By Peggy Brekveld, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Each year, the week leading up to Thanksgiving is Ontario Agriculture Week. With fall harvest in full swing and Ontarians marking the holiday with gatherings and special meals, it’s an ideal time to celebrate food and farming in Ontario.
This year, we celebrated Ontario Agriculture Week with a series of food-focused events across the province as part of an initiative called Source Local. It’s a partnership between Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and Farm & Food Care Ontario that was launched late last year to raise the profile of locally grown food.
There are many things that divide urban and rural Ontarians, and those are often what people first think of or are reported in the media. If you stop and think about it, though, we also have a lot of things in common – like caring about our families and our communities, our future and our food.
Source Local is a year-long pilot project designed to showcase those shared values between farmers, consumers and others involved in producing our food. During Ontario Agriculture Week, OFA hosted four “farmers and food trucks” events in Thunder Bay, London, Milton and Ottawa.
OFA and Farm & Food Care staff and OFA board members, along with volunteers from local federations of agriculture and other farm organizations, were present at each event, answering questions and handing out food. Displays and exhibits showcasing the depth and breadth of Ontario food production, from chicken and mushrooms to garlic, greenhouse vegetables and more, were also at each event.
Food trucks provided complimentary lunches using all-Ontario ingredients to passersby. At the London event, for example, a local mushroom farm also provided samples of mushroom chili and the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers handed out locally grown greenhouse cucumber and tomato snacks. And in Ottawa, event participants could also enjoy chocolate milk, hardboiled eggs and locally made pepperettes.
In my home community of Thunder Bay, a great group of local farmer volunteers hosted a barbecue at the Marina, giving away lunches to passersby, which included a group of police officers interested in learning more about local food.
In Ottawa, our Source Local event was held at Algonquin College, giving us a great chance to engage with students during their lunch break. Most had never heard of any of our groups or of Ontario Agriculture Week, but once conversations began, there were plenty of questions and genuine interest about food, farming and the importance of buying local. We often talk to consumers who are principal grocery shoppers or people who come out to fairs and other events, but we rarely get the chance to talk to young adults, especially those who have just moved away from home for the first time and now have to make their own food decisions. We were also able to make a donation to Algonquin’s food cupboard program, helping to provide essential food supplies for students needing a little extra assistance.
In London, we were also ideally located at Dundas Place in front of Fanshawe College, also bringing students to our event on their way to and from class, and in Milton, our set-up at a farm market meant many visitors were families with small children.
It’s always a unique opportunity when, as a farmer, you have a chance to have a conversation with someone about what you do on your farm and how food is produced. The questions are invariably interesting – and we usually both go away having learned something.
That’s what makes special events like these so valuable, and I’d like to extend my thanks and appreciation to everyone who helped contribute to our provincial Source Local events this year. It takes time, effort and people to build relationships, but it’s much easier to get started when you have things in common – and local food is something we can all agree on.
For more information, contact:
Director of Communications and Stakeholder Relations
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
519-821-8883 ext. 218