Poultry is a Staple of Canadian Cuisine — So Why is it So Hard to Buy Local?

If you ask a Canadian what the last meat they ate was, there’s a good chance they’ll tell you it was chicken. Hard data shows that year after year, chicken is Canada’s favourite meat.

If you ask a Canadian what the last meat they ate was, there’s a good chance they’ll tell you it was chicken. Whether wrapped in a spicy enchilada, tossed in a salad, deep-fried in its skin, or roasted to perfection, chicken is a staple ingredient in the many cuisines that are popular across Canada, and hard data shows that year after year, chicken is Canada’s favourite meat.

While chicken is one of the easiest meats to find in any Canadian supermarket or grocery store, however, it isn’t always easy for consumers looking for high quality locally raised chickens to cut through the generic mass-market products to source their favourite chicken meats.

So why is this? The local food movement is one of the most significant developments in western food culture over the past twenty years, and usually, when this kind of market growth emerges, producers are quick to meet the emergent need. But if you shop at one of the large grocery chains in Canada — or even at smaller supermarkets — you’ll be hard pressed to get any kind of transparency about where the chicken and turkey you are purchasing has been raised.

Understanding the nature of the problem means understanding how our food system has evolved to favour large farming operations. We’ll cover some of these reasons in the first part of this article, before talking about some of the exciting producers truLOCAL is working with to help you put the best quality local poultry on your table, and ensure that your family is eating healthy food for a healthy planet. 

Origins of the Problem: The Rise of Industrial Poultry Farming

For generations, ordinary Ontarians relied on nearby producers who were raising local Ontario chicken — just as they relied on local farmers for their beef and pork. Most chicken was raised on small scale family farms, it was hardly unusual for households to keep a small chicken hutch on their property so they could supply themselves with fresh eggs and when the time came, fresh chicken.

Even as recently as the 1950s, the vast majority of poultry farmed in North America came from operations that kept chickens in traditional coops that allowed them easy access to the outdoors, and in relatively small groups of sixty or so birds. Producers didn’t need to label their chicken “free-range” because it was widely understood that all chicken was free range; after all, this is how humans had raised poultry since the dawn of agriculture.   

Things began to change as new farming philosophies developed in the latter half of the twentieth century that emphasized monoculture techniques designed to maximize yields at all costs. Where the family farm had once been the basic agricultural unit, confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) became the norm.

Apologists for these practices argued that large-scale industrial agriculture was the only way to guarantee a sufficient food supply in a world where the population was booming, in practice these operations were often purely driven by the motivation to maximize profitability.

For this reason, if you look at the poultry industry today and you will find it is dominated by large conglomerates running vast factory operations that are designed to maximize quantity, not quality. Many criticisms have been made about industrial farming operations, but it is arguably true that poultry farms represent the worst of the worst.

If you’ve done any research at all into the conditions chickens are raised in on such farms, you’ll be familiar with the stark, heartrending images of thousands of chickens packed tightly together in dark, airless barns. In many cases, chickens are given insufficient exercise, inferior feed, and can even be subject to inhumane mutilation practices such as debeaking.

Small wonder, then, that chickens that have been raised in such circumstances don’t provide the healthiest meat. Many health experts have warned that CAFOs aren’t just bad for animals, they are also bad for us: poultry raised in unsanitary conditions, under constant stress, on feed that doesn’t always do a good job of matching a chicken or turkey’s natural diet is often much less nutritious than poultry raised on a small-scale farm, where it is free to move around.

Where is this Chicken From?

Fortunately, CAFOs aren’t the only game in town. While family farms have been under pressure for at least a generation, there are still many dedicated farmers across Canada horrified by the excesses of the industrial food system and committed to producing healthy food in environmentally sustainable ways.

As North Americans have become more aware of both the ethical and the nutritional shortcomings of factory farm operations, they have started to actively seek out alternatives to poultry products produced by massive corporations.

“Where is this chicken from?” has become a legitimate question for consumers to ask. It has become clear that, for a substantial proportion of the population, high quality local chicken thighs are something worth seeking out, even if it means shopping at a specialty butcher or signing up to a bulk meat delivery service.

But while more and more small-scale producers are exploring artisanal alternatives to industrial farming, and there is a growing market for chicken and turkey that has been raised in more ethical and sustainable ways, connecting producers with consumers has not always been easy.

Most Canadians still buy their food from a chain supermarket or grocery store, and the corporations behind these stores are not always willing to source products from small-scale producers. This means that even consumers who might prefer to purchase local poultry and support the local economy don’t always have that option, especially if they live in an area that is already underserved when it comes to fresh food.  

This is where truLOCAL’s fresh meat delivery service comes in. We work hard to connect consumers across Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia with local producers who share our commitment to sustainable farming practices, environmental responsibility, and delicious food.

When you put together a truLOCAL meat box, you can choose from a wide range of local poultry options. For example, you can order a whole chicken through truLOCAL, but you can also order pre-marinated chicken breasts in a variety of different flavours, ground chicken and ground turkey, chicken legs and thighs, breaded chicken, and chicken sausage. We don’t just offer incredible variety, however; unlike other delivery services, we let you build a meat box that only contains the products you love.

Most importantly, when you order meat through truLOCAL, we offer full transparency regarding where our products come from. With a meat box from truLOCAL, answering the question “where is this chicken from?” is easier than ever, so if you want to know more about our suppliers, keep reading!

The truLOCAL Difference: Connecting Customers with Local Farms

Long before we shipped our first meat box, we were already reaching out to local producers who share our vision for what high-quality local meat should be. As we have expanded operations beyond Ontario, we have endeavoured to maintain this same commitment to building relationships with community-based farms.

For that reason, we have provided detailed information about the farms we partner within each province we deliver to. Whether you’re in Ontario, Alberta, or British Columbia, you can be sure your poultry (and all your other meat!) is coming from in-province farms. 

Ontario: Hidden Root Farms Artisanal Chicken and Leavoy Rowe

Hidden Root Farms didn’t start with a vision to feed thousands of Ontarians: in the beginning, Lori and Rob simply wanted to feed themselves. But what began as a private operation based around raising poultry for their own consumption quickly grew as news about the excellent artisanal quality of their poultry spread.

But while its products now reach more people, Hidden Root’s commitment to local, ethical farming hasn’t changed. They raise all of their birds without the use of hormones, in small flocks that have daily access to the outdoors. Furthermore, Hidden Root only raises chickens during the spring and summer months, guaranteeing a final product that is delicious, healthy, and good for the earth.  

Leavoy Rowe, a Mississauga-based supplier, also provides some of the chicken for our Ontario customers. Leavoy Rowe specializes in air-chilled chicken that offers a juicier, more delicious flavour and texture than water-chilled chicken, and is also a certified producer of Halal chicken.

Alberta: Kingsland Hutterite Colony

If you don’t live in Western Canada, you may not be familiar with the Hutterites. A religious group with roots in Reformation-era Europe, the Hutterites are recognized for their simple way of life, their communal ideals, and the incredible quality of the food they produce. Where other small-scale farmers have set up artisanal operations in direct response to industrial farming, Hutterite Colonies are part of an unbroken lineage of sustainable agricultural practices and local farming going back hundreds of years.

In Alberta, Hutterites are particularly famous for their chicken, so when we sought out partners who could help us deliver the best local chicken to Albertans, the Kingsland Hutterite Colony was a natural choice.

British Columbia: Farmcrest Farms

Farmcrest Foods is based in Salmon Arm, in the beautiful Shuswap country of British Columbia’s southern interior, and has roots in a tradition that goes back three generations, to when the Bell and Bird families first arrived in Canada from Ireland. But while its delicious air-chilled chicken is a testament to its respect for tradition, Farmcrest is also on the cutting edge of sustainable food development and was the non-GMO verified chicken producer in Canada.  

With such deep roots in their community, Farmcrest understands that responsible farming practices today guarantee that their operation will be able to thrive and grow for generations to come. Not content simply to produce incredible local chicken inhumane and health-conscious ways, Farmcrest is also committed to building an operation that is truly environmentally friendly and sustainable. For example, Farmcrest grows all of its chicken feed on-site to guarantee artisanal quality and to minimize the overall carbon footprint of their operation.

Local Poultry: Just One Part of the truLOCAL Package

Of course, we aren’t just committed to local, sustainable farming when it comes to poultry: this is the ethos that guides our entire business, and every cut we deliver in our meat boxes has been similarly sourced from ethical, sustainable farms. If you want to check out our other products online, we have a wide array of options available in every province where we operate, and we’re constantly working to expand and update our offerings.

The best way to start exploring the truLOCAL difference, however, is to get started building your box today on our website. We understand that most shoppers will want to try a service out before committing to it, so unlike other grocery delivery companies, we don’t require contracts or minimum purchases.

With truLOCAL, you can order a single meal box with your favourite cuts to try the service out, and then opt to set up a repeating order that will be delivered every two weeks, three weeks, or monthly. You can also pause the service at any time, or order additional boxes should you find yourself running low between orders.

All of our meat is delivered straight to your door in refrigerated boxes that use dry ice to keep your food cold and fresh until you get home, and we also deliver to apartment buildings, offices, and gyms. We can even deliver your truLOCAL meat box to your cottage!

If you are like most Canadians, high-quality fresh meat is an essential part of most of your meals, so why settle for second rate? Sign up for truLOCAL’s fresh meat delivery service, and get the best local chicken, pork, beef, and seafood delivered straight to your door anywhere in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. We guarantee that once you try one of our fresh meat boxes, you’ll wonder how you went so long without it.

Posted on October 26th, 2021