Here in southwestern Ontario, we live in a verdant cornucopia of agricultural richness. We don’t have to go far outside of our city to see rolling fields and Amish vegetable gardens the size of our suburban backyard. You would think, because of all this rural vegetative abundance, that finding locally-grown, vegetarian protein sources would be a cinch. Think again.
(For those of you just tuning in now, check out the back story to our accidental vegetarianism.)
As Jeff and I began researching more frugal (local) vegetarian protein options, we unearthed some surprising data regarding the stereotypical beans and pulses that many vegetarians consume.
Despite the fact that we live in an area that produces high quantities of bean crops, most of these beans are exported out of Canada. On top of that, most dried, certified-organic beans sold in our area are imported from China, Turkey or the States. Likewise, lentils, an excellent source of plant-based protein, are typically grown only in the Prarie provinces as our climate is not as conducive towards growing large crops. Besides eating copious amounts of eggs, we were hitting a bit of a roadblock trying to source local, economical sources of protein to feed our family.
After extensive research and abundant emails back and forth to nearby farmers and suppliers, we have managed to find 3 favourite local plant-based protein sources in our area:
- Lau Tea Da Lentils is Ontario’s ONLY lentil grower located just outside of Elora. (Find their information on Facebook.) These green lentils can be bought from Martin’s Family Fruit Farm in St. Jacobs as well as Herrles Country Farm Market just outside of Waterloo. Or, alternatively, you can buy from them in bulk directly. This past summer Jeff and I met up with Laura Ferrier from Lau Tea Da Lentils in Guelph at a playground. Money changed hands, and a huge 60 pound white bag of lentils was dropped in the back of our van. Nothing like having our lentil supplier on speed dial for covert drop-offs at the unassuming playground. Laura also sells their own lentil flour, which makes great brownies, pancakes and veggie fritters. We ended up purchasing 60 pounds of green lentils and 10 pounds of lentil flour for $140. (While this may sound like a lot of money, 1 pound of lentils equals 7 cups of cooked lentils. We are now over six months into our local food journey, and we’ve managed to eat about 30 pounds of lentils. Lentils are definitely an extremely economical protein source!)
- Henry’s Tempeh is produced in the heart of Kitchener from organic soybeans grown on Konzelmann Farms in Wyoming, Ontario (86 miles away from us). Before embarking on this journey, I had never heard of tempeh much less consumed it. Turns out, it’s a fermented soybean “cake” meat substitute that can be sliced, crumbled, cubed or marinated. I’ve used it as a ground beef replacement in chili, shepherd’s pie and spaghetti sauce, and despite my reluctance to eat fermented soybeans, it is actually quite delicious! (For those of you wondering, Zoe and Elsie also love it and can’t tell the difference between tempeh or ground beef, making it a definite family-friendly vegetarian option!) A “cake” of tempeh can usually be found on sale for around $4 at Farm Boy or Food Basic locations in the KW region. I believe it’s also found at the Chelsea Market in Belmont Village and at Goodness, Me! and Fiddlehead locations.
- Cullen’s Foods produces the only locally-grown dried beans (red kidney, black, and navy beans) that I have thus far been able to find. When in conversation with owner, Ben Cullen, I was informed that most of this year’s crop of beans has been grown in Newbury, Ontario (almost 83 miles away). However, if you buy their pre-packaged beans, you can search the lot code on the back to determine exactly when and where the beans were grown. On top of that, the packaging is made from plastic-alternative material meaning that after 12 months, it will have completely composted! However, if you want to buy their beans in bulk and forgo the packaging, you can do so from Pfenning’s Organic in St. Agatha, Gentle Rain in Stratford and The Flour Barrel in Guelph.
- Eggs have quickly become a quick, cost-effective staple meal in our weekly repertoire. While eggs are not a plant-based protein option, they are a vegetarian option….and they are cheap! We have our own urban flock of four hens that supply us with 3-4 eggs a day in the summer and 1-2 eggs a day in the winter. While owning our own chickens is an investment, it provides an invaluable lesson to our girls about where their food comes from. For those of you who aren’t open to raising your own urban (or not so urban) flock, local eggs can be purchased from the market for less than $4/dozen. (Even better, if you’re ever out for a drive in the country, find a roadside egg stand. You can purchase a dozen eggs for around $2!)
Eating local food (vegetarian or otherwise) has definitely been a learning curve. Sadly, it is ironic to think that we live in an abundantly-rich, agricultural region where food crops grown mere miles away never make it into our own local food chain. My hope is that opening our eyes to this reality will promote change, or at the very least, will cause awareness towards better support for our local food systems. In the meantime, however, there is hope (and options) for those of us within our region who wish to consume more plant-based, locally-sourced protein.