A Guide to Ontario’s Growing Season and
The Dilemma We Face When Choosing Local versus Organic


"A thriving household depends on the use of seasonal produce and the application of common sense."
                               - Olivier de Serres (1539-1619)

Are you enjoying this year’s produce season? August and September are Ontario’s most fruitful months so there’s still plenty of time to enjoy the fruits of our land - and we’re going to help!


Our newsletter is split into two parts. The first is a PDF accessible by clicking here - our Guide to Ontario’s Growing Season - Fridge Magnet Edition. As much as we wish to reduce the use of paper, the encouragement to buy local products that a guide like this creates is worth it. The second part is below and is about a dilemma we recently faced – making a decision between sourcing “local conventional” and “imported organic” – which screams in the face of the “local, local, local” movement.


Guide to Ontario's Produce - CLICK HERE 


continued below



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September, October & November


A perfect gift for the foodie. 

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Announcing the


We partnered with Toronto's famed Indian restaurant to create a new star in our sausage repertoire.  These juicy sausages are seasoned with Mrs. Patel's Special Vindaloo Masala and are certain to make your barbeque sizzle! 

Pick some up next time your in!




A group of concerned Toronto chickavores has flocked together to work on getting the City of Toronto to amend its residential bylaws concerning the keeping of chickens. Support the petition! More info can be found on Edible Toronto and TorontoChickens.com


Mario Fiorucci & Tara Longo

inducted as Fellows of the

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We thank the institute for this tremendous honour. 




A Guide to Ontario’s Growing Season and
The Dilemma We Face When Choosing Local versus Organic


Before we embarked into the world of produce retailing, we sat down and came up with a seemingly simple three-pronged priority system to ensure the produce we were going to sell met The Healthy Butcher’s underlying principles. These principles were: (1) Locally-grown and organically-grown and in-season; (2) Locally-grown and in-season; and (3) organically grown. The first principle is easy – if a tomato is grown locally, is Certified Organic, and in-season – it will take priority over any other tomato. But notice the difference between (2) and (3). We made the sweeping decision at the time to prioritize locally-grown, seasonal produce over imported, organically-grown. After all, we thought, we’re at the forefront of the localvore movement and surely the health of our local economy and the carbon footprint involved in transportation must outweigh other benefits of organic production. Within less than two months of opening, our first test arrived with the strawberry season – and we decided against following our original principles.


You see, locally-grown conventional strawberries were available to us a little over two weeks prior to locally-grown organic strawberries. After hours of debate, we chose to continue selling California Certified Organic strawberries for those two weeks instead of the local, conventional variety.  The decision wasn’t easy, to say the least.  In the end, the main deciding factor was based on something specific to strawberries and a few other fruits and vegetables – the high amount of residual pesticides found in conventional strawberries. Strawberries are tender-fleshed fruit grown close to the dirt, so more pesticides are needed to fight insects and bugs from the soil. Many studies have been done, but the most straightforward that we came across was a study produced by the Environmental Working Group, a not-for-profit organization that summarized results of over 51,000 tests by the USDA. According to their study, strawberries are the 6th worst conventional fruit when it comes to residual pesticides – 92.3% of strawberries they tested had detectable pesticides and 69.2% of samples were found to have two or more pesticides!


How bad are pesticides? Many sources link the toxic effects to several long-term developmental problems, especially when consumed by children. A recent animal study demonstrated that persistent cognitive impairment occurred in rats after exposure to the class of pesticides known as chlorpyrifos. Death or serious health problems have been documented in thousands of cases in which there were high-level exposures to malathion and chlorpyrifos. Another family of pesticides called organophosphates was spawned by the creation of nerve gas agents in World War II – how good can they be for your health? The fact is, no one really knows for certain – but at the end of the day, we felt more comfortable feeding our customers organic imported strawberries over local conventional strawberries. 


Besides, if we were to buy from the local farmers who use these horrific chemicals, wouldn't we be condoning their practice? Of course, as soon as the local organic strawberries were available we were all over them like gangbusters. Nonetheless, having to make this decision made us realize that “local, local, local” isn’t always the answer to clearing our conscious; and for that matter, nor is “organic” always the answer… it’s always a balance. 

The Environmental Working Group study went further to state that eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables will expose a person to about 14 pesticides per day, on average – these 12, starting from the worst being: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, grapes, pears, spinach & potatoes. Eating the least contaminated fruits or vegetables will expose a person to less than 2 pesticides per day – these 12, starting from least contaminated being: onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapples, mango, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, & eggplant. So, if we were making the decision about onions instead of strawberries, then we might very well have chosen to carry the local conventional variety (assuming organic wasn’t available) over an imported organic variety.  Only time will tell.


With the growth of the organic industry and the number of organic local farmers coming on board, we feel its fairly safe to say that our produce will always be 100% Certified Organic, with an enormous priority, of course, given to local farmers.  However, there are other options that we will always consider.  Very recently, The Healthy Butcher was accredited as an LFP Market Partner by Local Food Plus.  LFP certifies farmers and processors who are local and sustainable producers; some of those producers are organic and some are conventional. The conventional farmers use Integrated Pest Management (IPM ) methods, which reduce synthetic chemical use, but do not eliminate it.  In addition to production practices, LFP certification goes beyond organic to include issues such as fair and safe working conditions, animal welfare, on farm biodiversity and reduction of energy use on farm.  Like previously stated, it's always a balance.  Just know that, as with the meat we sell, everything sold at The Healthy Butcher is scrutinized to the nth degree.


Moderating our debate between local and organic was our Produce Consultant Dan Field.  Many of you may still remember Dan Field's Organic Market in London (1993-2003) which was light years ahead of its time for pushing the organic movement.  During our discussion, Dan said something that made us all stop and think for a moment - "Ten years ago when we were referring to 'organic', it was assumed that the product was 'local'."  At what point exactly did the localness leave organics?  Truthfully, this was the first time we’ve ever had to make a decision between “imported organic” versus “local conventional”.  On the meat side, when locally raised, either Ceritifed Organic or at a minimum hormone- and antibiotic-free lamb is not available, we don’t carry any lamb – it’s that simple. At least our customers can choose another locally raised, organic red meat like beef, pork, elk, bison, the list goes on. Similarly, since our organic turkey farmers have very limited quota to grow turkeys (the provincial quota system is a newsletter in itself), we only sell turkeys during the holidays. At other times, our customers can eat locally-raised Certified Organic chicken. When our turkey farmers are able to buy more quota, we’ll sell more turkeys – it’s that simple. But think about fruits and vegetables for a minute - could you imagine shopping in a produce department without strawberries, bananas, avocados, mangos, and pineapples? If we limited ourselves only to local and organic we would be considered ludicrous.  Or wouldn't we?  Perhaps the best decision would have been to carry no strawberries at all during times of the year when local, organic strawberries aren't available.  But what would happen during the winter months when there are very few local options?


Healthy Butcher Produce Section


Having all fruits and vegetables available to us year-round is, at least partially, to blame for a lot of current trends in Canadian agriculture. On July 25, 2008, Statistics Canada released a study called Fork in the road: Canadian agriculture and food on the move. The good news is that Canada is a net exporter of agriculture – the value of our agricultural imports was three-quarters of our agricultural exports (US $15.5 billion). The bad news is that crop production of two crops that are better suited to being grown locally – apples and strawberries – is on the decline! According to the 2006 census of agriculture there were a total of 4,190 apple farms across Canada. In 2006, farms produced 376,459 tonnes — a 7.9 per cent decrease from 2005 and about a 25 per cent decrease from 1996 levels. Similarly, the number of strawberry farms has dropped notably. Between 2001 and 2006, the number of strawberry farms has dropped 5.5 per cent. The number of hectares in strawberry production has decreased from over 6,000 in 2001 to 5,200 in 2006. Doesn’t this report make you say: Huh?! One can’t open a magazine or newspaper without reading about the localvore movement or the 100-mile diet – how can this trend be happening with our beloved strawberries and apples.

We’ve become accustomed to having the same foods available to us year-round, and the Canadian strawberry season is extremely short. If you’re in need of a local strawberry outside of June or July, it would have to be preserved or frozen which generally isn’t desirable. So, the majority of us will choose to buy those big red-white hunks referred to as strawberries in the off-season, despite the fact they taste more like straw, then berries. As for apples, even though they have excellent storage characteristics making locally grown apples possible year-round – there is a cost to cellaring apples for long periods of time. And it’s much easier and cheaper for fruit distributors to import apples rather than cellar local apples. These reasons are just the tip of the iceberg. How can a Canadian apple farmer sell enough apples to meet a desirable return on investment when Canadian agricultural land is worth $100,000 per acre or more? Here come the condos. Further, most grocery stores aren’t after selling better produce, just more produce which they can buy from outside Canada at lower prices and make higher margins

The economics of local agriculture are far beyond the scope of this newsletter. And listen, despite our decision on strawberries, we are all about local. We’re just hoping to be one of the forces pushing more farmers to convert to organic. Our goal, as always, is simply to create the demand for local, organic product so that at some point distributors will switch gears and realize that people want Ontario peaches when they are available. We felt the best way to accomplish this goal and ensure the content of this newsletter is not forgotten was to produce another of our ever-popular “Fridge Magnet” editions via printable PDF. As much as we strive for a paperless environment, sometimes the human mind needs to be constantly reminded. Without further ado click here to read and print our Guide to Ontario’s Growing Season. But wait… before you do that – watch this video to remind yourself that good things growwww in Ontario.


We asked a few of the city's top chefs and writers: 

What Ontario fruits & vegetables do you look forward to he most?


Chef Jamie Kennedy, Jamie Kennedy Kitchens: “It starts with rhubarb in May and ends with sunchokes in November, or maybe dug up parsnips during a thaw in February.”

Dick Snyder, CityBites Magazine: “Asparagus, cherries, & peaches!”

Chef Anthony Rose, The Drake Hotel: “I am chomping on the bit for tomatoes. Asparagus and ramps are great but there is nothing like a fresh picked still warm from the sun tomato. Heirloom or not this is definitely my fruit of choice. With corn, chilis and tomatoes all coming around the same time it is fool proof easy to make and eat great food.”

Malcolm Jolley, Gremolata: “Raspberries, they mean the height of summer and remind me of finding wild bushes in the Northern wood as a kid.”

Sasha Chapman, Toronto Life, The Globe and Mail, and other fine publications: “I’m tempted to pen a book to answer that question…I’m looking forward to EVERYTHING: lettuce that tastes like lettuce, spinach that actually tastes earthy. Each local harvest is a process of rediscovery, a reacquaintance with the Platonic ideal of each fruit and vegetable. Right now, we can’t wait for the first Niagara peaches—aromatic and juicy and hopefully with a few peach leaves attached. The leaves are so fragrant that you can soak them in a simple white like pinot grigio for a summer aperitif. Sour cherries are another big treat, but you have to pay attention. because the season is only a couple of weeks! The first new potatoes with their papery skins and moist, sweet insides. They usually arrive at the same time as the sweet peas (truly sweet, not starchy). They are made for each other—and pesto. And of course the first tomatoes. We eat them on bread, in olive oil, with a sprinkling of sea salt. We eat them till we have cankers in our mouths, till we can’t imagine eating another tomato. And then we pine for them all winter, till the next tomato season. It’s unfortunate that heirloom tomatoes have become so trendy – imported or greenhouse heirlooms don’t hold a candle to a field tomato (or heirloom, for that matter) freshly plucked from the vine. I’m always on the lookout for Black Krims and Brandywines.”


Next month’s newsletter…
This newsletter was our first in a series of newsletters we have dubbed the Employee Series. You see, with the opening of our Eglinton location, we’ve had to expand our training handbook to include produce, fish, coffee, more olive oils and other provisions, more cheese, and more charcuterie. And if we’re learning, than so are our customers and Live to Eat subscribers.

Welcome to employment with The Healthy Butcher!


To access past issues of live to eat? Click here.


Other FRIDGE MAGNETS we have produced:

Wine Pairing

Roasting Guide - Temperatures



The Healthy Butcher is located at 565 Queen St. West, in downtown Toronto

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