Case study written by Peter Andrée and Brynne Sinclair-Waters
Phone interview with Cheryl Nash by Brynne Sinclair-Waters (June 14th, 2011)
Follow-up phone interview with Cheryl Nash by Brynne Sinclair-Waters (September 5, 2011)
Additional notes from interview with Jerry Health of Local Flavours by Linda Stevens (August 2011)
* Focused on public education on local food, including youth gardens
* Volunteer run and self-financed
* Innovative fund-raising including seedling sales and a solar array
Lanark Local Flavour is a small self-funded volunteer-run organization based in Lanark County, Ontario, that “works to link local farmers to local eaters, expand capacity and access to sustainably produced food, inform the public about food issues, and to celebrate the people who grow our food” (lanarklocalflavour.ca). Lanark Local Flavour has been in existence for twelve years and is centered on a core of five to seven individuals including Cheryl Nash, the main instigator of the group who we interviewed twice in preparing this case study. Rooted in a wider community of environmentalists and small-scale farmers, the group draws in other people as needed for their skills in relation to specific initiatives.
Working with very limited resources, Lanark Local Flavour focuses on those initiatives that they believe will have the largest impact. At the moment that focus is on developing food and gardening skills among youth. The group has been involved in starting four gardens at youth centers in the area. In 2011, Lanark Local Flavour also helped to organize and run three school gardens, two in Perth and one in the nearby town of Smith Falls. The degree of Lanark Local Flavour involvement in each of these gardens varies. In some cases, the gardens take off with little direct support while in other gardens there is more direct involvement. For example, at one garden Nash provided weekly training sessions for gardeners over the summer because the growers had little previous experience.
Lanark Local Flavour also organizes a number of events over the growing season that celebrate local food and the farmers who produce it. In 2011, they had two local food events. One was a golf tournament for the County to which municipal staff, council members, and others were invited. Nash worked directly with the golf-course chefs to help them access locally produced food for both the lunch and dinner. In another case Lanark Local Flavour helped to arrange a local food “cookoff” for an Ottawa television station. As Nash noted, “The status quo is changing… It’s them deciding that they need to walk the walk. These are one-off events, but they [the events] are becoming more common.”
Lanark Local Flavour also hosts a website that allows people to identify local CSA farms, farmers’ markets, farm gate stores, and other places to buy local produce. In addition, Lanark Local Flavour organizes educational workshops on various topics each year. In 2011, for example, they hosted a workshop on “chicken basics” for people interested in raising their own fowl. Lanark Local Flavour also has a representative (Nash) on Lanark County’s Agricultural Advisory Working Group.
As a mostly self-funded organization, Lanark Local Flavour also works with EcoPerth and spends time organizing fundraising initiatives that raise revenue for their outreach activities. These initiatives include an annual seedling sale and setting a solar panel on the town’s library (see Financial Resources below).
Lanark Local Flavour is an EcoPerth project. EcoPerth was initially developed to see what a small community could do about climate change. In the beginning, EcoPerth had a number of open houses and public consultations to ask people where they would want them to focus their efforts. Local food initiatives were a very popular request. Lanark Local Flavour has now developed a strong presence on its own, though it continues to be overseen by EcoPerth. For example, EcoPerth remains the organization with the fundraising, capacity although much of the funds raised contribute to Lanark Local Flavour initiatives.
The main motivation behind Lanark Local Flavour is to develop community resilience in the face of climate change and dwindling global supplies of oil, food, and other resources. They recognize that they live in a poorer agricultural area than other parts of Ontario, but still believe that by supporting their own farmers and the productivity of their region that they are supporting themselves and making their community stronger.
For Nash, the coordinator of Lanark Local Flavour, much of the motivation for the work she does comes from a recognition that we are in a time where we are going to need to be able to feed ourselves a lot closer to home. Her work is a response to the short-sightedness of many decisions being made by governments and other actors. For example, when the CanGro plant close to Niagara on the Lake got shut down it was the only canning plant for tender fruit left East of the Rocky Mountains. The plant was closed just as interest in local food was building. Although “[governments] say they support agriculture,” Nash says that “they don’t support the farmer.” Governments have taken important steps to protect the land through zoning policies that ensure that farmland stays in agriculture. Nash points out, however, that when processing plants are shut down many farmers are no longer able to get a good price for their produce. Left with nowhere to sell their produce and few options for selling their land, farmers are in a difficult position with few options for making a good living. Nash sees her work as part of an effort to make sure that local farmers receive the support they need to continue to grow for and feed people living in their region.
In light of this larger goal of building agricultural capacity and resilience in their region, Lanark Local Flavour’s attention towards youth and gardening came about as a response to the disconnect young people have from farming and growing food. This focus on youth has been very rewarding, and these rewards are clearly another strong motivating factor. Nash describes their work at the youth centres as “the most rewarding work” she has ever done. Over time, they have seen that the youth gardens they established were doing exactly what they were supposed to do: “They (the kids) are understanding things about crop rotation and potato bugs… and they have memories and experiences about (growing food). The kids are engaged.”
EcoPerth has a board of directors that guides their decision-making and ensures that their organizational direction is approved by a group of people with strong ties to the community. In a small community it is especially important to stay connected with community members, to reach out and ensure continued broad-based community support. The board is able to help create and maintain these kinds of connections and support. Lanark Local Flavour does not have its own a formal board separate from the EcoPerth board, but there are a multitude of groups and citizens that it calls on for advice and guidance. They are also fortunate to have members with important skills such as graphic design and grant-writing.
Physical Infrastructure/ Natural Resources
Lanark Local Flavour has little infrastructure of its own other than a display panel, which they share with the local famer’s market, and access to the EcoPerth office where they can use the photocopiers, printers and have graphic design capabilities. Funds raised by Lanark Local Flavour also pay for things like garden beds and tools at the youth centre and school gardens, but those assets become the property of those organizations.
Lanark Local Flavour is made up entirely of volunteers. Occasionally they apply for grants. Their experience with funding, however, is that the work it entails to get grants and the timing and conditions imposed on the money will often take the project away from them. For example, one year they received a grant for developing and encouraging marketing for that summer’s growing season, but they did not receive approval for the funds until August and it had to be spent by February. They have found it especially difficult, as a rural organization, to apply for grants that are “fifty-cent dollars”, such as OMIF grants (which means that they have to find the other fifty cents for every fifty cents provided by government), because they are less likely to have access to larger pots of money to leverage the funds. Because they are in a rural area with many small municipal councils, last time they applied for a “fifty-cent dollar” grant they had to go to ten different funding sources to get $20,000. Overall, getting external funding has often not been worth the effort that it entails.
Lanark Local Flavour does have an anonymous contributor that is part of a larger family foundation in Southern Ontario. This contributor has donated between $3000 and $5000 a year, which in recent years pays for all of their garden work. This year it paid the start up costs of two and a half new youth gardens.
Funding also comes from two fund raising initiatives: seedling sales and a solar array on the town library’s roof. The seedling sale started as an annual event, but now takes place every other year. They buy seedlings at a good price from the Ferguson Forest Centre in Kemptville and then resell them in the community. This raises $5000 or $6000 a year.
The solar panel is on the roof of the library. It’s a 10 kilowatt system. The solar panel is owned by EcoPerth with three other partners. They pay a small amount to the town for the roof rental space and pay commercial rate insurance on it. Thanks to the Ontario Governments Feed-In-Tarriff, it will bring in revenue for the next 20 years at 81 cents a kilowatt hour, which is about $400/month. Bob Argue oversees the solar panel for EcoPerth. Being financed partially through solar energy is unique and may not be replicable in other communities, but has been successful for EcoPerth.
For local food networks to be most effective, Nash believes that it is essential to integrate them into the community by including as many different people and partners as possible. Especially because the area they cover is made up of many small communities (Perth, Smith Falls, Carleton Place and more), they have tried to diversify their work so that there is something in it for everyone.
One of the ways that LLF realize this philosophy is by supporting other, similar groups in nearby communities. Initiatives in both Sharbot Lake and Leeds and Grenville have received support and guidance from Lanark Local Flavour in their start up. One organization modeled on LLF is Local Flavours based in Leeds Grenville (www.localflavours.org). According to our interview with Jerry Heath, coordinator of Local Flavours, it also aims to promote local farmers, farmers’ markets, and related events, with a particular focus on the Frontenac Arch Biosphere reserve region in southeastern Ontario.
Policy and Program Resources and Challenges
Barriers to building effective local food networks include lack of funds, lack of communication and understanding between the farming community and the rest of society, and competing visions between governments and people involved in local food initiatives. In order to support local food initiatives, governments should develop scale appropriate regulation, bring back OMAFRA extension services, institute local procurement policies, and find a mechanism to value the farmer.
Most importantly, Lanark Local Flavour and other groups in the region hope that in the future OMAFRA will consult and include existing local groups as they move forward. Existing efforts and successful initiatives must be incorporated into new plans and projects for promoting local food and supporting local farmers in the region.
Relevance to other projects
Lanark Local Flavour is fairly unique in its ability to be sustained with very limited financial resources. Their ability to do this is due in large part to the willingness of their coordinator to work without pay. The dedication of a few core volunteers and the relationships that they have been able to build within their community are central to their many successes. This organization shows how much can be accomplished when a small group of people with vision and skills build links within their communities and commit to promoting positive change.