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 and restaurants.
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
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
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 farmers.