Karen Hutchinson & Jennifer Clark: Supperhero and her Sidekick, Soup Girl

Local Heroes: Karen Hutchinson & Jennifer Clark are driving a local and sustainable food system.

November 15, 2009 | | Back Issues | Community | Local Heroes | Winter 2009

Karen Hutchinson & Jennifer Clark: Two of our 2009 Local Heroes

This dynamic duo of aproned crusaders battles to build a local food system. Karen Hutchinson has been executive director of Caledon Countryside Alliance since 2003. Although she has worked on many rural causes in that time, she says she is most proud of what CCA has accomplished when it comes to local food.

The organization’s Eat Local Caledon initiative, spearheaded by staffer Jennifer Clark, has exploded since its inception in 2007. Through the program, Caledon was home to Ontario’s first Eat Local week in 2007, and that grew into Eat Local months in 2008 and 2009. Karen and Jennifer have promoted Eat Local dinners at Caledon restaurants, hosted four “trade connections” meetings, and produced the 2008 and 2009 Field to Table Directory, linking producers and buyers. They launched the Inglewood Farmers’ Market last year, and partnered with others to launch the Caledon Farmers’ Market in Bolton this year. Along the way, they have also organized an ongoing series of workshops, cooking classes, and special events.

Those events include the “Caledon Crunch,” during which thousands of elementary students across the town all bite into a Caledon-grown apple at the same time.

With much of the Peel Plain in south Caledon consumed by development, and all the other woes in agriculture, you might expect the outlook for local farming to be grim. But Karen, a fourth-generation Caledon farmer, doesn’t see it that way: “I think Caledon is the perfect spot for agriculture,” she says. Citing factors such as climate change, peak oil and the contaminated food scandals in China, she says, “People are much more concerned about where their food is coming from. There’s a real evolution. They’re starting to appreciate their relationship with the farmer.”

Will Caledon farmland be swallowed up by development? “I’m betting the farm there’s another option,” Karen says. “There are enough factors changing in the Peel Plain right now that I think it could become the last, best food-producing region in the province.”

Later, she adds “When you look at our farmland and countryside – including the 27,000 acres in Caledon’s ‘white belt’ [farmland excluded from Greenbelt protection] – start to imagine the potential of local food. Instead of more houses, imagine building the foundation of a new green economy, a local and sustainable food system with family farms, orchards, market gardens, vineyards, farm market stores, bakeries, dairies, butchers and local businesses. Let’s start thinking seriously about the legacy we’re going to leave for future generations. Farmland doesn’t have to be land waiting to be developed; there is a higher and better use.”

Jennifer, who also runs a catering business called “Soup Girl” that features local food, is just as passionate about the cause and, like Karen, she practises what she preaches. She says “The drive is to get people excited about fresh, healthy local food. It’s easy to cook, and a nice way to spend time. Then you make them understand the environmental benefits.”

Jennifer has recently been promoting a program called Take a Bite Out of Climate Change. It provides eight guidelines for reducing food miles and greenhouse gas emissions, and includes a local food pledge. Details can be found on the Eat Local Caledon website. Over the next year, she will also be conducting training programs for farmers interested in local marketing. “We want to attract more people into farming, so that there is local Caledon food.”

Holy good idea, Soup Girl!

About the Author More by Jeff Rollings

Jeff Rollings is a freelance writer living in Caledon.

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