This past weekend I was in a local grocery store, buying groceries for a busy week of meals. The menu included fajitas and we were looking for some nice fresh red peppers. Upon finding the pepper display, I was definitely unimpressed to find that all the peppers were from Mexico or the United States, no Ontario greenhouse peppers. After unwillingly picking up a Mexican red pepper, I started to move on my way but stopped when I saw a sign: ” Pick Ontario Freshness: Look For Peppers” Well I looked and I did not find!
Later that week, I was skimming through the Ontario Farmer and found an article called: ” Greenhouse businesses hit by “Dumped” pepper imports.” I thought, “excellent! Someone has noticed the lack of Ontario peppers and has discovered why!” I was pretty excited; then I read the subtitle: “The bankruptcy of a Dutch insurer has meant cheaper peppers landing in Toronto”. Dutch? What does a Dutch insurance company have to do with Mexican peppers in Guelph? So I read on; as it turns out this insurance company used to ensure shipments of dutch peppers to Russia and other Eastern European countries and when they went bankrupt those shipments stopped. This meant that these dutch peppers are now being flown across the ocean to markets in Toronto. The rest of the article didn’t really give anymore explanation of the pepper problem, but was more focused on greenhouse growers attempts to lobby government and complain about the greenbelt act from 2005.
So this left me asking: why am I buying expensive Mexican peppers; where are all the cheap dutch peppers; and what happened to all those Ontario peppers? Well I did a quick online check of some Toronto grocery flyers and found a few advertising Ontario peppers. I also decided to check back at the original store and their flyer this week is advertising Ontario or Mexico peppers, where as many other grocery stores owned by the same company are advertising Foodland Ontario Peppers. I found another online article explaining that the USDA closed its borders to peppers from the Netherlands on October 21st, this year citing a pest problem on a shipment. This shows the further complication of the international pepper market and all the forces of trade and economics that play a role in determining the supply of produce to Ontario consumers.
So whats the take home message from all of this? In order to buy local and therefore support local farmers, you really need to support local grocers, who will take your concerns into account when they are purchasing their products. Help out our farmers and take a second to talk to the managers of your favorite grocery store. Try to read labels before you buy, and ask someone, ” Where are the Ontario peppers, I’ve been looking for them?”
PS: Keep your eyes peeled for snow peas and sugar snap peas direct from China, nicely wrapped in plastic wrap.