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My interview with Sarah Elton, Author of The Locavore

I have to say, I was pretty excited about getting to interview Sarah Elton ahead of her talk at the Burlington Public Library.  She’s been doing great work in the field of local food, and I was always interested to hear what she had to say on CBC Radio’s Here and Now, so I was pretty excited to get to sit down with her and ask her a few questions.

Sarah gave a great talk to an engaged room in Burlington, and led a fantastic discussion and Q & A session following her talk as well.  She spoke of the changes that are happening all over Canada and the world to make our food system more sustainable, and encouraged residents to get involved with their food and to educate themselves about where it comes from.  Our conversation before her presentation was all over the place, we discussed cargo bikes, backyard chickens, gardening and a host of other topics.  So here it is, for your reading pleasure, my very first interview!

Justin Jones – What is your favorite food trend that you’re seeing in Southern Ontario right now?
Sarah Elton – That’s hard, because the amount of change that I’ve seen since I started working on Locavore, it’s like a decade has passed, but it hasn’t.  It’s such a different landscape, so I’ll tell you my most exciting picks.  In southern Ontario, local municipalities are putting together their tourism guides and they’re including culinary tourism, working with the Ontario Culinary Alliance, realizing that there is all this great local food in these rural areas.  It gives people an opportunity to see what a gorgeous province we live in, and now we’ll be able to go out, eat great food, support our rural communities and learn more about Ontario.  I also love food trucks.  I went to an event at the Brickworks called the Toronto Underground Market, and there was a thousand people there.  Now normally, because I live in downtown Toronto and write about food and talk to people about food, I end up knowing a lot of people.  And I didn’t know anyone at that event, so it kind of drove home to me that there were 1,000 people at this event who were as keen on foofd as I was, and I didn’t know any of them, so that really drove home the reach of this movement.  Good food values seem to be going mainstream, and while not everyone is interested in sustainability, maybe they will realize that fresh, good-tasting food can also be sustainable.
JJ – What got you started in Local Food?
SE – I had an epiphany, and it made me realize that through food, we can talk about everything: environment, culture, ways to live, it’s the most dextrous topic.  You can use it to tell stories that resonate with everybody, because everybody eats, so you can get people thinking about food in a new way.
JJ – Do you have a garden?
SE – I do, it’s mostly shade and I have one bed with some Kale that overwintered, but the raccoons have been vicious.  I do grow things in boxes on my back porch, like eggplant.
JJ – What’s your favorite thing to grow?
SE – Eggplant and Zucchini.
I grew up in a small town where you only locked your car door during zucchini season. Cuz if you didn't lock it, you'd come back to find a bunch of random zucchinis on your front seat.

The ever-so-prolific zucchini plant.

JJ – And what’s your favorite thing to eat fresh out of the garden?
SE – Cherry Tomatoes are delicious, but nothing beats a bean picked, taken inside and cooked.  You can’t compare a fresh bean to one that’s even 24 hours old.  A tomato will last, but a bean changes so fast.  There’s nothing like a fresh bean, it’s heaven on earth.
JJ – What would you say is the single thing a community gets when they shift more towards a focus on local food, if you had to pick just one thing?
SE – I have to pick one?  That’s hard, there’s so many benefits.  I guess I would say community.  Food brings people together so much.  I’ve been working on a new book that comes out next year, and it’s on the future of food and it makes the case for the importance of feeding ourselves with sustainable food in the face of climate change.  I travelled all over the world to India, China, North America and Europe, and it was amazing how food brought people together in all of these places on so many levels.  Local food systems are good for the economy, good for health, good for friendship, they are just plain good.  So whether or not you believe in industrial food, you can’t deny that local food and community gardens, supporting local businesses, building those relationships, all those things just make people happy.  It’s wonderful to go to a Farmers’ Market and have the farmer know your name and smile at you and know that you are supporting them directly.

Residents in Pickering browse the Farmers Market at Pickering Town Centre

JJ – If you could raise animals in your backyard, would you?
SE – I’d raise chickens!  Chickens and cargo bikes, those are my obsessions.  But my kids don’t support me.  My daughter plays by the rules and she knows that they’re illegal in Toronto, so she won’t let me get them.  I have figured out how I could build a coop and hang it on the fence.  Hopefully one day they’ll be legal.

An example of a great little backyard Chicken Coop. Both Sarah and I dream of one day being able to have one of these in our backyards (legally).

JJ – What’s your favorite restaurants dishing up local and seasonal cuisine?
SE – there’s so many now that it’s hard to choose. Gilead is great, there’s also a new place called Cafe Fiorentina on the Danforth, they make everything from scratch, they have heritage eggs displayed–it’s a beautiful place.  There’s a place near Ottawa called Castle Garth. It is in White Lake, and it is amazing.  The chef’s dad is the organic farmer who supplies all the vegetables. When I went we got to tour the farm and the food was exquisite.  There’s also a great farmers’ market in Owen Sound, where you can get a great ginger tea.
JJ – Does your love of all things local extend to alcohol?
SE – I do like wine, and we buy a lot of our wine from Lailey in Niagara.
JJ – If you’re in a supermarket faced with something local or something organic, what’s your choice?
SE – Well, if it’s local and industrial, it’s not necessarily better than far away and organic, so it’s hard to answer.  My best answer is to just try and stay out of the industrial food system as much as possible.  If your only choice is a supermarket, then go in and ask them for what you want, encourage them to get local, sustainable options.  Or better yet, join a CSA!
And that’s all for now, folks.  A huge thank you to Sarah Elton for sitting down with me!

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One Comment on “My interview with Sarah Elton, Author of The Locavore”

  1. Michelle Bennett (@groweatlocal) May 8, 2012 at 9:33 am #

    Glad we were able to bring Sarah to Burlington for an informative talk about the progress in local and sustainable food production. Looking forward to her next book.

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