Even when you live on a farm, it can be easy to forget where your food comes from.
“Even my children, who are 17 and 19, didn’t have a full appreciation of all the food that is grown right here in Niagara and how important it is to buy local,” Debbie Crowe, manager of Meridian’s Grimsby branch, and owner with her husband of a 40-acre cash crop farm in Wainfleet, said.
Three years ago, Debbie got the chance do something about it.
A farmers’ market comes back to farm country
Debbie and five other volunteers on a Leadership Niagara team established the Experience Niagara Market, a farmer’s market at the Niagara Food Festival in Welland held for three days every October. The Festival, an annual showcase that brings together restaurateurs, chefs, wineries and entertainers, attracts more than 85,000 visitors from throughout Niagara and surrounding areas, including Hamilton, the GTA, and western New York.
“Many people from the city had never seen a farmers’ market before. This was an ideal venue for it,” Debbie said.
Reconnecting with local growers
In fact, according to Debbie, even though they live in the heart of one of Canada’s most productive and famous agricultural areas, many people in Niagara have lost touch with the farmers and the wonderful produce that is grown in abundance all around them.
“Today, you can go to a grocery store and pick up an apple from Argentina when one that is grown by a farmer who might be your neighbour is sitting three bins away. Everything is always in season. Over time, you can lose that connection with the farm and locally grown produce,” Debbie said.
Meridian support for Leadership Niagara
Leadership Niagara is part of an international community leadership program with more than 1,500 programs around the world. Leadership Niagara is composed of six-member teams of emerging community leaders who identify initiatives to benefit their community and volunteer their time to make them happen.
Each member of Leadership Niagara requires the support of their employer. Meridian not only supported Debbie in joining a Leadership Niagara team but made a financial contribution as well.
Buying decisions can make a difference
After reviewing a number of ideas, Debbie’s Leadership Niagara team decided that they should focus on encouraging people to buy locally grown food.
“We wanted people to think a bit more about their economic footprint and that their buying decisions can make a difference,” Debbie said.
In addition to Debbie, who continues to be involved in the annual initiative, more than 25 employees from Meridian branches across Niagara volunteer their time every October to make the Experience Niagara Market a success.
“We want people to think about buying local, even from local fruit stands during the summer. That’s how these farmers make a living and it’s one way that we can all make a contribution to building strong communities."