August 9, 2007: Local food is all the rage across
the province. It’s being advocated for all kinds of
reasons, including variety, freshness, environmental sustainability
and regional economic development. It is now showing up in
restaurant promotions, supermarkets and roadside stands. And
the local food concept has shown up in CFFO correspondence
and literature for at least the last decade.
The most recent endorsement of local food came from the provincial
government. It recently committed $12.5 million to a "Pick
Ontario Freshness" strategy aimed at supporting local
promotions and commodity-specific programs. By building interest
in all Ontario foods and raising general consumer awareness,
the program hopes to build demand for Ontario foods in stores
The Ontario government announcement has come on the heels
of other symbolic nods to local food. The province’s
political parties have been pledging to include local food
purchases for the menus of public institutions. And the University
of Toronto’s campus food services signed a “first
ever” supply agreement last year with Local Flavour
Plus. The not-for-profit organization certifies local farmers
and processors who produce local food in environmentally and
socially responsible ways and links them with purchasers.
Clearly, local food has become a hot topic and people are
scrambling to both access and build the market among consumers.
Almost a decade ago, the CFFO was already pointing out in
presentations to government officials that additional markets
could be opened up by Ontario farmers through concentrating
on import replacements.
Some of our position statements of that time called upon
governments to commit annual funding to an import replacement
program. In essence, the program would target the $9-billion-plus
worth of food imports to Ontario and seek creative ways of
displacing them through entrepreneurial activity. The concept
of import replacement found its way into the CFFO Vision Statement
and also was eventually fleshed out to include the call for
the development of an infrastructure for local food systems.
These systems would include an agricultural development officer
in every municipality, investment support to farmers so that
they can restructure their businesses to serve local markets,
legislation protecting regional branding, land use and taxation
policies that encourage value-added activities on the farm
and food safety guidance designed for local markets. The CFFO
also called for an increase in meat processing capacity, part
of which was for accessing local markets, during the BSE crisis.
The CFFO doesn’t believe that local food is the solution
to all of agriculture’s problems. But because Ontario
is a net importer of food it does believe that local food
initiatives will help to create opportunities for new markets.
We didn’t invent the local food concept, but we have
been offering our quiet leadership to its promotion due to
its ability to help grow the marketing opportunities for Ontario’s