Farming is a tough job: it demands of you long days and hard work, and the results can be quite dependent on Mother Nature's influence. Yet despite the challenges of the job, farmers have always been dedicated supporters of food banks and giving back to their communities.
This has been the case long before food banks became a formalized means of fighting hunger. Gleaning, which is the process of gathering crops for human consumption after the main yield has already been collected, is an age-old practice that traces its roots back thousands of years to the Old Testament. Farmers were called to not reap the harvest from the outer ring of their fields in order to leave it for those in need. Gleaning was a protected right throughout the Middle Ages, the subject of a famous painting by Jean-Francois Millet, and was still a common practice as recently as the end of the Second World War.
This practice continues in many ways. At the Ontario Association of Food Banks, we have created programs in partnership with agricultural groups to provide food banks with steady sources of protein (such as milk, eggs, beef, chicken and pork), and we also receive regular and generous donations of fruits and vegetables from farmers. In the past, we have also run team-building gleaning events at local farms to gather excess crops that are then donated to local food banks. Thanks to Ontario's agricultural community, over half the food we distribute is fresh or frozen!
The OAFB worked very hard with the provincial government on the development and implementation of the Ontario Food Donation Tax Credit, which gives farmers a 25 per cent tax credit on the fair market value of their donated product. Ontario was the first province to introduce a tax credit of this kind, but many other provinces are following our lead. This tax credit is not only a small "thank you" to our farmers, but also helps offset some of the costs of donating, making it a win-win for everyone!
When you shop locally, you know that your money contributes to the local economy and creates good jobs here.
Just as farmers support their communities, it is also important that we support our farmers. When we see beautifully stocked, bountiful piles of produce at the grocery store, it can be easy to not see the early mornings, demanding physical labour, dedication and so much more. For small farmers in Canada, the majority of their income comes from off-farm jobs. This year in particular has been challenging for a lot of crop-based farmers due to a summer of heavy rains and flooding.
The local food movement, which has been going strong for many years, has a number of positive effects for our local farmers and communities. When you shop locally, you know that your money contributes to the local economy and creates good jobs here. It's estimated that if every Ontarian shifted just $10 of their weekly grocery budget to buy local food, it would generate an additional 10,000 jobs.
There are many ways you can support farmers — both during the summer and all year round:
Look for products in the grocery store that were made in Ontario
You can check for either the Foodland Ontario logo or see if the sign says "Product of Ontario." If you're shopping for wine or beer, look for either the VQA symbol or check out the craft beer section.
Shop at your local farmers' market or subscribe to a CSA
This is a great way to directly support farmers and to get to know the people who grow your food. Often, you can ask questions about the best way to prepare dishes or for tips on how to select ingredients. It also is an opportunity to discover foods you may not have tried before or get more unusual varieties of common ingredients, such as apple blossom honey or spicy garlic.
Take a trip out to farm country
You can make a mini-vacation out of it — taste food made with local ingredients, check out artisan-made products and take a tour of a farm. It's a great way to support farming communities and get a glimpse of what farm life is like. With only two per cent of the population living on farms, that's more important than ever.
It also means that farmers can continue to support our food banks so that everyone has the opportunity to eat the good things that grow in Ontario.
Stock up on seasonal food, and freeze or preserve for the winter
Freezing is a great way to preserve the tastes of summer all year long. Preserving, while a bit of a lost art for many people nowadays, isn't that hard to learn, especially with the magic of the internet: just look up tutorials for making jams, pickled vegetables, salsas, sauces and more.
Learn how to cook less-popular cuts of meat
Farmers raise whole animals, not just the popular cuts. Cooking with the so-called "secondary" cuts of meat, or "nose-to-tail" eating, makes your meat consumption more sustainable and puts more money in the pockets of farmers.
Ask for local
Let your grocery store manager or your favourite restaurants know that local ingredients are important to you!
Support policies that support farmers
This can be anything from local procurement strategies in institutions like schools, hospitals and governments, to policies that support farmers' ability to make a good living.
Supporting our farmers is not only important for our local economy, and a tasty choice, but it also means that farmers can continue to support our food banks so that everyone has the opportunity to eat the good things that grow in Ontario.
To make a donation to the Ontario Association of Food Banks, please visit oafb.ca/donate.
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