are Food Miles?

By Sam Smith

It’s no secret that our food often travels far and wide before it ends up on our plates. We have become accustomed to seeing oranges from Florida, avocados from Mexico, almonds from California, etc. Access to foods that are not able to grow locally is not necessarily a new phenomenon (looking at you, Silk Road spice trade route). What is more recent is the industrialization of farming, introduction of single-use plastics, and fossil-fuel reliant transportation methods. Given the increasingly alarming state of climate change, it is becoming more critical than ever for us to move towards a more sustainable and local food system. 

Food miles are a relatively new concept, first coined in the 1990’s in the UK. A food mile is the distance between the origin of your food (where it is grown) to your plate. This is only one factor in many that determine the sustainability of your food, but it is a very important one. By transitioning to supporting our local food systems, we can decrease our own carbon footprint.

In 2009 there was a television program called The 100 Mile Challenge. Filmed in Mission, British Columbia, two hosts help 6 families navigate their introduction to the 100-mile diet. The concept of the 100-mile diet is to consume foods only available within a 100-mile radius of your home. This proved to be more challenging than expected for these families. Over the course of the 6-episode series, they go from struggling to thriving as they discover some of the daily items they took for granted (like coffee, tea, and chocolate), and the bounty of locally produced foods available to them. Seeing regular families go from flown-across-the-world diets to full blown locavores was inspiring to me! This was during a time in my life when a strawberry came out of a bag in the freezer section and tomatoes were crushed, diced, or turned into a paste and sealed in a can. 

My eyes were suddenly open to the locally grown foods available to me. I befriended a local farmer at their roadside stand and learned so much during their growing season. The weekly availability of different fruits and vegetables completely changed the way I cooked. I was no longer stuck in a rut of eating the same meals on the same day every week. I expanded my culinary repertoire, and became more connected to members of the community through the farmers market and farm stands. It was a game changer for me, and I have never gone back. 

While it is a bit more challenging in certain climates to eat locally, it is certainly not impossible. There are loads of greenhouses in Ontario growing food year-round, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, and lettuce. In the spring and summer months, local food is abundant, and often less expensive than imported produce. This provides opportunities to purchase in bulk and preserve or can your own foods. I have personally purchased bushels of tomatoes and made enough tomato sauce to last through the winter until tomatoes are back in season again. You can also make jams, soups, apple sauce, pickles, and roasted peppers. Nothing is more satisfying to me than shopping my very own pantry and benefiting year-round from the labour of love that our local farmers and I put into my food.

If you find yourself in a position to do so, growing your own food is also an amazing option, should you have the skillset (or desire to learn) and the space. You only need roughly 200sqft to grow enough food for one person. This can be accomplished with a traditional garden plot, vertical gardening, container gardening, or any combination of these. Check out community gardens too! Companion gardening is a great way to further utilize space if you are limited. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, growing your own herbs is a great way to get started on growing your own food. 

You don’t have to be a homesteader or a farmer to eat sustainably and locally. Checking out local CSA boxes, farmers markets, choosing locally sourced produce in your grocery store, or growing your own are all viable options if you're hoping to eat more locally. 

Here's a chart of what's available in Ontario during the month of March. Check back each month for a new chart! Feel free to right click, save it and print it!

Ontario produce guide for MarchIf you’re local to Wellington County in Ontario, the Wellington County website has loads of information on local food sources. For those outside of the region, check your county website for more information! Curious about checking your food miles? This handy calculator can help you figure it out!
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