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The Complete Guide to Finding Local Food in Toronto

Local Food TorontoUnless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several years, you’ve probably heard about the local food revolution. Food gurus, journalists and even ordinary people all over North America are moving away from mass supermarkets and heading to the local farmers’ market instead.

Of course, some of these people are foodies who insist on purely organic meals, but why is everybody else jumping on the bandwagon? It turns out there are several reasons to eat locally-grown produce:

Nutrition and Taste

Most offerings you find at the supermarket have travelled thousands of miles, and modern technology can only keep things so fresh. Local food retains more nutrients and flavour thanks to their shorter journey.

Protection of the Environment

Where did that supermarket food come from? How much did it cost to transport? How much oil was used? It turns out that eating a diet based on supermarket food uses 17 times more oil and gas than a locally-grown diet.

Support for Local Farms and Economy

Eating locally gives local farmers the money they need to survive, helps stall urban sprawl, which is threatening to destroy all our farmland, and builds the economy. Local farmers spend their money locally, putting almost twice as much money into the economy for every dollar earned as your average supermarket does.

Health

Thinking about where your food comes from also makes you think more about what you eat. When you eat local, you’re likely to eat more vegetables, get more nutrients out of every fruit, and sample a wide variety of healthy dishes. Farmers’ markets are also a great place to find healthy alternatives to your favourite junk food.

Convinced that you should try this local eating thing but not sure where to start? Here’s a handy master list of the best ways to get fresh food in the GTA:

Farmers’ Markets

Farmers’ markets are exactly what they sound like: a place where local farmers gather to sell their wares. There are dozens of farmers’ markets all over the GTA, each offering a somewhat different feel and variety of goods. Most are seasonal—after all, most farmers only have so much to offer in the winter—but some run year-round to ensure that you’re always eating good food. To save you some trouble, we’ve compiled a list of the best year-round farmers’ markets in Toronto.

Here are the best year-round locations to find your local produce:

1. Evergreen Brickworks – Saturday, 8am – 1pm (9am in the winter)

Head to the old Evergreen Brickworks to purchase local produce and stay to enjoy music, let your kids peruse the childrens’ activities, and maybe participate in some workshops yourself while enjoying your sugar-free lemonade.

2. Dufferin Grove – Thursday, 3-7pm

In summer, you’ll find this farmers’ market out enjoying the park. In winter, you’ll find them hiding in the ice rink. All year long, you’ll find a variety of delicious goods from local farmers and even organic chocolate produced by the wonderful people at Chocosol.

3. Wychwood Barns – Saturday, 8am – 12pm

One of the city’s largest farmers’ markets, you’ll find at least 30 vendors there every week with an array of tasty offerings. Wychwood Barns stands apart not just because of its size, but also because they take an active role in encouraging sustainable practices among their vendors. Every vendor who isn’t a farmer bought their ingredients from somebody in the market, making this market its own self-sustaining economy.

4. St. Lawrence Market – Saturday, 5am – 2pm

This is the farmer’s market that everybody who’s considered buying local food has heard of. Located on Front Street in the heart of downtown, the St. Lawrence Market is a great place to find every kind of vegetable or fruit grown in the province. You’ll even have the opportunity to sample a variety of dishes created by the market’s many vendors.

These are only a few of the many farmer’s markets in Toronto. Get the complete list here or check out the map below.

Growing Your Own

Buying local food is great, but what’s even better is growing your own. You’ve probably daydreamed about having a beautiful garden and growing all kinds of vegetables. The recent food movement is here to tell you that you don’t need that big backyard you keep dreaming about. Many edible plants only need a small amount of space to grow well. Several organizations will even come to your home and help you figure out exactly what you can grow—and how to make it happen.

Here are the best resources to get started:

1. Young Urban Farmers

Created in 2009, Young Urban Farmers is a group dedicated to helping people grow their own fresh food in the city. They specialize in creating gardens to fit your needs and offer several solutions for people with small homes. They’re quite happy to come over and help you get everything set up, too.

2. Cultivate Toronto

Cultivate Toronto focuses on turning your backyard—however small it might be—into a source of fresh, organic food. They’ve also started a Community Shared Agriculture program, which allows customers to work with farmers and purchase local, organic goods for a reasonable price. People interested in getting involved can either buy shares in the food program or volunteer their land to be turned into an urban garden.

3. Fresh City Farms

This collective of farmers does many things. They deliver fresh produce to your door for a good price. They host tours so people can learn about their farms and farming methods. Most importantly, they host several workshops each year around growing your own food.

4. Toronto Seed Library

The Toronto Seed Library works much like the Toronto Public Library, except that instead of borrowing books, you borrow seeds. Once the plant matures, you return some of its seeds to the library so the collection can continue to grow.

5. Urban Harvest

Urban Harvest is a store dedicated to providing organic seeds, seedlings and garden supplies designed to promote sustainability and ecological diversity. All their seeds and seedlings are sourced from farmers in or near the GTA. They have both an online store and a physical location, and can be found at the Dufferin Grove and Wychwood Barns farmers’ markets.

6. Not Far From the Tree

Toronto is blessed to have hundreds of fruit trees, but much of that fruit never gets eaten. Not Far From the Tree’s volunteers roam the city harvesting fruit from these trees and distributing the fruit throughout the city. ⅓ of the harvest goes to volunteers, you keep ⅓ and the last third is taken to shelters around the city.

Local Fruit in Toronto

Community Gardens

Don’t have the space for a garden or the energy to maintain one? You can still learn how to grow your own food by getting involved with a community garden. Community gardens are exactly what they sound like—patches of land where a group of people work together to grow good food and some pretty flowers, too. Some are run by the city and attached to community centres or public parks, but any space where green things grow can become a community garden.

Here are some great community gardens in Toronto:

1. 100 Brimley Road South

With space donated by the Blessed Cardinal Newman Catholic High School, this is one of the largest community gardens in Scarborough. With one of the strongest communities, it’s also the location of several food education events held throughout the year.

2. Harvest-to-Hand Community Gardens

Run by the North York Harvest Food Bank, there are several Harvest-to-Hand community gardens. While they host occasional food education events, these gardens are more about building communities and growing healthy food, which is shared among the volunteers who grow the gardens and members of the local community.

3. Parkdale Community Garden

The Parkdale Community Garden is a place where west enders can try their hand at growing things, both food and decorative plants. It’s also got one of the largest communities centered around any garden in Toronto and hosts regular food education events. If you’re already gardening on your own, you can also come to the Parkdale Community Garden on certain days for a seed exchange—what better way is there to try out growing new plants?

Most host events teaching you to create your own garden and live better—you can find one close to home through the Toronto Community Garden Network or the map below.

Grocery Stores 

There are many organizations dedicated to increasing accessibility of good food in Toronto. Some are co-ops which allow members to influence what they stock. These co-ops range from small private affairs to larger businesses which allow the public to use their store–though only members get a discount.

Many health food stores have a section dedicated to local food, and there are even entire shops dedicated to affordable, locally-grown food.

Eager to start buying Ontario-grown food? Here are some links to help you get started:

1. Karma Food Co-op

Founded in 1972, this might be the oldest food co-op in the city. You’ll find it on Palmerston Avenue, just two blocks west of Bathurst. They’ve spent the last four decades providing their members with good food for a great price–and now they’re open to the public so you can take a thorough look through their wares before purchasing a membership.

2. West End Food Co-op

It’s pretty hard to miss this co-op whose massive sign hangs in the Parkdale Health Center on Queen Street West. They focus mostly on produce but provide a variety of other goods as well.

3. The Local Organic Food Co-Operative Network

Looking for something in your neighbourhood? The Local Organic Food Co-Operative Network provides advice on starting your own food co-op and also features a list of co-ops all over Ontario. If there’s a food co-op within walking distance of your home, this website will help you find it.

4. Stasis Local Foods

Located right at Roncesvailles and Dundas, Stasis Local Foods is well-stocked with a variety of local foods, but its focus is actually jams and other preserves. These jams and preserves are made by the owner using local ingredients in season.

Local Food Organizations

There are several non-profits in Toronto dedicated to feeding people. Some, like food banks, exist purely to combat hunger. Others are focused on permanently changing the way people see food and creating food equality–a society where everybody has access to good food regardless of their status.

If you’re looking to join the fight against food inequality, start with one of these organizations:

1. Push Food Forward

This non-profit is dedicated to creating equal access to good food. They have a number of programs designed to aid that goal, including support programs for entrepreneurs looking to enter the food industry.

2. The Stop Community Food Centre

The Stop is a multi-level operation challenging hunger at every turn. They offer a food bank and workshops to empower locals–both adults and children–to grow their own food. On a deeper level, Stop is constantly advocating for an end to food inequality and putting pressure on our government to create change.

3. FoodShare

Founded in 1985, FoodShare operates in a way similar to The Stop. They offer a wide range of programs including the Good Food Box program, have their own large commuity garden, and offer many workshops designed to make healthy eating easier no matter what your income is. One of their most successful programs is the School Grown farming project, which employs high school students in urban market gardens. This teaches young people to grow, harvest, prepare and sell local fruits and vegetables. They also hold annual conferences around the issues of food equality and food security.

4. Toronto Youth Food Policy Council

Run by and for youth, this organization is dedicated to spreading awareness and creating food equality among youth. They aim to educate and empower youth, showing them what the issues are and how they can help change society for the better. They do this through a newsletter, a number of annual events and bi-monthly meetings where youth can come and have an in-depth discussion about how to transform our society into one where healthy food is easily accessible for everyone.

Food Delivery

Feeling too lazy to garden or too busy to hit up a specialty shop to get the best local produce? You can get it delivered instead. Some companies arrange for pick-up spots in a variety of neighbourhoods, keeping costs down by minimizing delivery work. Others will deliver right to your door once you’ve chosen the size of your order.

Here are the best places to go if you want fresh produce on your doorstep:

1. Mama Earth

Mama Earth will deliver a fresh basket of produce to your door either weekly or bi-weekly, whichever you prefer. You can choose from a range of basket sizes to get what best fits your needs, and if there’s something you want to be sure you’ll get each week, you can add it to your “Standing Order”.

2. Green Earth Organics

With Green Earth Organics you can choose from a variety of box sizes or even create your own custom box, choosing what produce you’ll receive every week. Of course, the custom bin does have a minimum order, but it’s entirely up to you what goodies that box will contain.

3. Front Door Organics

A family-run business started back in 1997, Front Door Organics offers a wide variety of organic goods delivered straight to your door. With over a decade of home deliveries, their online store is well developed and they’ve even added organic meat to their list of offerings.

4. Good Food Box

The Good Food Box program run by FoodShare sends local produce from Ontario farmers to convenient locations all over the GTA. Boxes are delivered by volunteers to drop-off locations ranging from daycares to front porches. The volunteer aspect allows FoodShare to charge small amounts for their boxes, making it one of the cheapest ways to get fresh food in the city.

5. Community Shared Agriculture Farms

Many farms allow you to pay them directly for a portion of their produce and will deliver it either to a nearby drop-off location or straight to your house. The cost and logistics vary from farm to farm. Click the link to find a list of participating Ontario farms.

Foraging Food

One of the most interesting things about the local food movement is the idea of urban foraging. There are many plants growing wild all over Toronto that can be eaten or used for herbal remedies. Of course, you don’t want to go out and start eating random plants–there are plenty of poisonous ones, too. Luckily, there are wilderness survival courses, guidebooks and walking tours to help you discover which plants in the city might be edible.

Group outings to get started:

1. Don Valley Tour

Run by the Culinary Adventure Co., this tour will take you through the Don Valley on a hunt for wild mushrooms and edible plants. The tour runs four times a year–twice in spring and twice in fall–and is limited to 24 participants, so if you’re interested, reserve your spot now.

2. High Park Tour

There are many walking tours held in High Park throughout the year. On on June 21, 2014, their will be an Edible Walk and Talk  in the park. Bring a notebook, pen and camera with you to memorize the local edibles you’ll learn about along the way.

Fiddleheads can be foraged in Toronto

If you’re interested in learning more about foraging in general or getting together to start a new walking tour, join the Wild Foragers Society or a similar group to meet other people with the same interests and learn about the edible plants this city has to offer.

Food Apps

When they said there was an app for everything, they weren’t joking. You can do almost anything you can imagine with the power of smart phone apps–even find good local food.

Here are some apps designed to help you do just that:

1. Farmstand

This app makes it easy to eat locally-grown food no matter where you are in the world. With a massive database of farmers’ markets from all over the world, you’ll be able to discover new seasonal treats every time you travel. Of course, it’ll help you find a farmers’ market close to home, too.

2. Locavore

Locavore goes beyond the simple listing of farmers’ markets of other apps by telling you what’s in season. It also contains recipes and shows you what food you might be able to forage in the neighbourhood.

3. Always Fresh

Officially released in March 2014, Always Fresh is an app with a solution to a common problem: what do you do with leftovers? This app allows people to get verified as cooks by showing images of them working in a clean kitchen and selling their leftovers. Just find a tasty looking meal, message the cook and arrange to meet up. You can’t guarantee that they used locally-grown ingredients, but you’ll certainly know the food was cooked near home–and that it’s better than what you’ll find at McDonalds.

Local Food Events

Other than farmers’ markets and classes on how to grow your own vegetables, there are a many events focused around local food. These vary and include in-depth cooking classes focused on creating delicious dishes entirely or at least mostly from local products.

Here are some events where you can find good local food or learn more about how to make your own:

1. Toronto Underground Market

Founded in September 2011, every TUM event features a variety of local chefs eager to share their dishes and a great selection of local craft beers, wines and cocktails. Their goal is to provide local food entrepreneurs with a space to test their newest dishes on the market, and they someday hope to have an industrial kitchen where classes will also be provided for budding entrepreneurs.

2. Dinners at the Depanneur

Interested in eating a good meal made up of local food without the effort or significant cost increase? Drop in Dinners at the Depanneur happen Tuesdays-Fridays and feature healthy meals created by local cooks. Meals are first come, first served and usually cost $10-$14. Certain days have themes, so be sure to double-check the website before you head out.

3. Culinarium Cupboard Cooking Classes

You will find the occasional tasting event listed on this page as well, but the main appeal of the Culinarium Cupboard is their cooking classes. These workshops take place almost every Tuesday and Wednesday and each one centers around a different style of cooking with local foods.

Eating Out

Hoping to find a way to enjoy eating out and keep your focus on eating local foods? While they are fewer and farther between than your average burger place, there are several farm-to-table restaurants in Toronto–in other words, restaurants focused on providing only local, organic food.

You can do some searching to find other options, but here are two of the best-know farm-to-table restaurants in Toronto:

1. Woodlot

Located in Little Italy, Woodlot is made special by its giant, wood-fired oven, which they use to cook everything from their sourdough bread to their warm kale salad. Their menu is seasonal and focused on using the best local food available during every season. Woodlot’s dining room fills up fast, so you might want to make a reservation–or be prepared to wait a while for your meal.

2. Ursa

With a prime location on Queen Street West, Ursa is one of the city’s most influential farm-to-table restaurants. They’re focused on creating Canadian dishes out of entirely Canadian food, their menu changing from season to season, and their restaurant welcome to both customers walking in off the street and those who make a reservation in advance.

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