An important part of living Life. The Okanagan Way' is enjoying all the benefits of being able to buy local fresh fruit and produce right next door at many of the local farm gate sales and Lake Country Farmers' Market. The growing agri-tourism industry reflects the interest that visitors have in experiencing a connection with the agricultural community, and yet we have that priviledge every day in Lake Country. Is it something you value?

The Vancouver Sun published an interesting article this weekend that reminds us how priviledged we are to enjoy Local' food and support our local economy in the process.

Local' more important to B.C. shoppers than organic'

Vancouver Sun Saturday, September 14, 2013 Page E01 By Randy Shore

British Columbians rate local origin as more important than price when buying fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy, according to new research. About 85 per cent of respondents to a recent survey said they prefer to buy locally produced foods. And most of us are willing to pay more to get it. Sixty-two per cent of British Columbians said they would pay six to 10 per cent more for local, unprocessed foods, while only 43 per cent of all Canadians felt that way. The findings are from a survey of 1,001 Canadians conducted and funded by NRG Research Group and Peak Communicators.

Asked to choose between local origin, organic production and price, Canadian respondents chose local 40 per cent of the time and price 38 per cent. Only nine per cent chose organic. "Given the choice, consumers are looking for local food at a good price," said Lesley Duncan, research manager for NRG. "There is a willingness to pay more for attributes that are considered important to shoppers, but in the best possible world local food wouldn't cost more."

People over age 45 were less price sensitive than people 44 and younger. "Although not a direct question, the pattern of results suggests that (British Columbians) may prefer to give their money to individuals and small businesses rather than larger corporations," said Duncan. "I suspect this is what is behind the growth of farmers markets here in B.C."

Although the researchers didn't define what "local" means, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently released a new interim definition, essentially any food grown in B.C. or in Canada within 50 kilometres of the provincial border. Shoppers vary dramatically in their definitions of local. For some, B.C.-grown is enough, while others apply the 100-mile (160-kilometre) limit made popular in books and on television. "Anywhere in B.C. would be local," said North Vancouver's Flo Spratt, while shopping at a Vancouver produce market. "If it was Seattle, I would (prefer that than it) coming all the way from Newfoundland." But fellow shopper Jan Daniels draws the line at 100 kilometres.

Many grocery chains identify fresh foods as being from B.C., but smaller chains and independent retailers say consumers respond positively to more detailed information, including the region, town or individual farm. "People (will) pay more if they know where exactly it came from and they trust it," said Choices Market spokeswoman Sara Yuristy. "We have signs in the store and we send out a newsletter that goes to 70,000 people where we feature individual farmers."

About 75 per cent of the beef carried by Choices comes from three B.C. ranches. Pork is sourced from a producer in Alberta just a few kilometres from the provincial boundary. A growing number of meat products carry a sticker that identifies the farm that produced it, she said. "We have steadily increased the amount of local product we carry over the past 10 years, and the number of local producers we buy from has been a huge jump," said Yuristy. "We've seen that people now favour local over organic."

With only seven stores, Choices can easily work with smaller producers, farmers who simply can't produce the volume required by larger chains. The goal is to recreate the connection people enjoy with producers at farmers markets. "Our customers get to know where their food comes from, and make an emotional connection if they know that Sally grew it or Bob grew it," said Yuristy. "It's important to tell the story of the food." B.C.-based Thrifty Foods also has an extensive line of signature meats identified by region or farm of origin. IGA Marketplace stores use in-store displays and web-based marketing to draw attention to local produce, which management defines as grown in B.C. "For us, (buy local promotions) are a vital part of our overall program throughout the store," said IGA spokesman Mark McCurdy.

While local foods sometimes cost more than conventional imported produce, some items can be the same price or even cheaper in season, he said.

There is some evidence that the agricultural economy is reorganizing to meet changing market conditions.

According to the Canada Census of Agriculture, between 2006 and 2011 the number of farms in B.C. under 10 acres increased by 489, more than nine per cent. The number of farmers markets represented by the B.C. Association of Farmers Markets has doubled in the past decade to 115.

Farmers markets inject about $170 million into local economies each year, according to a recent study led by the association and the University of Northern B.C. "Producers understand now that there are different kinds of consumers, and they see the value in knowing what is important to the consumer," said Reg Ens, executive director of the B.C. Agriculture Council. "These are guys who are happy to be out in the fields, but not so much in front of the camera."

Ens says the number of niche products and "micro-producers" ultra-small-scale farms is growing to serve an evolving market for local foods. BCAC and other producer associations recently mounted an interactive media campaign to encourage foodies to hype their favourite local foods, farms and retailers. "What we saw in the We Heart Local campaign were the stories behind the food and that really benefits micro-producers," Ens said.

"Food grown and processed in B.C. is locally and internationally recognized for its high quality," said Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm. "That's why people choose it at local farmers markets, grocery stores and restaurants here at home, and in more than 130 countries around the world," she added.

The agricultural economy in B.C. grew by $1.2 billion over just two years to $11.7 billion in 2012, according to Pimm.

B.C.'s Agrifoods Strategy has stated that its goal is to increase that figure to $14 billion by 2017.