Agri-food products that are produced and available locally support healthy communities, provide job opportunities and diversify the economy. Local produce is fresher and reconnects consumers with how food is produced.
The agri-food sector is the powerhouse of the Ontario economy –generating $37.6 billion in GDP and employing over 807,000 Ontarians. Supporting local food will strengthen and enhance the Ontario economy, however farmers and agri-food businesses must be encouraged through provincial support for innovation and entrepreneurship and mitigating risk for new ventures and new and beginning farmers.
Enhancing domestic production requires affordable energy, the availability of rural broadband internet and access to innovative technology, a skilled workforce, and more broadly, vibrant rural communities. Growing the sector domestically requires similar solutions to growing the sector on an international scale. Agriculture and food businesses will continue to enhance their productivity and identify innovative solutions if they have the capacity to do so. Government must support both the hard and soft infrastructure of rural communities to enable the agri-food sector to grow.
Recognizing the benefits of diversification, Ontario farmers have responded by expanding production for niche markets and placing more emphasis on the marketing of high-value-added agriculture products. In addition to primary production, Ontario farmers can feed into the local value chain by providing food ingredients that agri-food processors require if these initiatives are supported and encouraged through provincial programming.
The Rural Economic Development (RED) program and the Local Food Investment Fund provide local solutions to local challenges, and they must continue to have adequate funding to support the vast geography of rural Ontario.
Municipalities can support the local food economy by developing policies that increase local food procurement, support local food events, and increase capacity of the agri-food value chain.
OFA commented on OMAFRA’s Farms Forever consultation and suggested initiatives to assist with their objective to “Supporting Local Food”.
OFA contributed to OMAFRA’s Bring Home the World – Improving Access to Ontario’s World Foods consultation to ensure Ontario farmers are supported through policies and programs that reduce risk and enhance financial incentives to diversify their operations and explore new varieties. While OFA supports the promotion of locally-grown World Foods, we encourage OMAFRA to maintain the focus of the initiative on enabling Ontario farmers to diversify their operations and undertake new crops and other specialty agricultural products.
OFA wants food literacy programs reintroduced in our schools to teach Ontario’s young adults to make better, healthier food choices. OFA’s food literacy goal is the Six by Sixteen Program, taken from the National Food Strategy®. It is a measurable goal to ensure that by the age of 16 years, each Ontario teenager can plan and prepare 6 nutritious meals.
OFA fully supports local food initiatives and believes Ontario agriculture and food products should be promoted across Ontario. OFA supports the intention of Bill 36: The Local Food Act and sees it as an opportunity to build lasting support for Ontario’s agri-food sector.
OFA believes the Act can further support local economic development initiatives based on agriculture and food, increase food literacy programming in our school systems and improve food access. Long term changes in Ontarian’s food knowledge and access to local food will help drive the food economy and improve the overall health of our province.
In addition, OFA believes local food initiatives can be complementary to supporting the agri-food system at a global scale. Canada is the world’s fifth-largest agricultural exporter and could become the global leader in safe, nutritious and sustainable food in the 21st century.
OFA believes a provincial local food procurement policy in the broader public sector would be beneficial to Ontario farmers, provided that the reporting and auditing process is not burdensome. The Ontario government should proclaim this area in the Local Food Act into force, and work with stakeholders, including farmers and farm organizations, to develop the goals and targets.