Local Produce: An Ontario Peach Farmer Explains Why it Tastes Better

Loblaw’s has a new “Grown Close to Home” initiative, where they’re working with local growers to encourage Canadians to eat closer to home. During the months of July and August, approximately 40 percent of the produce found in Loblaw’s stores will be sourced from Canadian growers. We thought we’d ask Phil Short, third generation farmer of mostly peaches (but also nectarines, pears, plums, cherries and apples) in Beamsville, Ontario, to weigh in on the growing of organic fruit, the locavore movement and why being a farmer is getting tougher.

Q: Do you grow any organic produce?

A: No. It’s still developing. It’s a huge new market and there’s a huge demand, but people aren’t really doing it with peaches and nectarines. Peaches and nectarines are particularly hard, mainly because of the production of the tree. Even prior to harvest, they require spray to keep them healthy. Another question is whether you can produce an organic peach tree that has the same longevity as a conventional one. Not to say it won’t happen in the future, but there are chemicals that still need to be replaced. Consumers want fruit to look good, and there are more blemishes with organic fruit. Once you take out the marked or wormy fruit, there can be a lot of losses – and that’s why it’s more expensive to buy.

Q: I guess you must support the local food movement?

A: I’m a huge supporter of that. We’re trying to replace imports. We have to compete with what’s coming into the country and it’s hard to compete with the cost because we have a different labor base, but we can compete on quality all day long. Because of the shorter distances, we can leave fruit to ripen on the tree instead of ripening on the road. And the quality isn’t only higher, it’s different; fruit from the Niagara region is juicier and sweeter than fruit from California because of our climate. The fruit we pick today is cooled overnight and then packed and shipped the next day. Loblaws can have our peaches in one day.

Q: Do you think your work is getting easier or more challenging?

A: It’s definitely getting more challenging. I’m not just a grower; I also do all of the sales and operate a shipping warehouse. You’re dealing with labour issues, and a lot of our labour is imported. Another factor is the marketplace. Our industry cannot be viable without retail support, and they demand quality products. We’re working to eliminate shrink factor – which is when a store brings in a product and, because it’s on open display, losses occur because of bruising or being dropped on the floor. The fruit also dehydrates when it’s exposed. The displays can very quickly start to look pretty terrible. So we’ve developed new plastic packaging with lids that locks the moisture in and prevents damage. Consumers can see the fruit, but they can’t touch it. We’ve lengthened the shelf life of peaches by two weeks. This new packaging took two years to develop and it’s really pleasing to look at. There are artists’ renderings of fruit on the sides, and you can take the package home and just put it in your fridge, as is.

Q: Do you think that being a farmer makes you more cautious about what you eat?

A: Definitely. You have great knowledge of where things come from. I really enjoy grocery shopping, and I like to see what’s available from all over the world. But I avoid processed foods – both because I’m a farmer and I’m a cyclist. My wife and I read labels and we’re very careful about what we buy.

Author by Sarah Treleaven

Editor’s Review:

I very seldom make it out to the farmer’s markets because I simply do not have the time and they can be very expensive. I love that I can buy local fruit at Loblaws. I do like to go to farmers markets when I can but I find even there there is starting to be a large portion of food from the states. I like that Loblaws has made it so easy to buy local produce, I think it’s important!! I also love the new plastic package with a lid because I never liked that other customers could touch the fruit in the old baskets (and I’ve watched so many of them do it). I have purchased 5x the peaches this year and store well in my fridge. I also recycle so I am not concerned about plastic. Besides, the stores are full of plastic packaging…you buy your eggs, bread and ice cream in plastic and the list goes on….and it’s not all recyclable. I will support my local farmers regardless of what they sell their fruit in. I just don’t want to see everyone else touching it!