COMMENTARY: Support community farm businesses this Local Food Week

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From greenhouse vegetables and asparagus to strawberries, the bounty of Ontario produce is beginning to unfold in front of us

The following guest commentary is by Bill Groenheide, director of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture:

As spring continues to unfold, we’re starting to see more and more locally grown fruits and vegetables ripe and ready for us to enjoy. From greenhouse vegetables and asparagus to strawberries, the bounty of Ontario produce is beginning to unfold in front of us — making June an ideal time to celebrate Local Food Week.

And it’s not just fresh, seasonal produce that is the focus of this annual event, which runs across Ontario this week. Local Food Week is also our opportunity to promote and appreciate the incredibly broad spectrum of food we are able to produce right here at home — fresh, frozen or processed meats; pickled, canned or frozen vegetables; field crops like grains and soybeans; dairy, eggs, fish, honey and more.

I farm just outside of Thunder Bay with my wife and our two sons and their spouses, raising beef, chicken and growing a diverse selection of crops. I represent northern Ontario farmers on the board of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and I’m also on the board of the Thunder Bay Country Market.

Our farm depends heavily on local market opportunities to sell what we produce — about 80 per cent of our business goes through the local farmers’ market — and for us, Local Food Week is a huge boost to our sales and marketing.

Although our local market runs year-round, the promotions around Local Food Week are the unofficial kick-off to spring, summer and fall market season for consumers in our area. And once people come and visit an on-farm store or a local market, this is our opportunity to introduce them to the farmer behind the product.

This means talking to them about where their food comes from, answering their questions about how we produce it, and how they’re not just shopping at a market, they’re supporting small businesses and families in their local communities.

For farmers in northern Ontario in particular, Local Food Week lets us shine a light on the challenges of growing in a cooler climate with a shorter growing season and long distances to market, and we find that more often than not, customers care about the freshness of local food and being able to support farm businesses in their communities.

Although many local food producers are considered small business, local food is a big deal in Ontario. Agriculture and agri-food contribute approximately $47 billion to the provincial economy annually and employ more than 10 per cent of Ontario’s workforce — in addition to supplying Ontarians with locally grown food.

At the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), we encourage Ontarians across the province to shop locally, and to get to know local farmers — whether at an on-farm shop, farmers’ market or local agri-tourism business.

This past spring, Perth-Wellington MPP Matthew Rae introduced the Growing Agritourism Act, which if passed, will help expand agri-tourism opportunities in our province. An OFA survey into local food and agri-tourism showed that more than 40 per cent of respondents are interested in selling value-added products and providing on-farm experiences.

To find out what local food opportunities are available in your area, visit Farm Fresh Ontario or Farmers’ Markets Ontario — and keep an eye out for a wide range of social media content this week that will highlight Ontario’s local food system and the great food products we produce right here at home.


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