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Attitudes to Local Food, Food Systems, & Food Hubs

Updated: May 7, 2020

Research by Claire Heidenreich  Written by Asha Nelson

Background: In summer 2019, Fireweed Food Co-op (formally Farm Fresh Food Hub) research student designed and conducted a survey to gauge our community’s attitudes towards local food, food systems, and food hubs. A condensed version of the survey (5 questions) was distributed at the South Osborne Farmers’ Market while the full version (26 questions) was available on the FFFH website. 138 market goers participated in the short survey and 38 took part in the online survey (168 in total).  We would like to acknowledge that because this survey was only accessible at our market and on our website, those unable to attend and/or afford farmers’ markets were not adequately represented in our findings. Consequently, the results are skewed in favour of those who tend to have more privilege (i.e. education, income, time) accessing local food and participating in spaces like farmers’ markets. More research may need to be conducted to more fully understand the various socio-economic barriers that prevent particular groups of people from accessing local food in Winnipeg. Nonetheless, the results of this survey will be incredibly useful in informing the work of our farmers’ market and the organization more generally, especially as we set to launch a food hub in Spring 2020.  Summary: To begin, in order to gauge participants' understanding and participation in the local food system, they were asked how much they knew about how food is grown, transported, and distributed in Manitoba. On a scale of one to five, the majority (39%) believed their knowledge was at about a level 3. And 71% of those that selected 3 or higher (85% of total surveyed), believed there needed to be changes to our food system and wanted to learn more. This group was also much more likely to value sustainable, local food which implies a strong relationship between education/awareness and the valuing of local, sustainable food.  In general, participants who considered local food to be important (33%) or very important (57%) also considered sustainable food to be important (30%) or very important (60%), suggesting that the consumers of local food and sustainable food are very similar and/or of the same demographic. It also might imply that people tend to think of local as sustainable and vice versa, however, it is important to highlight that local food doesn’t necessarily mean that the farming practices are sustainable. Similarly, there appears to be a strong correlation between those who strongly valued local (89%) and sustainable food (90%) and their willingness to pay a higher price for local (73%) and sustainable food (71%). As expected, this also corresponds with how respondents felt about the importance of having a Winnipeg food hub (88%) and their willingness to pay more for food accessible at a food hub (77%).  And when asked what they value most in food/ farmers’ markets, local food was the top priority (42%), followed by fresh/nutritious/high quality/ good tasting food (24%) and sustainably produced food close behind (21%). 

We can see a slight gap between what respondents felt was important and whether they were willing to pay more. To explain this, however, we found that 80% of those who considered a Winnipeg food hub, for example, to be important but selected no or maybe as to whether they were willing to pay more also indicated that price was a major consideration when buying food. The same was true for those who strongly valued local food and sustainable food. In other words, for most of these folks, it was less a matter of how much they valued something but more likely an issue of their income level alongside the real cost of local and/or sustainable food. It is worth noting that the most important considerations when buying food in general were freshness (79%), price (63%) and flavour (63%), not local and/or sustainable food per say.  Yet, some of the most common barriers to visiting local farmers' markets included distance/location (47%) and market hours (44.74%), while only 18% listed price as a barrier. Correspondingly, only 24% indicated that lower prices would encourage them to shop at a farmers' market more often. 

What all this data might suggest is that people value/and are more willing to pay more for local, sustainable, fresh food when purchased at farmers’ markets and food hubs where they can connect with their local producers and trust where their food is coming from, compared to when shopping at large supermarkets. Of course, this could be because these folks may not see farmers’ markets and food hubs as part of their everyday regular shopping and therefore are more willing to spend more on the few occasions they attend. However, it is important to be mindful of the fact that the majority of our respondents shop at farmers’ markets either once a week (47%) or more than once a week (32%).  In fact, in a follow up question, 82%  expressed that a year-round local farmers' market was in fact important (39%) or very important (42%). And when they were asked to expand on why or why it was important to them, several participants expressed their desire to stop shopping at grocery stores and instead, access healthy local food all year while meaningfully engaging with their community, and better supporting a more just and sustainable food system and economy. Key Takeaways:

  • Those with more awareness about local food issues believe there needs to be serious changes to the food system 

  • There is a strong relationship between education and the valuing of local sustainable food and a food hub

  • The majority of respondents (88%) were strongly in support of a Winnipeg Food Hub

  • Those that value local, sustainable food are more willing to spend more for local, sustainable food (and from a food hub)

  • People are more willing to spend extra for local and sustainable food if purchased from a more direct source (farmers’ market and/or food hub)

  • There is a strong support (82%) for a year-round local food market in Winnipeg

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