Everyone’s had that experience of walking into a grocery store, rifling through the produce section, only to walk away in disgust when the food is past its prime. It happens more in Newfoundland than elsewhere because we import, according to a 2012 report by Memorial University’s Harris Centre, 90 percent of our food.
The answer might be to grow more food locally, so there’s less distance to travel from the farm to the dinner plate.
Ian Froude started Bite-sized Farm in early 2016. A civil engineer, he worked several different jobs before turning to farming. It started with a love of gardening and a period of unemployment. “I wanted to try something different and I wanted to be an entrepreneur. And I decided to make it a go,” he said.
“A part of it is wanting to be self-reliant and be entrepreneurial in a tough job market. And being able to pay your own salary.” In a few years Froude hopes to hire a few more hands. He was attracted to what he called the “Very tangible nature of the work. I’m working with the earth, I’m growing food that people then take home and cook and eat. That’s very real. You’re a very tangible part of a lot of people’s lives.”
But getting access to enough land in a city can be tough, which is why Froude rents four plots of land throughout St. John’s. “What I’m doing is a bit of a bootstrapping method as a way to get started. Ideally I’d have a permanent piece of land.
“The advantage of it is that you’re really close to market. You don’t have to move things very far to get to your customer. You can be nimble in harvesting the day-of or day before, to get your product to market because you’re so close to your customer,” he said.
Bite-sized Farm grows things like arugula, carrots, spinach, cucumbers, kale, and summer squash. He sells his produce at the St. John’s Farmers’ Market, a few restaurants around town, and he has a number of regular customers.
NL has a food security issue because so much has to be shipped in and fresh produce has a very short shelf life. It was also likely harvested weeks prior to arriving in stores. “That’s a fairly precarious situation for people to be in,” he cautioned. As a local farmer, Froude said that he could pick vegetables on Friday, sell them at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday, and they’d still be fresh for Sunday dinner.
Food security is partly calculated by the number of farmers and how food is distributed. So if the ferry can’t get into the port for a few days, people on the island are in trouble. One way to alleviate the burden would be to increase the number of local farmers and expand the growing season (with technology like hydroponics), so we’re not reliant on a small number of farmers or farms farther away.
“Right now we have a very fragile system” Froude says.