Farmers in the RMs of Stuartburn and Emerson-Franklin are teaming up to make it easier for shoppers to buy local.
The Stuartburn-Franklin Local Food Initiative is an online network linking local producers with nearby customers who value small-scale agriculture.
Eight producers have already signed on, and several dozen local residents have joined the initiative’s Facebook group or email list to receive notices when items are available.
Leah and Guy Bouchard of Green Pastures Farm near Gardenton said the idea of compiling a listing of local food producers began just over a year ago. Leah is now a member of the group’s three-person steering committee.
"It’s (about) community spirit and local economy and sustainability," she said. "People are really happy that this is getting going. They feel this is something that we need in our area."
The couple have been selling lamb direct to customers for 11 years, but before joining the Local Food Initiative, most of their customers were in other parts of Manitoba. They needed a way to connect with a local market they knew existed, but weren’t sure how to access it.
Green Pastures lamb is now part of the growing number of items listed on the Local Food Initiative pages of the Stuartburn and Emerson-Franklin municipal websites.
Others include organic vegetables and herbs, strawberries, baked goods, grass-fed beef, free-roam pork and chicken, and unhomogenized cow and goat milk, plus household items like topical salves and wool bedding.
Leah said the committee hopes to build a network that’s large and diverse enough to provide customers with an array of seasonal items year-round.
"There’s just lots of great products here, and we’re working at bringing local awareness and local interest and, hopefully, local sales."
Taking a quick break from lambing season, the Bouchards noted the initiative has expanded their own awareness of the local food landscape. A few miles away from their farm, on the other side of the Roseau River, lies Creekside Dairy, a goat milk operation they previously didn’t know existed, but whose glass bottles are now in their refrigerator.
For producers like the Bouchards, the group is a win-win: producers can connect with customers who share their values, while customers used to driving long distances for groceries can find more products close to home.
"I think it’s more meaningful. We spend our lives trying to farm conscientiously and well. It’s nice to be able to sell products to people who appreciate that," Leah said.
While the "locavore" movement is trendy, Guy pointed out it’s always been important to know how and where your food was produced. In some ways, the Local Food Initiative harkens back to the way farm produce was sold in decades past.
"Travelling was hard, so everything had to be close by," Guy observed.
Some producers deliver, while others require on-farm pickup. Leah said the committee’s eventual goal is to establish a weekly or monthly pop-up market where customers can pick up pre-orders.
More information on the Local Food Initiative can be found on the Stuartburn and Emerson-Franklin municipal websites.