Next week is Local Food Week in Ontario, a celebration of the rich agricultural bounty we're so lucky to have access to in this province. Seasonal produce is currently in full swing, so if you've been itching all winter to make a local strawberry-rhubarb pie, now would be the time.
The local food movement has been all the rage for the past few years, and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Grocery stores highlight local produce when it's in season, innumerable "farm to table" restaurants have popped up, and farmers markets continue to grow in popularity.
This is a great trend that we hope Ontarians will continue to support. Below are just a few reasons why buying local is an easy way to invest in making your community a better place to live.
- You're helping the environment. The shorter distance that your food travels to get to your plate means fewer carbon emissions are created by transportation. In addition, Ontario's farmers are held to strict standards, such as Ontario's Environmental Farm Plan, that ensure they continue to be stewards of our soil, air and water.
- Local eating makes it easier to eat healthy! The freshness you'll find in local food is unparalleled, since produce can be picked when it's ripe, instead of needing to be ripened when it gets to the grocery store. That also means the growers will be selecting for varieties that taste good and are good for you, rather than ones that travel well and have a long shelf life.
- You're protecting diversity. While it's pretty great to be able to try food that is only grown in other climates, you can also find an incredible untapped diversity here at home. Artisan producers, family farms and small processors who can't produce to the scale of a global market sell locally, and are often hidden gems.
- Your dollars contribute to the local economy and create good jobs. It's estimated that if every Ontario household shifted $10 of their weekly grocery budget to local food, it would create 10,000 new jobs. This is because of the multiplier effect: if you buy an Ontario-made quiche at the grocery store, they go on to pay the distributor, who pays the baker, who pays the egg, dairy, spinach and wheat farmers -- and all of these people will go on and spend money locally.
- You're supporting people in need. Ontario's farmers have a long history of supporting food banks. The Ontario Association of Food Banks is fortunate to have a number of amazing relationships and programs with Ontario's producer groups, who generously ensure that the nearly 360,000 Ontarians who visit food banks each month have access to fresh milk, eggs, pork, beef, chicken, turkey and lamb .
We also have many other farmers, producers and local food companies that donate product to us -- last year, more than half of the food we distributed was fresh or frozen. Many of our food banks are fortunate to be in agricultural communities that regularly donate and support them.
- These donations mean less food is wasted overall. It's estimated that Canadians waste $31 billion in food each year! It's important to reduce that waste on every part of the supply chain. One way farmers do that is by donating perfectly good food that can't be sold at retailers due to cosmetic imperfections to our food banks.
In 2013, the Ontario Association of Food Banks worked with the provincial government to introduce a tax credit for farmers who donate to food banks, worth 25 per cent of the fair market value of the food given. This is not only a small way of saying thanks to those who were already generously donating food, but provides an incentive to those who might have otherwise had to leave good food in their fields.
We hope to continue to grow the amount of local food we distribute in the coming years so that Ontarians in need can access more fresh, wholesome food at their community food programs -- but we can't do it without you.
There are many ways you can help:
Support your local agricultural community! Shop at farmers' markets, visit local wineries or breweries, and dine at restaurants that use local ingredients. When you're at the store, look for symbols that show the product was made in Ontario, like Foodland Ontario's sticker or the VQA symbol, and try to buy locally and in-season whenever you can. Support companies that are committed to creating good jobs in Ontario.
Tell your local representative to support local food policies. It's important that our provincial government create regulations that support the growth of good jobs and allow farmers to make a good living from the essential role they play in the health of Ontarians. Recent moves by municipal governments to increase local procurement means our tax dollars go straight back into our own economy.
Donate to the OAFB! For every dollar you donate, we can acquire and distribute $8 worth of food. Your donations help us transport fresh, perishable, local food to where it's needed most, and grow capacity at food banks to store this food safely. To give, please visit: www.oafb.ca/donate
And remember -- good things grow in Ontario!
Ashley Quan is the Development and Communications Officer at the Ontario Association of Food Banks.
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