Ontario's local food report, 2014-2015 edition
Learn about the people, businesses and organizations successfully working to strengthen Ontario’s local food economy
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Message from the minister
Ontario is home to safe, high-quality and affordable food grown, harvested and made in our province, for all to enjoy.
The food we produce reflects the diversity of our province and our people - it is truly worth celebrating as it nourishes and connects us all. We are fortunate to live in Ontario where we have access to such a rich variety of local foods.
When we consume local, we enjoy fresh, nutritious and delicious food - and at the same time, help to strengthen our communities, create jobs and boost the economy. Recognizing this, the Ontario government has launched a multi-pronged Local Food Strategy to encourage consumers to choose foods that are grown, harvested or made in our province.
Premier Kathleen Wynne has challenged Ontario's agri-food sector to double its growth rate and create 120,000 jobs by the year 2020. As Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, I want to help the sector meet the Premier's Growth Challenge. The Local Food Strategy is one of the key ways government and industry are working together to solidify Ontario's position as a world leader in food production.
A major component of the strategy is the Local Food Act, 2013, which provides new tools to increase awareness of local food, nurture local food markets and foster vibrant food-based economies across the province. A key feature of the act is the establishment of goals or targets. The first series of goals - for food literacy - were announced in January 2015. By setting these goals and committing to measure progress, we are working to enable more Ontarians to identify, obtain and prepare food grown in our Ontario.
The Local Food Act, 2013 calls for an annual report on the government's local food activities. This publication marks our first annual Local Food Report. It provides the groundwork for future reports that will chart our progress in bringing local food to more tables across the province.
Under the Local Food Strategy, the government created the Local Food Fund to support innovative projects that will expand markets for local food and strengthen the economy. The fund has invested more than $22 million to increase the demand for and sale of local food around Ontario.
Another milestone was achieved by our government when Ontario became the first province in Canada to introduce a tax credit for farmers who donate agricultural products to community food programs, such as food banks. This helps to ensure all Ontarians have the opportunity to access fresh, local foods. In addition, our strategy improves access to local food through strong partnerships to promote public sector leadership in local food purchasing.
Supporting local food is part of our government's plan to grow the economy, create jobs and foster a strong and vibrant agri-food sector in Ontario. We all benefit when we choose local food.
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
- Ontario's agri-food sector is a powerful economic force, generating more than $34 billion in Gross Domestic Product and sustaining more than 780,000 jobs - about one in every nine jobs in the province. The sector has tremendous opportunity for growth with the potential to contribute even more to the Ontario economy.
- Expanding the market for local food - food grown or harvested in Ontario or made from Ontario ingredients - is critical to realizing this potential. In consultation with the industry, the government has developed a comprehensive Local Food Strategy to guide this effort. The strategy is designed to increase awareness of, access to and sales of local food.
- A key component of the strategy is the Local Food Act, 2013 - the first legislation of its kind in Canada. Under the act, the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs establishes goals or targets for Ontario to aspire to in the areas of: improving food literacy in respect of local food, encouraging increased use of local food by public sector organizations, and increasing access to local food. Developed in collaboration with stakeholders, the first series of goals - for food literacy in the context of local food - were announced in January 2015. The government is working with stakeholders to develop measures to track results and will report on progress toward these food literacy goals in future annual reports.
- To raise awareness of local food, the act proclaims the first week of June each year as Local Food Week.
- The province has introduced the food donation tax credit for farmers to make local food accessible to more Ontarians. The credit equals 25% of the fair market value of agricultural products farmers donate to community food programs, such as food banks and student nutrition programs. This tax credit is over and above the charitable donations tax credit or deduction.
- The province's Local Food Strategy complements and builds on the longstanding Foodland Ontario program that has achieved a 92% consumer recognition rating, with 80% of consumers saying they intend to purchase local food.
- The broader public sector buys large quantities of food. It is a priority to increase the local share of these purchases and thereby strengthen food systems across Ontario. Since 2010, the government has invested more than $8 million through the Greenbelt Fund to link farmers with new local markets and put more Ontario food in daycares, schools, universities, colleges and restaurants.
- Under the strategy, the government established the Local Food Fund to support innovative projects that increase consumer awareness of and access to local food. To date, the fund has committed more than $22 million to 163 projects, leveraging a total investment of more than $102 million to expand markets for local food and create jobs. The final round of approved projects will be announced in 2015.
- Preserving and expanding our food manufacturing capacity is essential to sustain strong local and regional food systems. The government has made substantial investments to help Ontario food processors compete successfully in a rapidly changing marketplace. This commitment will continue through the recently announced Food and Beverage Growth Fund, which is part of the Jobs and Prosperity Fund.
- The government looks forward to continued partnership with farmers, processors and other agri-food stakeholders to increase awareness, access and sales of local food - and boost the industry's powerful economic impact even more.
Why local food matters
Ontario's farmers and food manufacturers produce an abundance of safe and high quality food that is enjoyed by people across Ontario and around the world. Growing, raising and making food in Ontario also contributes significantly to the economy. The agri-food sector generates more than $34 billion in Gross Domestic Product and sustains more than 780,000 jobs, or about one in every nine jobs in the province. Supporting our farmers and food processors helps them to reinvest in their businesses and their communities.
In 2013 Premier Kathleen Wynne issued the Premier's Agri-Food Growth Challenge, calling on the agri-food industry to double its annual growth rate and create 120,000 new jobs by 2020. Expanding Ontario's market for local food - food grown, harvested or produced in Ontario or made from Ontario ingredients - is key to meeting this goal.
To support the Premier's Challenge, the ministry developed a scorecard, which provides an overview of key economic measures in the agri-food sector as a whole. The scorecard is updated each year to track progress. The first update, shared with stakeholders at the Premier's Agri-Food Summit in November 2014, showed continued growth in the sector, moving closer to the Premier's Challenge targets. Highlights for 2013 include an increase in employment of 17,000 jobs and a 1.9% increase in the sector's Gross Domestic Product (compared to a 0.6% annual growth rate over the previous five years). Moreover, the latest statistics - to be reflected in the next scorecard - show further employment growth of 13,000 jobs in the agri-food sector in 2014.
The Agri-Food Growth Steering Committee comprised of industry experts and government leaders will help the sector work towards meeting the Premier's Challenge. The committee is providing advice on growth opportunities as well as proposing better ways to measure growth in the sector. It is co-chaired by Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Deb Stark and Amy Cronin, Chair of Ontario Pork. An update on the committee's activities and proposed next steps will be released toward the end of 2015. Strategies to grow markets for local food are expected to figure prominently in the committee's work.
Across Ontario, our farmers and food processors have the passion and expertise to produce safe, high quality and delicious food. Supporting local food helps build strong and resilient local and regional food systems that can feed our communities.
When it comes to local food, we all have a role to play. As consumers, we should ask and look for local food in our stores and restaurants. Industry needs to be innovative and responsive to consumer demand. Governments should create an environment where local food can flourish - and to do this the Ontario government is working with industry, academic experts and not-for-profit groups to support the growth and development of strong food systems across the province.
What we want to achieve
Since 2003, the provincial government has invested more than $160 million to promote and celebrate the good food that is grown, harvested and made in Ontario. This includes strategic investments in activities such as marketing, research, capacity-building and development of value chains.
But more can be done. In 2012, six regional roundtables discussed challenges and opportunities for local food in the province. Participants identified a number of areas for further action, including consumer awareness and education; access to capital; distribution channels; and public sector leadership in food purchasing.
In response, the government developed a multi-pronged Local Food Strategy to help address these issues and increase the consumption of local food in Ontario. The strategy focuses on three strategic objectives:
- Increasing awareness: Consumers are aware of, value and choose local food.
- Increasing access: Local food is identifiable and widely available.
- Increasing sales: The agri-food sector is competitive, innovative and responsive to consumer demand and industry trends.
This report will provide an overview of the government's activities to advance these strategic objectives, as well as shine a spotlight on some of the exciting initiatives being led by local food partners and innovators across Ontario.
Stakeholders have underlined awareness and education as a critical element in expanding the amount of local food consumed in Ontario. The strategy makes it a priority to improve food literacy and help people of all ages understand what local food is available and why buying local is important. Increased consumer knowledge will translate into increased purchases of local food. Key provincial initiatives to further this objective include:
- The Local Food Act, 2013
- Supporting agri-food education and outreach
- Ongoing promotion through Foodland Ontario.
Local Food Act, 2013
The centrepiece of Ontario's broader Local Food Strategy is the Local Food Act, 2013 - the first legislation of its kind in Canada. The purposes of the act include nurturing resilient food systems throughout the province, increasing awareness of the diverse variety of local foods available in Ontario, and encouraging the development of new markets for local food. The legislation supports all three objectives behind the Local Food Strategy as it fosters increased awareness of, access to and sales of local food.
Under the act, the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs shall establish goals or targets for Ontario to aspire to in the following three areas:
- Improved food literacy in respect of local food
- Encouraging increased use of local food by public sector organizations - including provincial ministries and agencies, municipalities, hospitals, schools, colleges, universities, long-term care homes and others
- Increased access to local food.
The Minister can also establish goals or targets in other areas related to local food. Goals and targets are to be set in consultation with sector partners, creating a framework for public discussion of key food system issues. The act also facilitates information-sharing by public sector organizations to support the establishment of goals, targets and evaluation of progress.
In addition, to raise the profile of local food, the act proclaims the first week of June each year as Local Food Week, celebrated for the first time from June 2-8, 2014.
Whether promoting local food, setting targets for food literacy or helping farmers attend to the needs of others through a community food donation tax credit, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture is happy to see the Local Food Act helping keep Ontario's agri-food industry strong.Don McCabe, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Setting local food literacy goals
As the proposed Local Food Act moved through the legislative process, food literacy was highlighted as a top priority. This led the government to make food literacy, in respect of local food, the first area of focus for setting goals and targets under the legislation.
In the context of the act, the ministry has defined food literacy as understanding why local food is important, knowing what local food is available and when, knowing how to prepare local food and knowing where local food comes from.
The food literacy goals were established by the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs on January 28, 2015. They are designed to be straightforward, inclusive and directly related to the purposes of the Local Food Act, 2013.
In developing these goals, the ministry reviewed major food literacy reports, prepared draft goals and received feedback through a group session, one-on-one discussions and written comments. A wide range of stakeholders - including farming, food processing, retail, municipal, health, education, community and Aboriginal organizations - participated in these consultations.
The food literacy goals are to:
- Increase the number of Ontarians who know what local foods are available.
- Increase the number of Ontarians who know how and where to obtain local foods.
- Increase the number of Ontarians who prepare local food meals for family and friends, and make local food more available through food service providers.
These food literacy goals are relevant to all Ontarians - to people of all ages and all backgrounds, living in urban, suburban, rural and remote areas. Action to reach these goals will heighten awareness of the importance of local food throughout our diverse society.
Measuring progress: where we are now
The ministry is working with stakeholders to develop performance measures to track results, and will report on progress toward the food literacy goals in future annual reports. The measurement system will reflect the breadth of food literacy activities in Ontario and will encompass both quantitative and qualitative data.
As a starting point in designing performance measures, the ministry endeavoured to understand the current food literacy landscape in Ontario. This was done by gathering information from stakeholders about what they are already doing to increase food literacy, taking stock of government food literacy programs and conducting an environmental scan of food literacy initiatives across the province. This review process will continue on an ongoing basis.
An example of valuable information-sharing is a report by members of the Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health, who participated in a locally driven collaborative research project entitled: Making Something out of Nothing: Food literacy among youth, young pregnant women and young parents who are at risk for poor health (2013). The study encompassed technical abilities and food preparation knowledge.
The following text highlights a few sector-led food literacy activities as well as ministry initiatives under each goal. These examples reflect a small sample of the work on food literacy currently underway. Many more activities are taking place across Ontario to advance the food literacy goals. Future annual reports will include success stories illustrating the progress achieved.
Goal 1: know what local foods are available
Many Ontarians have a good understanding of what Ontario-grown produce is available in season: in surveys
Similarly, product knowledge differs by category. While over 80% of shoppers found it easy or very easy to identify Ontario-grown fruits and vegetables, this percentage drops to 55% for Ontario-produced meat.
These figures show there are opportunities to further increase consumer knowledge of the variety of products grown, harvested and made in Ontario. As outlined later in this report, the Foodland Ontario program has achieved high awareness of Ontario food and strong brand recognition for its logo, which identifies Ontario products. Foodland Ontario will continue to work with the agri-food sector to build on this success and play a major role in increasing awareness of what Ontario foods are available in the marketplace.
Goal 2: know how and where to obtain local foods
Meeting this goal will take education and outreach. Government cannot do this on its own and must tap into the knowledge, expertise and resources of stakeholders active in the food literacy field. Much can be learned from such organizations as Ontario Agri-food Education Inc., FoodShare and Farm & Food Care Ontario. As discussed in the next section, these groups reach students and youth, the media and consumers with targeted information on local food and agriculture. Further efforts by these and many other stakeholders - as well as by government - will help make consumers better informed about how and where they can find local food.
Goal 3: prepare local food meals for family and friends, and make local food more available through food service providers
Foodland Ontario provides numerous resources to encourage consumers to prepare meals using local Ontario ingredients. For over 10 years, it has distributed a local food recipe calendar at food retailers across the province to highlight the depth, breath and variety of Ontario foods available all year round. In 2014, more than 800,000 copies were distributed.
To reach the foodservice industry, the ministry partners with groups such as the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance (OCTA), which is working with restaurant and foodservice operations to increase their use of Ontario food. OCTA's Feast ON program, supported by ministry funding, recognizes businesses committed to showcasing Ontario-produced food and buying local ingredients whenever possible. The program led to over $10 million in Ontario-sourced food purchases in 2013. This result indicates that industry leadership can drive future progress on making local food more available.
The discussion of performance measures now underway represents the beginning of a continuing dialogue. The ministry and stakeholders will continue to work together to refine measures of progress toward the food literacy goals and to track results.
Supporting agri-food education and outreach
Educating the public about the significance of agriculture and where our food comes from is vital to connect people with their food. This will give Ontarians an understanding and appreciation of how their food is grown, harvested or made and who had a hand in producing it. As well, a focus on the younger generation is necessary if we are to nurture local food consumers for the future.
Ontario Agri-food Education Inc. is a key partner in building awareness and understanding of the importance of our agriculture and food system. Ontario Agri-food Education Teacher Ambassadors™ delivered lessons on a variety of agriculture and food themes in 234 classrooms across Ontario in 2014. These interactive lessons helped students and teachers gain knowledge, understanding and confidence about agri-food topics. The ambassadors also supported events and organizations through classroom lessons, student tours and educational exhibits and workshops. These activities increase food literacy by engaging students to think critically about agri-food issues and stimulating interest in agricultural innovations and careers in the agri-food sector.
As a further step to raise awareness of local food among school children, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Education have supported a pilot project involving Dietitians of Canada and the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association. Launched in 2013, the Fresh from the Farm: Healthy Fundraising for Ontario Schools initiative enables schools to raise funds by selling Ontario-grown fruits and vegetables to families. To date, more than 150 schools have raised more than $125,000. By 2017, the program is expected to expand to all schools across the province.
A sector-led initiative is the Canadian Federation of Agriculture's National Food Strategy. A major objective of the strategy is to have consumers choose foods and eating patterns that promote optimal health. To advance this aim, the strategy suggests that by the age of 16, each Canadian teenager should be able to plan and prepare at least six nutritious meals. Since Ontario-grown ingredients can contribute to healthy food choices, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture plans to launch a food literacy campaign this fall to build awareness of the 6 x 16 goal. The campaign will bring much needed attention to the importance of food literacy among young adults. The initiative will feature an online hub with a wide range of food literacy resources to educate tomorrow's consumers about healthy food choices - many of which can be made with Ontario products.
Another example of current food literacy efforts by agri-food stakeholders is FoodShare's Great Big Crunch event held annually in March. This is a special day of classroom education on good food, ending with a massive, synchronized bite into a crunchy local apple to celebrate. More than 181,000 students across Canada participated in the 2015 event this March, up from 100,000 the year before.
Connecting urban and rural Ontario
The ministry encourages rural outreach to showcase modern agriculture and raise awareness of local food. One example is support for Breakfast on the Farm events, coordinated by Farm & Food Care Ontario, that bring farmers and non-farming Ontarians together for a conversation about food and agriculture. Participants receive an all-Ontario breakfast and then tour a working farm. Events at three farms over the past two years have attracted a total of 6,000 guests.
Ongoing promotion through Foodland Ontario
For over 38 years, the Foodland Ontario program has been promoting the good things that grow in Ontario. The program works with the agri-food sector to help consumers identify Ontario foods in the marketplace and encourage them to choose Ontario products first. Foodland Ontario's annual advertising and awareness studies show that the program has made a significant impact, with a remarkable 92% consumer recognition rating and 80% of consumers saying they intend to purchase local food.
Foodland Ontario undertakes a variety of marketing and promotional activities each year, utilizing a wide range of channels and media to inform and engage consumers. Activities include:
- Partnering with retailers to promote Ontario food in the retail environment - in 2014, merchandising field representatives completed almost 12,000 grocery store visits and distributed more than 7.5 million pieces of point-of-sale material.
- Working with food and lifestyle media partners to get the local food story out to consumers - in 2014-15, Foodland Ontario public relations initiatives (in print and on television) reached a combined audience of 34.7 million.
- Identifying and promoting Ontario food through agreements on using the Foodland Ontario and Foodland Ontario Organic logos - over 1,000 agreements are in place with producers, retailers and foodservices, representing an average annual increase of 25% in logo agreements since 2008-09. A single logo agreement can mean hundreds of thousands of consumer impressions in the Ontario marketplace. To use the logo, a product must fall within consumer and industry-approved definitions of Ontario food products; organic products must meet Canadian organic standards.
- Engaging Ontarians through social and digital media platforms - to date, Foodland Ontario has over 150,000 followers on Facebook and over 25,000 on Twitter.
The Foodland Ontario program is part of the Local Food Strategy. It encourages consumers to choose more local food by making them more conscious of where their food comes from.
Partnering with retailers to promote local food
Each year, Foodland Ontario recognizes retailers for outstanding efforts to promote fresh Ontario produce through the Retailer Awards Program. Stores submit photos of their in-store displays to inform and educate consumers about the variety of fruits and vegetables grown in Ontario.
In the 2014 competition, more than 3,500 entries and nearly 5,700 photos were submitted. The winners of 69 Foodland Ontario Retailer Awards were announced in March 2015, including six Awards of Excellence to the top scorers and three Vision Awards for exceptional corporate support.
Education and awareness are valuable but only make a difference if people can turn knowledge into action. Consumers must be able to find and buy local food where they shop and dine.
The government has made key investments to increase access to local food including support for:
- Public sector leadership in local food purchasing
- Improved distribution channels and
- Partnerships with farmers' markets and on-farm marketers.
As well, ministries are collaborating where possible to increase access to local food, and the province introduced a tax credit that makes more local food available to those who need it the most.
Together, these initiatives enhance access to local food across the province and foster regional activities that help bring local food to the consumer. Future development of the food access goals, under the Local Food Act, 2013, will reinforce these efforts.
More local food in the public sector
The broader public sector spends an estimated $745 million per year on food. Expanding local food purchases by our municipalities, hospitals, long-term care homes, schools, colleges and universities represents a significant market opportunity for our farmers and food processors. That's why the government has partnered with the Greenbelt Fund to boost purchases of Ontario foods by the broader public sector. The Greenbelt Fund's goal is to create systemic change to help increase the amount of local food consumed in the province through grants, education, policy and networking initiatives.
Since 2010, the government has invested $8.6 million through the Greenbelt Fund to support 111 projects across Ontario. These investments are linking more farmers to new markets and putting more Ontario food in daycares, schools, universities, colleges and restaurants. These efforts have resulted in almost $100 million of additional local food purchases - or a 12-to-one return for every dollar invested.
Some examples include:
- The City of Thunder Bay is working to bridge the gap between public sector purchasers and others in the agri-food supply chain. The project has increased the interest of Thunder Bay area food system players in boosting production capacity to meet the potential demand for local food products. By January 2016, it is anticipated that new policies and procurement processes will be in place for the city and other local institutions - with the city expecting to increase its local food spending by 10% compared to 2015.
We realize the importance of a local, healthy food supply to our residents, and the food sector, and we're committed to working with regional partners on the creation of a comprehensive local food strategy.Greg Alexander, former Manager - Community and Emergency Services, City of Thunder Bay
- Morton Wholesale has expanded its capacity to provide local food to institutional customers in southwestern Ontario by training sales staff on the marketability of Ontario products, designating a local product specialist to respond to customers' needs, and offering more local products. These steps have increased annual sales of local food by $1.3 million.
- The Peterborough County-City Health Unit is working with community groups to link local food and farming to 47 student nutrition programs. To date, the project partners have served $2.2 million in meals to more than 17,000 students. A local food box system was developed, making the process of ordering local food easier. The project resulted in more than $41,000 in local sales for 2013-14.
Provincial leadership in local food purchasing
As well as encouraging the broader public sector to buy more Ontario food, the province is using its own purchasing power to support sustainable local food systems.
The government has introduced a Local Food Procurement Policy that requires ministries and agencies to consider purchasing local food. This policy does not override requirements for a competitive process, and respects trade obligations.
In addition, the latest contracts awarded to operate the 17 provincial government cafeterias incorporate an Ontario food program which includes regular reporting on Ontario food purchases, vendor briefings by Foodland Ontario, and Foodland Ontario displays in each cafeteria. Local food products are estimated to make up about 20% of total cafeteria sales and the government is working to increase this level.
New food distribution options
Alternate means of distributing food, such as foods hubs, can fill a missing link in local and regional food systems by giving small and medium-sized farmers better access to customers. Improving local and regional distribution requires local leadership. Through a partnership with the Greenbelt Fund, the province supports regional initiatives to improve the distribution of local food.
For example, 100km Foods Inc. has expanded its local food hub facility and product listings, providing an additional 30 small to medium-sized farms with access to the foodservice market in the Greater Toronto Area. The company has formed an innovative partnership with the Grey County Chef's Forum Food Hub. This leverages 100km Foods' distribution network to connect Grey County farmers with the Greater Toronto Area market while expanding the products offered to buyers. The project enabled 100km Foods to increase local food sales over previous years by $875,000 in 2013-14.
Likewise, an Ottawa Food Hub is supplying area restaurants, school breakfast programs, hospitals and universities with more produce, dairy products and grains from area farms. Led by Natural Gourmet Fine Food Kitchen Inc., in partnership with Just Food Ottawa, the project is increasing local food sales by providing aggregation and distribution services for local suppliers. This is done while meeting the food safety requirements of foodservice and retail buyers. Processing equipment is available to extend the season and enable year-round sales, while on-going support and training opportunities assist local farms to scale up production.
We are focused on increasing access to good food while supporting the urban and rural economies in and around Ottawa. Creative solutions are being developed by a growing list of partners, including the Greenbelt Fund.Paul Gorman, Natural Gourmet
Distribution infrastructure does not have to mean bricks and mortar. With support from the province, the Greenbelt Fund has created Ontariofresh.ca as an electronic marketplace to link buyers and sellers of Ontario foods. Membership is growing 30% from year to year and there are now more than 2,400 profiles of buyers and sellers on the website. Ontariofresh.ca is becoming a valuable alternative distribution channel for local food.
Other innovative regional initiatives supported by the Greenbelt Fund to get local food to market include:
- Eat Local Sudbury Co-operative
- South Central Ontario Region Food Hubs
- Big Head HOPS - Aggregation and Processing Facility
- Auvergne Farms Maple Sugar Processing Facility.
Food Donation Tax Credit for farmers
Ontario has introduced Canada's first food donation tax credit for farmers, by amending the Taxation Act, 2007. Farmers may be able to receive a tax credit equal to 25% of the fair market value of agricultural products when they donate to community food programs, such as food banks and student nutrition programs. The new tax credit is over and above the charitable donations tax credit or deduction. This measure strengthens the links between rural and urban communities by making local food more accessible to those who need it the most.
The government worked with stakeholders to get the new tax credit in place for the 2014 taxation year. As a result, farmers were able to claim donations on their 2014 tax return.
We applaud a tax credit that will encourage more farmers to donate their locally grown food to those who need it most. Together we are bringing fresh, nutritious, local food to more Ontario families and individuals.Carolyn Stewart, Acting Director, Ontario Association of Food Banks
Nurturing farmers' markets and on-farm sales
Farmers' markets and on-farm markets are terrific ways for consumers to meet some of the people who grow their food.
There are about 200 farmers' markets in Ontario, most belonging to a province-wide association, Farmers' Markets Ontario. Farmers' Markets Ontario promotes farmers' markets as places for consumers to buy locally grown food in a community experience that connects them with farmers. With provincial funding, they are leading projects like the MyPick® program, which verifies that vendors are selling products from their own farms, as well as the introduction of farmers' markets at select ONroute rest stops on Highway 401.
VQA Wines at farmers' markets
Beginning in May 2014, wineries have been allowed to sell Ontario VQA wines at farmers' markets in a two-year pilot project under the province's Wine and Grape Strategy. This provides a new market opportunity for Ontario wines and enables consumers to match local food with local wines crafted from 100% Ontario grapes. To date, more than 75 wineries and 140 farmers' markets have participated and sales have surpassed $1 million.
The Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association fosters the direct farm sales industry, such as pick-your-own, on-farm markets and agri-tourism. The province supports the association's efforts to provide a quality farm fresh experience at on-farm markets so consumers can obtain home-grown food directly from producers. About 300 farmers belong to the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association.
Working with other ministries
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs works with other provincial ministries to tailor their programs to support access to local food where possible. For example:
- The Northern Fruit and Vegetable Program under the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care provides no-cost fresh fruits and vegetables - about 65% from Ontario - to 36,500 students in Northern Ontario (as of January 2015). Fruits and vegetables are delivered in classrooms twice a week from January to June each school year, in combination with education about the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity. The goal is to increase awareness and consumption of fruits and vegetables among elementary and intermediate school-aged children in northern and remote communities. The program involves a partnership among three health units - Algoma Public Health, the Porcupine Health Unit and the Sudbury and District Health Unit - and the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association.
- The Ministry of Children and Youth Services' Student Nutrition Program provides funding to help support nutritious breakfast, snack or lunch programs in schools and community locations across the province. The program operates in partnership with local community organizations. In 2013, as part of the Healthy Kids Strategy, the ministry began funding regional food and logistics coordinators to support more efficient food purchasing, distribution and storage as well as sourcing of local food. During the 2013-14 school year, the Student Nutrition Program helped bring nutritious meals and snacks to more than 756,000 school-age children and youth.
The province's 2014 Poverty Reduction Strategy included an investment of more than $32 million over three years to enhance existing student nutrition programs and establish 340 new breakfast programs in schools across Ontario. This investment is also supporting the expansion of student nutrition programs in some First Nations communities.
To thrive over the long term, food systems must have a sound, viable economic foundation. This means that our farmers, food processors, distributors and their supply chain partners must be competitive, innovative and responsive to changing consumer needs and expectations. These factors will lead to increased sales of local food. With this in mind, the government has taken action to:
- Attract investment in local and regional food systems
- Increase competitiveness, especially in the processing sector
- Encourage innovation.
Local food fund: investing for results
The Local Food Fund is part of a $30 million investment by the province over three years to support innovative projects that increase consumer awareness of and access to local food. The goal is to encourage Ontarians to demand and choose more local food and thereby boost sales, economic growth and job creation. The fund supports projects designed to:
- Market and promote local food
- Strengthen regional and local food networks by creating new partnerships along the supply chain
- Deploy new and innovative equipment and processes to increase the supply, quality, availability and distribution of local food.
To date, 163 local food projects representing a government commitment of more than $22 million have been funded across the province, leveraging a total investment of more than $102 million in the future of Ontario agri-food. Applications to the fund closed in mid-January 2015 and the final round of approved projects will be announced later in the year. The dozens of projects being implemented vary widely in size and scope and reflect local needs and priorities.
Examples of innovative projects supported by the Local Food Fund include:
- A project between Northumberland County and local partners where they are developing the Ontario Agri-food Venture Centre as a business incubator and niche food processing facility to encourage the introduction of new local food products.
- The creation of a regional wine-tasting centre in Fort Henry by Jessup Food and Heritage, Ltd. to attract tourists and increase awareness of Eastern Ontario's wine industry.
- A service developed by Chefx in Ottawa that delivers chef-designed recipes and fresh portioned ingredients to homes, helping build the capacity to feature more Ontario-grown and produced ingredients on its weekly menus.
- The development of a supply chain by ChocoSol in Toronto to support the production of fresh, healthy white corn tortillas and nachos made from Ontario-grown crops.
- The introduction of two new product lines by Pasta Quistini Inc. in Toronto - Flavours of Ontario and Ontario Eats - to meet consumer demand for local foods while working with farmers to source more local ingredients for its existing frozen entrée offerings.
- The expansion of production and sales of locally grown organic food through investments in warehousing, cold storage, logistics management software and value-added food preparation by Romarah Incorporated in Hamilton.
- The launch of a new Ambrosia apple variety by the Norfolk Fruit Growers' Association which includes innovative packaging, in-store sampling and digital media promotions.
- Enhancements by the Federation of Ontario Naturalists to improve harvesting and production capacity of forest and freshwater foods in Northern Ontario, while fostering the long-term sustainability of supporting ecosystems.
Reinforcing the processing sector
Ontario's food and beverage processors purchase about two-thirds of the food produced on the province's farms. Maintaining and expanding our food manufacturing capacity is essential to sustain strong local and regional food systems.
Moreover, Ontario is one of North America's leading food processing jurisdictions. Strengthening our food manufacturers will also help them export more Ontario-made products, supporting good jobs at home.
The health of the processing sector is critical to the success of Ontario's Local Food Strategy. The government has made substantial investments to help food processors compete successfully, meet the demand for new products, expand their operations and create jobs.
For example, the province invested $1 million to help the 120-year old St. Albert Cheese Co-operative in Eastern Ontario rebuild after a 2013 fire. The new facility processes 50 million litres of local milk per year and provides 10 new jobs - on top of preserving the 100 jobs existing before the fire.
Another success story is Thomas Canning in Essex County, which is building a new state-of-the-art fruit and vegetable processing facility with the help of a $3 million provincial investment. The expansion project will support local farmers and create 40 new jobs.
Because of the funding we received from the Government of Ontario, our company will now be in a position to create more good local jobs and grow our business domestically and internationally.Bill Thomas, Vice-President, Thomas Canning
The recently announced Food and Beverage Growth Fund - part of the Jobs and Prosperity Fund - reflects the government's commitment to continue investing in the agri-food and agri-products processing industries. The new fund will support projects having more than $5 million in eligible costs. These investments will help create and retain jobs, strengthen supply chains, increase market access, and enhance innovation and productivity. All this will help keep the processing sector competitive and reinforce the economic foundations for local food systems.
Wine and grape strategy renewed
The wine and grape sector is thriving with support from the provincial Wine and Grape Strategy. Launched in 2009, the strategy has promoted significant growth - including a 50% increase in the number of wineries, creation of 2,000 direct jobs, record grape production and development of prime tourist destinations from the Niagara Peninsula to Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore.
In December 2013, the government announced a commitment of $75 million to renew the strategy and help grow the industry over five years. In March 2015, under the strategy, the government launched two programs:
- The new Marketing and Vineyard Improvement Program will help increase sales of Ontario wines in and out of the province and enhance the marketing of Ontario's wine regions as tourist destinations. It will also support vineyards as they make improvements to wine and grape production - including purchase of new machinery, equipment and technology.
- The renewed VQA Wine Support Program will help increase LCBO sales of Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wines and encourage investment in innovation.
With these initiatives, the government is working to increase consumer demand for VQA wines - made entirely from local Ontario grapes - while strengthening wineries' capacity to meet this demand.
New opportunities for craft brewers
In April 2015, Ontario proposed the biggest changes to beer retailing since the repeal of prohibition 90 years ago - including allowing the sale of beer in up to 450 grocery store outlets. The government has introduced legislation
Under the new system, the Beer Store will be required to allocate a minimum of 20% of all shelf space and merchandising, marketing and promotional programs to small brewers - nearly triple their current market share and shelf space. Grocery stores selling beer will have specific requirements on shelf space and incentives for sales of small brewers' products, and the LCBO will introduce new craft-beer boutiques. These measures will give craft and small brewers more opportunities to get their products in front of customers and are expected to accelerate growth in this local beverage sector.
This is a game changer. The government's approach will alter the future for Ontario's craft breweries, opening the door to increased sales, expanded growth and the creation of new jobs.Cam Heaps, Co-founder, Steam Whistle Brewing, and Chair, Ontario Craft Brewers
Ontario farmers and food processors operate in a global marketplace and must constantly innovate if they are to remain competitive. The annual Premier's Awards for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence spotlight innovations that improve existing products, create jobs and drive economic growth in the sector.
Five major award winners were recognized at the Premier's Summit on Agri-Food in November 2014. These were among the 50 regional award winners saluted during the year. Many of the success stories involve creative products or ideas that are bringing more locally grown food to Ontario consumers.
For example, the 2014 Premier's Award winner, Kaley's Acres of Castleton, has converted former tobacco fields into a prosperous kale production operation to meet the growing demand for kale chips as a healthy snack food. And a Leaders in Innovation Award winner, the Garlic Box of Hensall, has revived Ontario's commercial garlic production by developing value-added products made with locally grown garlic, and flash-freezing whole peeled cloves to provide Ontario garlic year round.
As previously mentioned, Premier Kathleen Wynne has challenged the Ontario agri-food sector to double its growth rate and create 120,000 new jobs by 2020. Expanding Ontario's local food market is crucial to reaching this goal, and the ministry is working closely with industry partners to increase awareness of, access to and sales of local food.
The ministry is committed to tracking and reporting on the progress of the Local Food Strategy. Next year's annual report will:
- Celebrate and promote stakeholder success stories and accomplishments.
- Outline first-year progress toward the local food literacy goals
- Profile successes from the food donation tax credit for farmers
- Convey Foodland Ontario's latest figures for consumer recognition and consumer intentions to buy local food
- Highlight results achieved by projects supported by the Local Food Fund and the Greenbelt Fund
The Local Food Strategy benefits people by making the connection between buying local and helping grow a major Ontario industry. By increasing the demand for home-grown and made-in-Ontario food, we will create jobs and boost the agri-food sector's powerful economic impact even more.
The ministry looks forward to continued partnership with farmers, processors and agri-food stakeholders to help the sector deliver local, fresh, affordable food choices for consumers. Pulling together, we will strengthen our dynamic agri-food industry as a pillar of Ontario's economy.