Terroir boosts local communities

In recent decades, Saskatchewan’s food production system has been largely based on looking outward to serve national and international markets.

But in recent years, a trend has developed toward consuming locally produced food at home.

Much of the impetus for that is coming from the province’s French-speaking community and the Assemblée Communautaire Fransaskoise.

It’s all in line with a concept called terroir, a term that refers to economic and community development based on products, services or cultural practices related to a specific geographic area.

“In Saskatchewan, we produce massive amounts of food but in so doing we sometimes forget about our own population,” said ACF president Michel Dubé. “We need to look internally as well as abroad to help maintain our smaller communities and offer a living to those who want to live in those communities.”

The ACF has been working on a terroir project centred on a number of communities north and east of Saskatoon with a high population of francophones.

But Dubé emphasized this is not something restricted to francophone communities.

“This can work with all sorts of communities, including Métis, aboriginal and others.”

Graham Fraser, Canada’s commissioner of official languages, recently presented the results of a study of rural francophone communities at a conference in Regina.

It was one of a series of studies regarding the development of minority language communities across Canada. At the suggestion of ACF, the Saskatchewan study focused on rural development and terroir.

Fraser identified a number of challenges facing the Fransaskois community in rural Saskatchewan, including a population exodus to urban centres, an aging population and a decline in the number of small agricultural producers and processors.

The community has responded by focusing on its terroir such as mustard in Gravelbourg, peas from Bellevue, Red Fife wheat, saskatoon berries, wild rice or bison products.

Fraser added the rural development terroir movement fits well with the growing urban desire to eat locally produced food. It could create jobs, retain young people in the communities and promote the quality of life in small towns.

“I see this not as a look backward but a look forward at how we can see a path for small francophone communities in Saskatchewan to develop products and market their culture at the same time,” he told the conference.

Dubé said 40 to 50 Saskatchewan producers, industry officials, entrepreneurs and government officials will travel to Quebec in early April to look at how the terroir system works there.

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