This week, the Ontario Government made history by becoming the first province in Canada to provide a tax credit for farmers who donate fruits and vegetables to local food banks. Beginning in January 2014, farmers in Ontario will receive a 25 per cent tax credit based on the fair market value of produce that they donate to local food banks and community meal programs.
This tax credit is groundbreaking for two reasons; the first of which being that farmers deserve, and need, a tax credit to help cover the costs of harvesting and transporting produce to food banks. Until this week, farmers donated thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables out of sheer generosity to our provincial food bank network. Secondly, by passing this tax credit, the Ontario Government has officially recognized food banks, and the necessary, important role that they play in providing nutrition and food security for thousands of people in this province each and every month.
Since the tax credit's inception three years ago, the Ontario Association of Food Banks has been working alongside MPP Bob Bailey (Sarnia-Lambton) to gain support on this initiative. This tax credit has been introduced to Queen's Park multiple times over these past few years by MPP Bailey, but despite all party support, it never passed due to timing issues. Thankfully this summer, Premier Wynne (also Minister of Agriculture and Food), began to champion the tax credit, and promised to bring it forward this fall at Queen's Park.
Regardless of how the tax credit came to fruition, it is important to note that no other province in Canada provides compensation for fresh food donations to hunger relief organizations. Outside of some grant opportunities, food banks in Ontario are not governmentally funded. That being said, food banks and meal programs provide an essential service by feeding 400,000 individuals each month in this province alone.
Food banks may not be a perfect solution to ending hunger, but as it stands now, there is no comprehensive, social policy alternative. We know that in Ontario, food banks are doing incredible and innovative things to ensure their communities are well-fed, and well supported. In the past few years, as an association, we have shifted our focus toward acquiring healthy, fresh foods. We are lucky that the province of Ontario has a strong agricultural community, that even before a tax credit, donates produce, and meats, and dairy product to local food banks on a consistent basis.
The Ontario Association of Food Banks would truly like to thank MPP Bob Bailey and the Government of Ontario for passing this tax credit for farmers who donate fruits and vegetables to food banks. It is a great start to recognizing the important role that hunger relief organizations and farmers play in providing communities across this province with healthy and balanced food. It is our hope, along with many members of the agricultural community, that this tax credit will continue to evolve and expand to include protein and dairy items, which are also desperately needed in the fridges and freezers of Ontario's food banks.
This week has undoubtedly been history making for food banks in Ontario, and the provincial government should certainly be applauded for their efforts on this tax credit. Now that hunger is officially on the provincial agenda, let's continue to work together and make stronger partnerships that are effective in bringing an end to hunger in Ontario.
By Erin Fotheringham, Membership and Operations Coordinator at the Ontario Association of Food Banks
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