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Strong Locally Grown Pull Bolsters Area Produce Scene

TORONTO — The demand for local produce is so strong, it affects every corner of Toronto’s food industry.
“When I put ‘product of Ontario’ on the shelf, it moves, even if it doesn’t look as good as the U.S. product,” said Tony Di Marco, founder of the Harvest Wagon, one of Toronto’s oldest upscale retailers.

“As soon as local asparagus comes in, we stop importing,” Di Marco said, echoing other retailers.

“Same with broccoli. If broccoli starts June 26, I have to make sure I’m out of imports or else it won’t sell.

“We still support Ontario even if we have to sell it for three or four times the price.”

Every new restaurant, from the smallest hole-in-the-wall to the brand new Trump International Hotel and Tower, now trumpets a locally inspired menu.
Across the province, 158 weekly markets are preparing to open their umbrellas at the end of May, said Catherine Clark, executive assistant at Farmers’ Markets Ontario in Brighton.
To weed out resellers who arrive from the food terminal with everything from U.S. beans to Costa Rican pineapples, Clark said there’s a been a push for MyPick certification.

Growers who join the program are inspected by Farmers’ Markets Ontario and given promotional materials to prove they’re selling only what they produce, Clark said.

To give customers a taste of the farmers market experience, Canada’s largest supermarket chain offers direct-store delivery of fresh produce where possible.

Ontario-grown corn and strawberries are a natural for direct-store delivery, especially in rural stores far from the company’s distribution centres, said Eric Biddiscombe, senior director of Field 2 Fork for Brampton, Ontario-based Loblaw Cos. Ltd.

The challenge, Biddiscombe said, is ensuring direct-store delivery produce meets all Loblaw specifications and is delivered on time, in the right quantity and at the agreed-upon price.
Cooperation from Mother Nature is also appreciated.

At Milton, Ontario-based distributor Gordon Food Service Ontario, cases and sales of local products are up over last year, but demand has not met expectations, said Steve Crawford, category manager for produce and dairy.

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