West Carleton is lush this time of year with fields of corn and soybeans. But the rural neighborhood is actually a “food desert,” with very few places to buy fresh produce, says a local doctor.
On Saturday, Dr. Barry Bruce and his partners opened a new open-air food market in Carp with the aim of stimulating both supply and demand for fresh, local food.
The goal is to convince consumers that locally grown food is good for both the pocketbook and the planet, and to show farmers that there is a demand, Bruce said.
“Our goal is to help West Ottawa get through a winter without relying on imported goods. Almost everything grown around here is a cash crop. Most of it goes to animal feed. We want to transform the agri-food system to produce food for people.”
Partners in the project include: Cory Baird, who runs Eldon’s Pantry bakery and cafe in Carp, as well as a nearby chip cart; Deep Roots Food Hub, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable eating; ExerFarm, which encourages physical fitness through farm work; and Ottawa Valley Grain Products, which custom mills locally produced grains.
Carp already has a thriving farmers market, open on Saturdays, with vendors selling items ranging from crafts to fresh produce to prepared foods. The open-air market is something different, Bruce said. The plan is to start small, but the long-term goal is to have a market open at least five days a week, allowing residents to eat food grown on local farmland and back gardens and stored locally through the winter.
“If we do this at Carp and we do it well, we’ll learn the principles and we’ll be able to encourage it elsewhere,” he said.
That’s where the Deep Roots Food Hub comes in. It has an off-grid, above-ground “root cellar” on National Capital Commission land near Shirley’s Bay, which is powered by solar panels. The storage facility offers small-scale vegetable growers an energy-efficient place to store tubers.
But the “build it and they will come” approach has not worked. The facility can store up to 60,000 pounds of produce, but has stored at most 10,000 pounds, said Bruce, who is a Deep Roots board member.
“We’ve had the experience of wishing farmers would fill it up. Wishing didn’t work very well.”
So one of the goals of the market is to persuade farmers that if they produce it, people will buy it. “Farmers won’t grow things unless there’s a ready market,” Bruce said. “We think that by doing this, farmers will realize that they can produce more next year.”
Another part of the process will be learning the economics of the food system, including making prices attractive to buyers and sustainable for producers. “We don’t want to be the most expensive market in Ottawa,” Bruce said.
Baird’s potato chip truck is an “anchor” for the outdoor market, which will run in the parking lot around the truck.
“The truck draws people in and doesn’t require farmers to be on their feet all day,” Bruce said. In the winter, Baird plans to sell local produce at Eldon’s Pantry.
Eldon’s Pantry, named after Baird’s late grandfather, specializes in coffee, sourdough bread, smoked fish, and local farmer’s produce ranging from preserves to maple syrup. On Saturday, Baird was roasting a leg of lamb from Shady Creek Lamb, a pasture-based sheep farm near Kinburn.
When he found out about the market, he had to jump on board, Baird said.
“It’s a beautiful thing, there is a need for vegetables every day of the week,” he said. “I am a Baird. There is still a farm in the family.”
Nora Cox is involved with ExerFarm and an initiative to grow corn, squash, and snap beans on a small plot of land on a farm on Dwyer Hill Road.
Being involved in the local food community has helped forge bonds, he said. “I love being able to walk around town and say hello to everyone. I feel much more connected and have lived in Carp for 20 years.”
The local sustainable food system resonates with people, Cox said.
“People know where it comes from and what it contains. We depend on food that comes from overseas. We are really making ourselves vulnerable.”