Getting Local & Conventional: On The Farm with Sysco

While sitting with a friend chatting over breakfast recently he said, "You know, I've been reading about the marginal benefits of organically farmed produce and its' great cost versus the lower priced 'conventionally' farmed produce . The extra cost doesn't bring the proportionate benefits."

(Sidenote: To me, 'conventional' is a misnomer, its meant to define the standard non-organic practices of farming. It only counts if you look at farming since the industrial revolution, a small blip in humankind's farming history. Also, the cost depends on the scope of what you are calling "value". Consider the full picture of costs to economy, health and lifestyle.)

In some ways I agree with this health-loving fitness junkie who works in the cycling business. Our everyday environment is full of toxins from the plastic lids on our to-go matcha almond milk lattés to the industry and traffic-borne pollution hanging heavy in the air ready for us to pull in with every breath as we cycle to work. It seems even healthy options are rife with health peril, when we take a closer look to understand what's really ailing us in this evolving world. 

What I am sure I agree with is that local eating is REALLY better. The economic, health and lifestyle benefits of it are so straight forward. Getting better produce that is riper when it comes off the vine/plant because it doesn't need preservation during travel - that's obviously better. Buying direct from the farmer at a local market and cutting the cost of bureaucracy and transportation in favour of higher quality food is obviously better in that it raises our quality of life. Money stays in our local economy - that's obviously better. You've likely read all this before, and for whatever reason, be it that you like better tasting food, or you want more local jobs and a stronger economy, or you want to eat what you are seeing on the popular Food Network, you are starting to make different buying choices (one of the single most powerful actions for change) and that is why the larger food supply companies are starting to really listen to the changing demands thus the industrial food supply model is reshaping as it begins to include new options. 

I guarantee you have eaten A LOT of food from one major food aggregating source, Sysco,  if you have ever eaten at a restaurant, café, diner, eatery, cafeteria, cantina or other food serving locale in Canada. So, what Sysco has on offer for us via the food service world is really important. It touches all of us (except the 'elite' few who can 'grow their own' and 'make their own' everything).

This week I was invited by Sysco for a tour of a local 'conventional' Oliver farm, S & G Farm. We toured the fields and packing facility where along the way Sysco Ambassador Scot Adams told us (which equalled me and 25 or so local chefs) how they get this local food, and also how they send it out across BC and Canada. The food we all saw was good, fresh and clean.  They showed us the products they are buying from this local farming family who has replaced the lion's share of supply that until only 3 years ago Sysco had been primarily importing from south of the border (just miles down the road from Oliver) even in the on-season growing months, from the standard beefsteak tomato to heirloom varieties which have demanded (by way of us consumers) their way in to the mainstream, and the common eggplant to the mini-eggplant, or the usual bell pepper to the exotic varieties of anaheim, cherry bombs and thai chilies. Also in the field layed countless 'imperfect' specimens, from nearly perfect egglplants to strangely shaped but juicy tomatoes. We learned that day that a local company, Okanagan Gleaners, comes to harvest this food 'waste' for countless hungry mouths by way of dehydrated soup mix shipped to 55 countries worldwide (Next week I will share the story of this, as I had the opportunity to 'volun-tour' the incredible program of the local gleaners the next day with Oliver Tourism).

After the tour we had a great spread made by Sysco's Executive Chefs Tom Braidwood and Chef Brent Durec, where they highlighted local artisanal suppliers they have readily available to their food service customers. In the delicious spread we sampled North Okanagan cheese from Armstrong made by the new Terroir cheese company, charcuterie and meat provisions artisanally made by Helmut's Sausage Kitchen, the best porchetta roast I believe I have ever had (so good I forgot to ask where the pork was from), salads made with S & G Farm's produce and local Penticton craft beer from Bad Tattoo Brewing.

Sure, on a taste level I was thoroughly impressed and happy to eat gourmet local fare to my locally sourced standards. But what is way more, I feel optimistic. Sysco listens. As long as they continue to do a great job running their business, serving the restaurant and hospitality folks who enjoy and trust the service, they will continue to serve us by way of the 1000's of tables, take-out boxes through fast-food windows, cafeterias, hotels and more. 

It's just up to us, what we use our buying power to choose and demand from the places we eat. My first choice is always local, then after that, I do choose organic when I can because I make informed choices and know the complete value of the often higher price tag. I'm just really glad to see yours and my choices are starting to show. Keep choosing and keep asking... and keep learning!


by Tarynn Liv Parker


A few pictures from the tour:

My favourite mild hot pepper to roast or pickle - cherry bombs


Chinese Eggplants for days


The processing team are in good spirits


The family farm owners at S & G Farm


A hayride to the S&G Farm fields




Scot Adams serves fresh from the farm Heirloom tomatoes in the field


More jovial S & G Farm workers


Chefs Tom Braidwood and Brent Durec finish the decadent lunch spread

Chef Brent and his epic porchetta

Helmut's Sausage Kitchen's wide array of excellent charcuterie (and some Terroir Mt.Ida cheese)


Terroir Cheeses, a favourite newcomer in the Okanagan cheese world that's blowing my mind


Visiting chefs enjoy the spread

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