Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was at the annual Premier’s Summit on Agri-Food Innovation earlier this month to announce Ontario is moving forward with the introduction of a Local Food Act that, if passed, would promote food grown and made in Ontario, and develop goals and targets around the production, processing, distribution, sales and marketing of Ontario food.
The purpose of the act is to foster successful and resilient local food economies and systems throughout Ontario and to build markets for local food. The act focuses on getting Ontario public sector institutions like hospitals, schools, and departments buying local food. It also gives the Minister new powers to create programs.Ted McMeekin, the minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs discusses the initiative with the CBC.
The bill, introduced on October 4th, is a step forward welcomed by many members of Sustain Ontario, the provincial alliance for healthy food and farming. Sustain Ontario’s more than 350 member organization works collaboratively towards a food system that is healthy, ecological, equitable and financially viable. Sustain Ontario supports policies that improve access to healthy food, assist Ontarians in making healthy choices, and ensure that our food production system is resilient and diverse.
“It’s exciting to see Ontario’s government taking initiative to support the food and farming sector,” says Sustain Ontario Co-Chair Bryan Gilvesy. “Our members have been talking over the last year about how to reap opportunity from Ontario’s food system. This act is a big step in the right direction.”
The sector has an economic impact that rivals the automobile industry for top employer, and is growing. Even in a struggling economy, the organic, local and specialty sub-sector has shown an annual growth of 15-20% in the last decade.
Sustain Ontario Members hope that it will be about more than just the local food economy, however. “Food has the potential to improve Ontario’s economy, health, environment, communities, and to create a better future for our kids,” says Karen Hutchinson, Sustain Ontario Co-Chair. “As this bill makes its way into law, we hope that our law-makers keep the full potential in mind.”
“We’re really happy with this first step, and we’re looking forward to working with government and other stakeholders over the coming years,” says Sustain Ontario Director, Ravenna Nuaimy-Barker. “Ontario’s food systems are far from perfect, with on-going hunger, diet-related illness, and a farming crisis. To get to where we need to be, we’ve got a long way to go.”
Local Food Heroes
The Premier’s Summit also recognized Ontarians who have contributed to the success of Ontario’s agri-food sector. McGuinty presented the Premier’s award to Phil Short of Vineland Station. Short is a fruit grower, shipper and entrepreneur whose company Vortex Packaging created a recyclable and stackable fruit basket that has been widely adopted.
Burning Kiln Winery of St. Williams won the Minister’s Award for repurposing and adapting tobacco kilns to dry grapes — a process that has resulted in award-winning wines.
Leaders in Innovation awards were presented to:
Mariposa Dairy Ltd., of Lindsay for developing their “MegaPress” technology which is used to separate curds and whey — it increases efficiency, lowers production costs and creates a better quality cheese.
Nicholyn Farms of Phelpston for creating a Healthy Lunch Program for schools using local farm fruits, vegetables and meats.
Victory Organic Inc., of St. Catharines for creating the “Bob Wash” — an efficient cleaning system for produce that can be affordable for small scale processors.
How you can be a part of the Local Food Challenge
As part of the effort, the Premier launched a $10 local food challenge — asking families to shift $10 of their existing weekly food spending to local food. If every Ontario family made the weekly shift it could increase Ontario food sales by $2.4 billion and create 10,000 jobs. Regardless of your political affiliation, supporting local food seems like something that all Ontarians can get behind.