A diverse global harvest comes home
From amaranth and African eggplant to turmeric and Vietnamese balm, there is a wide range of world crops grown commercially in Ontario — and some for years now.
These non-traditional crops are becoming more popular, mainly due to a demographic shift and changing culinary preferences of Canadians, experts say. There are currently more than 200 distinct crops spread across each of the main food categories: fruit, vegetables, grains, fungi, and edible herbs and spices.
Crops can be found in regions across the province and can include Asian pear, Niger seed, Abyssinian cabbage, New Zealand spinach, Japanese plum, Chinese mushroom, Welsh onion, Indian bitter melon (Karella), Shanghai pak choi, Spanish salsify, Nanking cherry and tomatillo, among many others.
Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Lincoln, Ont., has been developing production systems for okra and Asian eggplant in particular, so that Canadian growers can produce these crops and capitalize on the opportunity to meet the growing demand. These crops are traditionally grown in South East Asia where climatic conditions differ greatly from those in Canada.
“Our focus has been on okra and Asian eggplant,” said Dr. Viliam Zvalo, a vegetable production research scientist at Vineland.
“These crops were almost exclusively imported to Canada until quite recently. Imports have been rising significantly over the past five years (okra by 42 per cent and eggplant by 38 per cent) and continue to climb as the popularity of okra and eggplant continues to grow.”
At present, there are approximately 53 hectares of okra and eggplant grown in Canada.
And retailers have been very supportive of local production, as okra and varieties of eggplant can now be found in major grocery stores in the province.