Challenge yourself to eat local and fair

How well do you think you eat? Whether you’re a ramen noodle munching non-chef or a loca-vore who reads every label and is up first thing for the best pick at the St. Norbert market, there are always things to learn. If the great quinoa debacle of 2013 has taught us anything, it’s that even superfoods can come at a cost. Whether you want to start planning and making your own meals, learn about fair trade, or want to learn how to plan out a garden, there are two initiatives that will meet your needs and quench your curiosity.

The first is Food Matters Manitoba’s “Dig In Challenge,” a five-month initiative that aims to connect participants with local farmers, get them cooking from scratch, eating family meals, and teaching them skills to help them get more out of less.

“The program is designed to impart new and basic skills,” says Darcy Penner, project coordinator.

The keyword here is definitely local with an emphasis on knowing more about where our food comes from and having as home-grown a diet as possible in the winter, which can be tricky in our climate.

Starting in February and running until June, “Dig In” is aiming to create long-term behavioural change in the lives of its participants. There are prizes for participating that change each week and a grand prize drawing at the end to encourage participants to remain engaged and see the process through.

“It’s a really community-driven project; we’re paired up with a lot of different Manitoba organizations who will be facilitating the workshops,” says Penner.

Workshops on topics such as seed starting, fermenting, canning, and farmer meet-and-greet are designed to supplement the activity ideas participants can choose based on their priorities and goals. This is the second year of the annual challenge and the biggest difference is that the pledges are now customizable so that participants can decide what changes they would like to make during the challenge.

If one of those goals is the suggested, “take action for fair food,” the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation’s “One-Month Challenge” (also launching this February) is another incentive to be food conscious. They will be facilitating the first “Dig In” workshop on Monday, Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. in the lower level of 640 Broadway Street. This is the seventh year of the challenge that encourages Manitobans to consume only fair trade chocolate, tea, and coffee for 30 days.

“Manitobans are familiar with fair trade and like the idea of supporting producers in developing countries,” says Larissa Kanhai, Fair Trade Outreach worker for MCIC. “By registering for the challenge as an individual or as a family, church, or office, they gain support, prizes, and ideas.”

MCIC has chosen to focus on coffee, tea, and chocolate as they are the most widely consumed and available products.

“The gist of the ‘fairness’ of fair trade is for producers or farmers to receive a fair wage for what they have done,” says Kanhai.

In developing countries where most tea, cocoa, coffee, fruit, and flowers come from, it means being able to feed and clothe their families with their wages, safer work environments, and an investment into community, dignity, and increased expertise.

While the challenge focuses on food, Kanhai says that one of the worst offenders is one that people are often shocked to hear – soccer balls.

“At 690 stitches for a standard sized ball, the truth of the matter is that child labour is merely a symptom of greater systemic problems. Issues persist stemming from the reliance on ‘precarious work’—casual or temporary labour—that create environments where overtime is necessary, low wages are paid, benefits are refused, and workers can be at risk of hazardous working conditions.”

Choosing fair trade can be confusing once you actually get to the store, so here is how to tell if the item you are purchasing is fair trade: in 2011, logos for fair trade certification became streamlined, so all you have to do is look for the little green and blue logo.

Some may be confused by seeing labels for fair trade and labels for direct trade; what is the difference? Fair trade items must be certified to meet certain standards for labour, production, and trade. Direct trade items simply cut out the many middlemen involved in producing and shipping an item, keeping more money in the pockets of producers. Direct trade is the most desirable standard for fair trade items, but not all direct trade items are fair trade certified.

To find out more information about these challenges, check out and