The organizers of the upcoming Feast of Fields, a celebration of locally-produced organic food in the region, ruffled some feathers last month when it announced that Loblaws would be its “presenting sponsor.”
That means, for (a measly) $5000, Loblaws gets to plaster its logos prominently across all of the event’s marketing materials as well as having the opportunity to participate in the festival itself with a chef-run cooking demonstration.
Apparently the Canadian Organic Growers Ottawa Chapter doesn’t see any conflict in bringing on-board the conglomerate behind supermarket chains Real Canadian Superstore, Loblaws and Your Independent Grocer. But Feast of Fields participants Jennifer Heagle and Jo-Ann Laverty do. As co-owners of The Red Apron, a home catering business dedicated to sourcing ingredients from local farms, producers and small family enterprise, the pair have been happy to donate their time and the cost of the food required to participate in the Feast of Fields for the past three years.
“Loblaws does not belong at this event,” says Heagle. “This event is supposed to celebrate the other side of the food chain.”
The Red Apron partners made the decision to pull out this year but they are not looking to influence others to follow their lead, thereby causing the event to unravel. “There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it by volunteers, but we find it strange that the organizers chose to risk offending them,” she said. So far Red Apron is the only drop-out but she says other participants she has spoken to are “on the fence”.
The folks at COG have done little to defend their decision, save for a mass email sent out to the participants stating: “… Partnering with Loblaws, who carry a large organic line, enables the teams to include even more organic ingredients in their featured dishes. It also offers an opportunity for consumers to tell Loblaws they want to see not only more organic food but also more local food.”
The other line of justification relates to the issue of cash. The email states: “In 2009, our expenses totalled $37,000 and ticket sales were about $20,000. So we all need to realize that sponsorships and grants are a big part of Feast of Fields.”
I doubt that anyone would argue that COG shouldn’t seek corporate sponsors for Feast of Fields, but why must its choice of one be so ethically incompatible? Again COG’s email offers no apologies.
“The concern of our farmers about the choice of sponsors signals that we need more involvement from farmers and restaurants in Feast of Fields planning in the future. We will certainly remember that!”