Putting Relationships at the Centre of our Local Food System

By the Bushel connects local eaters with local farmers through its basket programs; but its long-term dream is to open a co-operatively run local food store

For almost ten years, By the Bushel has been connecting people in Peterborough to the food produced by local farmers. At that same time, they’ve been cultivating relationships between people who eat food and people who grow it, something that executive director Paula Anderson says is one of the keys to a healthy local food system.

“You have to know your producers,” Anderson says. “You have to have a good sense of the relationship you have with them, and the relationship they have with the land on your behalf.”

Anderson says strong relationships between farmers and eaters ensure that everyone knows where their food is coming from and how it’s been produced, but it also means that farmers get more support. “Farming is hard,” she says, “and it doesn’t always work out. So we need to support our farmers morally, and be with them through thick and thin.”

To keep these relationships strong, By the Bushel is organized as a co-operative, where every participant, whether they are a farmer, worker, or eater, is a member who can shape the co-op’s policies and practices.

“We have a process in place here where we try to work together, we try to come to some form of consensus and move ourselves forward as a community working toward sustainability,” Anderson says.

By the Bushel prioritizes local and organic produce, but it knows that producing totally organic food can be a challenge for local farmers, so their biggest concern is transparency. They’ll work with any local farmer who is striving to be as sustainable as possible.

Right now, the co-op’s main program is a weekly food basket that includes produce from about six to eight local farmers every week. Members pick up the baskets from a home in East City. The summer basket season starts June 21.

But the co-op’s long-term dream, and one they share with some other local food initiatives in town, is to open a permanent, co-operatively run store selling local produce.

Anderson says that’s one of the gaps in Peterborough’s local food system. “Farmers’ markets are great,” she says, “but as a producer myself, there are only so many farmers’ markets I can get to before it costs the land, because I don’t have enough energy to pay attention to the land.

“So we need to have different outlets for farmers to put their produce into so people can then access it on a regular basis.”

“Down the line, I see that being a huge benefit to our community,” Anderson says of the store.


Photo courtesy By the Bushel.

Fields marked with an * are required
Will Pearson

Will Pearson


Will Pearson is a freelance journalist based in Peterborough, Ontario. He has written for a variety of local and national publications, and he is the host of the Peterborough Currents podcast.