It’s not one or the other but both, says a self-described “foodie” and restaurant owner who says both local and global systems have a role in providing good food for Albertans.
Jessie Radies is a founder of Original Fare, a consortium of Edmonton-area restaurants, and along with her chef husband Darcy is co-owner of the Blue Pear restaurant.
Radies likes to work with producers to help them supply restaurants, and speaks frequently about food and supporting local independent businesses. She participated in a recent forum put on by the Agriculture and Food Council of Alberta.
“The two critical things for me when looking at global or local is who owns the businesses that are participating in the food system and who makes the decisions that are part of the food systems,” she said.
Radies said the two systems are not separate or autonomous and should work together. For example, farmers in Alberta sell their products locally and internationally, while local grocery stores generally carry a combination of products produced inside and outside the region.
“These systems are not good systems or bad systems,” Radies said. “We need them both and we’re dependent on both of them. The secret is finding balance. If we didn’t have access to the global market, we’d be in trouble.”
Radies estimates the local food system in Edmonton makes up about 10 to 15 per cent of total consumption. She said producers currently have limited access to the local market, and that there are opportunities for development in this area.
Radies said her experience as the co-owner of an independent restaurant have shaped her views on the local food system and stressed the importance of building relationships with suppliers and customers.
Buying local has a larger economic impact on a community, said Radies. A consumer who picks a local product over a global product brings a larger economic benefit to their community, which creates more jobs, more wealth generation and a stronger economy. “When you buy direct from a producer, it has about five times the economic impact than is provided when you buy from a global food vendor,” she said.
Radies acknowledged that although she is a huge champion of local food, it might not always be the right answer. Through her experience with the food system, she has learned that challenges are not unique to specific industries. Farmers, restaurant owners and distributors share many similar problems and opportunities.
“It’s really important for us to recognize that we’re on the same team, but we’re just playing different positions. We can work together and make it better for everybody,” Radies said.
Knowing their potential customers can assist producers to be more competitive and sell to local restaurants. “If you want to know about our industry, come talk to us,” Radies said. Restauranteurs might have specific needs and producers may need to change behaviour in order to accommodate them.
Many restauranteurs want to work with producers and wish to serve local food, Radies said. She believes local food systems must continue to grow beyond the luxury goods phase, and sees a lot of opportunities for a strong local food system to develop.
“This is about how our food systems operate and where we buy groceries.”