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Author: Owen Roberts

Thanks, Guelph Mercury, for the opportunity

Learning Monday that the Guelph Mercury daily newspaper is closing its doors this Friday, after 149 years, was shocking. To me, it feels like people in Guelph and surrounding area are losing a community leader, one that we turn to for news, opinion and guidance not just occasionally, but everyday. And I’m not sure how you replace that kind of loss. I’ve written a weekly column called Urban Cowboy about agriculture and food for the Mercury since early 1991. I’ve posted a column here from August of that year. I like this one in particular, because the topic is...

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Increased traceability could result in better beef

The province gave nearly $1 million at the beginning of summer to family-owned meat processor VG Meats and quality food retailer Longos, to further develop their part of Ontario’s beef market. That kind of support seems huge now, especially given how beef prices have skyrocketed. But it won’t always be that way. Prices will come down when supply catches up to demand. And this province values homegrown products that consumers want, like beef. VG Meats and an organization called Value Chain Management International (VCMI) believe quality and traceability are intrinsically linked. In fact, the latter would like to see...

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Thinking local about beer and wine

Lack of access seems to be behind the surprising results of a study showing Canadians overall aren’t thinking local when purchasing beer and wine. The survey by a group called LoyaltyOne showed that less than 40 per cent of shoppers said it was very to somewhat important that beer is produced or sourced local, with 35 per cent for wine. Compared to fruits and vegetables, these numbers are miniscule – 98 per cent of shoppers saying it’s very to somewhat important that these commodities are local. The survey also found nearly half of the respondents said they’d pay 15 to 30 per cent more for local food, and more than 85 per cent said they’d increase their monthly grocery spending if local food alternatives were available. But do we ever buck that trend when it comes to beer and wine. Most of us are searching for bargains, chiding local producers for not being able to offer more competitively priced products. But there’s no much more to the price of beer and wine than meets the eye, though, particularly given the way governments impose sin taxes. Plus there’s the price of land to grow the grapes, hops and other raw commodities, labour, distribution, marketing, etc. Many producers think the LCBO should do more to help them reach consumers, given that local alternatives to imported beer and wine are available year-round. Some...

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Here’s some help putting Ontario pork on your fork

Growing local food is a farmer’s everyday job, and it’s also a major buying decision for certain commodities, including meat. Ontario Pork’s fledgling branding campaign capitalizes on this. The campaign clearly and simply identifies Ontario-produced pork, and it’s having a growth spurt: Earlier this month, Ontario Pork and Loblaws®, Zehrs®, valu-mart® and Your Independent Grocer® stores in Ontario announced Ontario-grown and processed pork products in close to 300 stores across the province will start being identified by Ontario Pork labels on product packaging and through flyer advertising. Kevin Mosser, Ontario Pork retail and food service marketing specialist, attributes the increased interest in part to the rising price of beef, which has consumers wanting to incorporate pork into their meals more often. Mosser says this factor, combined with the growing interest of shoppers and diners to support the local economy, presents an opportunity to promote the efforts of Ontario farmers – after all, 98 per cent of hog farms are family owned and operated, and have long been associated with community support. Pork producers are among the most committed sponsors of research. They’re progressive farmers and they have a tradition of staying ahead of the curve. That’s what Ontario Pork is doing with this new campaign: trying to give retail and food service partners an opportunity to promote and support locally raised pork, which may not always be obvious. “It...

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Farmers need to give consumers what they want, and that’s local

Ontario consumers want local food, and the province is helping them get it. But many farmers aren’t happy with the way it’s being done. They feel their needs aren’t being met by the province, and that consumers see them as environmentally insensitive. In reality, farmers are the ones looking after the land. But they’ll need to find ways to coexist with a movement that is seeing them unfairly. Education is vital. One of the best approaches is to show how all farmers feed their local communities. Almost all locally grown Ontario commodities end up as food. The province support...

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Urban Cowboy

Raising awareness and promoting dialogue about current food and agriculture issues.


Owen Roberts – journalist, columnist, educator – provides an urban perspective on agri-food issues.

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