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What's in your produce box? Farmer shares what it means to support locally grown

Access to fresh foods without having to leave the comfort of your home has been all the rage lately, especially during lockdowns

Access to fresh foods without having to leave the comfort of your home has become increasingly popular, especially during lockdowns.

The simplicity of ordering produce with the click of a button and having foods delivered right to your doorstep certainly makes living in a pandemic world a little easier.

As more residents turn to healthier food options, farmers are providing access to their land for sources of organic and locally grown produce.

But according to Liz Gorzo-Toffelmire, owner of Holland Marsh Food and creator of Ontario Eats, not all produce boxes are organic or grown locally. 

“Nowhere in this country do they grow mangos, bananas or pineapples,” says Gorzo-Toffelmire. “And the sad part is, they (produce box sellers) don’t tell people that. (Some companies) use the words ‘support local', so basically ‘support me’. Same as ‘organic’ versus chemical free’. The soil (in the Holland Marsh) is organic, but the produce is nowhere near organic.”

Gorzo-Toffelmire says knowing what is local and when it is available are key to ensuring your produce is fresh and homegrown. She adds the terms mean something different to everyone.

“Some people might be OK with their produce coming from within Canada… as long as it’s grown in Canada, it’s local, right?” says Gorzo-Toffelmire. “Where do you want to support? Just our town? Or any farm in Ontario? Or all of Canada and not imported?

"So, there’s different levels of what people think 'support local' or 'locally grown' means.”

One thing that has changed in the farming marketplace in the last 10 years, she says, are greenhouses in the area. Many have started growing produce year-round, so farmers can get, for example, Ontario-grown strawberries all winter.

“You don’t see peaches until late July. Sometimes things are early, sometimes things are late – you have to look at inconsistencies. What’s grown when (and) what doesn’t grow in Ontario," she says. 

Gorzo-Toffelmire says once the farmers get into their season, 45 to 50 per cent of produce boxes can be from local farms, but the other percentage may still be filled with other items not from the farm you are ordering from. She encourages residents to ask more questions about the produce they are getting, and directly from the farmer if they can.

“It’s education. And some people don’t care, but if you have a family that eats lots of fruit in the wintertime, by all means, use one of these other services so you can get what you want… as opposed to your food sitting in a grocery store for who knows how long," she says. 

Gorzo-Toffelmire encourages residents to always check if something is in season first, or if the food has ever been grown in the province or Canada. She also urges people to check the boxes their produce is coming from.

“If you go to a market, look at the boxes in the background, what do they say? Ask questions to your farmer – did you grow this yourself? That’s the simplest way,” she suggests.

In Ontario, Gorzo-Toffelmire says there are many farmers who are deemed Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, which refers to farmers who grow everything that goes into their produce boxes and only ship produce they harvest themselves. Customers can pay upfront so the farmers can purchase what they need to start, and in return, they provide produce over a 20-week period in the summer.

“That is truly local, depending on what farm you order from,” Gorzo-Toffelmire says.

Gorzo-Toffelmire was born and raised in the marsh on her family’s farm where they sell an abundance of produce such as celery root, parsley, carrots, potatoes, specialty onions, tripolini shallots, English cucumbers, and more. The farm, located at 1635 Canal Rd., in Bradford West Gwillimbury, is more than 50 years old. 

Gorzo-Toffelmire's parents were first-generation farmers in the marsh. 

In 2008, Gorzo-Toffelmire took over the farm and operates the land with her mother and aunt. 

Holland Marsh Food Market offers small or large produce boxes which can be ordered online, as well as customizable boxes. All her items are Ontario-grown and items she does not carry are sourced from other local farmers.

“Quality matters. I get everything fresh. It’s picked within a day or two from getting inside your box," she says. 

Over the years, Gorzo-Toffelmire has had many produce stands on Canal Road, and last fall she had the opportunity to operate the Holland Marsh ‘Pop Up’ Harvest Market in downtown Bradford for a few months.

“Because of COVID, there are so many more people delivering produce now,” says Gorzo-Toffelmire. “It’s wonderful to have the support."

To learn more about what fruits and veggies are ready when visit here

To order a produce box from Holland Marsh Food, visit their website here.