The irregular weather conditions most of Ontario has been experiencing over the past few months have set the province up for a particularly challenging harvest season. When temperatures across the province rose above 20 degrees in March, this accelerated the growing process for many crops, including tender fruits like cherries and nectarines, as well as Ontario's fall staple -- apples.
The month of April brought with it cooler temperatures, and days of frost stopped these blossoming crops dead in their tracks, quite literally. The Ontario Apple Growers are estimating that close to 85 per cent of apple crops across the province have been damaged beyond repair for the fall harvest.
The damage of tender fruits and apples is only the beginning of this challenging season for our local farmers. In July, sweltering heat and dry weather pummeled the province, providing little-to-no relief for farmers in Ontario. Driving through rural areas, you can see the impact that July's unforgiving weather had on our farmlands. The grounds are scorched, corn crops are stunted, and there is a severe shortage of baled hay. Common ingredients used for livestock feed like corn, soybeans, and wheat are having one of their worst growing seasons since the 1930s. We have heard from many farmers that they are already dipping into their winter supply to feed their animals.
At the Ontario Association of Food Banks, we have witnessed firsthand how the challenges of this season have affected our clients and our local farmers. Every harvest season we run a program called Community Harvest Ontario, where we bring corporate volunteer teams out to local farms to harvest fresh produce for local food banks.
This season has proved to be quite difficult for the program, as many of our local farms have not been able to donate any of their produce. Crop yields are already so low that many cannot spare to donate product. Some of the farms we talked to were not even sure if they would be opening to the public this season because it has been such a hard year.
So what does this mean for Ontario? As a result of this spring and summer's hectic weather, experts are expecting to see food prices rise by 4 per cent across Canada in 2013. For many, food prices are already at levels that are too high. Every day, people across this province are choosing between paying their rent, and feeding their families. In Ontario alone, over 400,000 individuals rely on food banks every month for food assistance. If food prices continue to rise, particularly at the rate expected, more Ontarians will not be able to afford the proper nutritious foods they need to survive and thrive in their daily lives.
While times may be tough, there are small things every one of us can do to help out our communities. For starters, we can try and buy as much local product as possible. It is true that this season has been difficult for farms across Ontario, but there is still some great, local, produce out there to be discovered. Buying local not only stimulates your local economy, but also decreases your carbon footprint and has a positive impact on the environment. When you are out supporting your local food producers, don't forget about the people in your community that are in need. By picking up some extra items to drop off at your local food bank, you will be helping the thousands of Ontarians that rely on food assistance programs every year.
This harvest season, do your part to support your local communities, and your local farmers.