Ethnocultural Vegetables in Canada Part I
External Opportunities and Threats
By Fruit & Vegetable
By Fruit & Vegetable
The ability to grow vegetables within Canada presents several advantages for both production quality as well as market opportunities. Farmers able to capitalize on this demographic shift will be tapping into a previously overlooked gap in the market. While these vegetables originate from Indian and China they are currently being grown in the Dominican Republic and imported to retail chains in North America (Smith, 2011). Outlined below are the benefits associated with growing local as well as the threats that farmers must overcome in order for successful implementation.
Local production of ethnocultural vegetables not only benefit farmers through sales but also results in a higher quality end product for consumers. “From the moment fruit and vegetables are harvested they begin to lose nutrients and taste.” (Hepburn, 2009). This is one of the main benefits of consuming Canadian ethnocultural vegetables over imports, as many of the imports are imported from the Dominican Republic and Mexico, spending long periods of time in transport. Additionally, workers in the Dominican focus on low quality high yield growth to meet quotas worldwide, which again results in a less nutritious product than those grown domestically (Smith, 2011). Finally the workforces in those areas tend to be less skilled and employ less efficient techniques coupled with harmful chemicals to treat crops (Smith, 2011). Overall this results in a less nutrient dense vegetable that has been consistently treated with harsh pesticides. The negative aspects of importing produce enhance the opportunity for Canadian grown ethnocultural vegetables.
Many of the problems that have been outlined above are areas that Canadian farmers already have strong capabilities in which to fill. Ontario and Quebec are ideally suited for the production of some ethnocultural variations, specifically the area north of Lake Erie, known as Tobacco country (Smith, 2011). This is due to the regions soil composition and weather conditions which are warm enough during the summer to grow these crops. Having access to these areas presents an opportunity which solves the issue of lost nutrients. Production is possible close to urban areas making transportation fast and exponentially cheaper. Vegetables are heavy and relatively sensitive for long shipment times. Growing close to distribution and sales markets requires little logistical handling, saving on fuel and transfer fees. Furthermore, processing times will be significantly reduces as products will not need to go through multiple food terminals. The implications of this are fresher and less expensive vegetables which are produced close to the fastest growing Indian and Chinese market in Canada, the GTA (Singh, 2011). On top of the Canadian market growers are close enough to distribute within the United States (Smith, 2011). This opens two potentially huge markets in which local growers have access to with little domestic competition.
Canadian farmers also have great skills and knowledge in the growth and handling of crops. As previously mentioned, workforces in the Dominican Republic are usually unskilled, using inferior or second rate seed. Their margins lie within the quantity of product that gets exported worldwide (Smith, 2011). They also hold a climate advantage as it is warm enough to produce the crops year round. This is in contrast with Canadian climates, which are subject to seasonality, limiting growing seasons to June through September or October (Smith, 2011). The knowledge, skills and technology that farmers within Canada have available to them enables the production of more efficient produce. Further, these farmers begin with higher quality seed which means there is less wasted space, producing a higher quality vegetable that is more cost effective (Smith, 2011). In order to establish a thorough understanding of the benefits that are potentially available with local production of ethnocultural vegetables, risks must also be identified. These threats, as outlined below, are issues that may impact the potential sales, distribution, or production for crops that are grown.
The shortcomings that are associated with the production of an ethnocultural vegetable within a typical western culture are the language barriers. Because of the lack of familiarity farmers have with these vegetables it is difficult for them to recognize a product without a common English name (Cerkauska, 2011). Further, there tends to be several names that are associated with slight variations of one crop, an example being Indian egglplant (small and round) and Chinese long eggplant (thin and long). While these products are both essentially the same, they cater to specific consumer groups. Harjinder Singh of Golden Grocers described how shoppers within each segment (Indian and Chinese) will only purchase cultural vegetables in which they are accustom to (Singh, 2011). Singh explained how Indians will only buy small round eggplants, should the plant be long and thin they will not purchase it. Similarly Chinese shoppers exhibit these preference choices as well (Singh, 2011). Therefore great care must be placed on the part of the farmer to ensure that they are supplying the produce to the appropriate sales locations.
Other implications of language barriers that have been noted are with regards to the availability of references. Farmers may have the technology and knowhow to grow healthy crops, but there are few resources to assist with the start up, and growth of these specialty crops (Cerkauska, 2011). If there are inefficiencties with their production it is extremely difficult to find English resources that are helpful. Further, there is little information on the weeds, insects and diseases that affect ethnocultural vegetables (Cerkauska, 2011). These vegetables have not previously been exposed to Canadian crop pests therefore the ability to properly spray or protect them is still unknown.
If plants become infected there is a chance of lost harvests or not using the right pesticide for the problem. Lastly, production is currently scattered across the Golden Horseshoe (Cerkauska, 2011). This means farmers are spread apart and have little idea of successes and failures that other farmers producing similar crops are experiencing. An additional group of farmers that may experience challenges in growing and selling ethnocultural vegetables are recent immigrants. These are farmers that have knowledge of ethnocultural vegetable production due to prior experience with them in their home countries. In these instances it is western agricultural practices that threaten their ability to grow their produce. (Cerkauska, 2011). This is because they are unfamiliar with the pesticides, machinery and other techniquesthat have been adapted for this region. Presenting an additional obstacle to success is their reluctance to speak with government agents therefore threatened by a lack of knowledge of western farming techniques, and unfamiliarity with the language.