Buy local program making a difference

Jill Fowler
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DEBERT - Curtis Millen is a strong believer in all buy local
The Great Village-based farmer has suffered through economical hardships over the years, but thanks to some help from the Canadian grocery chain giant Sobeys, Millen has been having a great season.
"Sales at the stores have been up tremendously this summer," explained Millen. "We've seen a big increase in sales from just last year alone."
The local farmer provides both strawberries and blueberries to the Sobeys distribution centre in Debert, where they are in turn, shipped across the Atlantic provinces.
"I think what Sobeys is doing is a really great thing," he added. "I think they realize that yes, we do need local production and looking back 20 years ago I don't think people really realize just how important it is going to be to have local farmers."
Millen recognizes what he feels is a very large problem in today's farming industry.
"Someone comes along who wants to build a house on this pretty piece of land and what does the farmer do but he sells it so he can afford to retire and then the land is lost," he explained.
"One day there won't be any farmers left and this country is going to be a hungry country one day."
Millen has been involved with Sobeys for nearly 35 years and remains extremely pleased with work that the two businesses have accomplished together.
"They are good people, really easy to talk to," he said. "Without Sobeys I'd just be a small farmer."
Sobeys' most recent marketing initiative, Choose Atlantic, has proven profitable for more farmers than just Millen.
Mark Sawler, product manager of Sawler Gardens Ltd. in Berwick, has been in operation for more than 40 years.
"Now we are seeing an increase in the volume of the produce we are moving through Sobeys and each year it increases," said Sawler.
The vegetable farmer has noticed a major difference within the last two years of business.
"Part of it is people have to know what is local and what isn't, and that's where Choose Atlantic really helps."
All local produce is properly labelled both in the store and even in the fields, where Sobeys has placed billboards stating "Local produce is growing here."
"Another big thing is communication," added Sawler. "We have to deal with things in a timely fashion and it's not necessarily the easiest thing to do but with Sobeys' focus on communication between producers
and distributors, it has made quite a difference."

Organizations: Sobeys, Sawler Gardens

Geographic location: DEBERT, Great Village, Berwick

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Recent comments

  • Aurora
    January 18, 2010 - 10:14

    I was pleased to see a large strawberry display at Sobeys this year that included a sign naming the farm and it's location.
    It was incentive for me to make that purchase, knowing the product was from a farm located 30 minutes away from me.

    A nice change of pace --- after last year's articles about local crops rotting in the fields because they couldn't get it into local big chain grocery stores.

  • Homer
    January 18, 2010 - 10:09

    Yes buy local after all they employ local

  • Sarah
    January 18, 2010 - 10:08

    I, too, was happy to see the big display at the local Sobey's for Millen Farms strawberries and purchased from it several times.
    The berries were fantastic!!

  • Sam
    January 18, 2010 - 10:04

    Local producers may not be able to compete with imports on price, but in a niche market such as the organic one, consumers are willing to pay a premium for what they don't get: cancer-causing pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.
    Natural, organic berries are one of the best sources of cancer-fighting compounds.

    Paying a premium for any local product is economically wise for the community in the long term. Not everyone can afford to do so, but those who can, should.

  • Aurora
    January 18, 2010 - 09:59

    Homer: Any adult who doesn't mind hard days work can easily make more than minimum wage in the strawberry or blueberry field in a regular 7 or 8 hour day.

    I have a 12 yr old who made $22 to 25 in a 3 hour day of berry picking. That is up to $8.30/hr for a kid. Most adults in the fields were triple to quadruple (if not more) his picking. The the Jamaicans employeed at that farm probably 5 or 6x that.

    Adults who do this for a living are earning above minimum wage. Problem is, no one likes hard work anymore, seasonal employment is going down the tubes with changes to how weeks, wages and stamps are drawn (no one wnats to be broke all winter so people don't do easonal work as much for a living period) and many parents don't make their kids work to earn their iPod and $150 Nike money.

    As long as I can buy local produce I don't care who is employed to pick the fruit; be it my own kid, a local resident, or anyone else. They are all treated equally on the job and if they work while there, they make decent money.

  • Jen
    January 18, 2010 - 09:55

    I have seen some local produce at Sobeys but there is still a pile of foreign produce too. Just last week I went to buy green peppers and they were from France so I went to Stirlings instead and found more than enough local produce including green peppers, valley corn and this years apples arriving. I also frequent Riverbreeze, Cavanaughs and Avery's for local meet and produce. Would love to see the major players support locals more.

  • AJ
    January 18, 2010 - 09:54

    Remember, folks - Buy local, or bye bye local!

    We in NS can't compete with the big producers in Ontario and the US as far as quantity goes, but we CAN do just as good as anyone else in QUALITY.

    Our farmers grow the best food in the world right here in our own back yards. We have to support them now, in case something happens to the globalized supply chain and we REALLY need a secure local food supply in the future.

  • Sam
    January 18, 2010 - 09:53


    You have a point there. I guess a good portion of the wages the berry growers
    pay out contribute to the Jamaican economy, among others, and not ours. But if local workers aren't available or willing for the berry growers, what else can they do?

  • Homer
    January 18, 2010 - 09:51

    I worked for one of those berry growers one summer.

    May I suggest such intensives as

    Minimum wage
    reasonable working standards

  • Homer
    January 18, 2010 - 09:44


    I have heard all of these gut wrenching arguments before they are old and have nearly run their course.

    As long as their are loopholes for employers to circumnavigate minimum wage and working conditions slave labor will always exists.

    I know a number of people who worked the berry fields. I guess they must all be wrong? LOL

    Well as with me and of my generation when given the choice of working a job that guarantees minimum wage plus a medical plan (ie mickey D's). I don't see the incentive to take the work till your exhausted and wait for someone to add up your days total to see if you made minimum wage or not avenue.

    The time of the tyrannical employer stand on the backs of the poor and undereducated beating their chests is nearly at an end. when that day finally arrives a lot of the people who worked for less than minimum wage will have a silent chuckle.