Fortnightly Feast

Growing Food Connections food policy database to help communities strengthen food systems

Municipalities and counties got a big boost today with the unveiling of a searchable database with more than 100 newly adopted innovative, local government food system policies that can be shared and adapted across the country. The Growing Food Connections Policy Database, hosted by the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo, will assist local governments as they work to broaden access to healthy food and help sustain local farms and food producers.

Growing Food Connections, a federally-funded research initiative to strengthen community food systems nationwide, has compiled over 100 policies governing issues as diverse as public investment in food systems, farmland protection, local food procurement and food policy council resolutions. The database is a comprehensive catalog of enacted food policy. By drawing upon partner resources and networks, the database provides a vast resource of policies that have been implemented and are currently being used by communities. Furthermore, it provides inspiration for communities looking to start building their own food policy. Read more

Candidates weighing in on food and farming

Guelph Mercury, October 21, 2014

Earlier this month, the Guelph Wellington Food Round Table — in collaboration with Sustain Ontario — asked all of the candidates for trustee, councillor and mayor to participate in the Vote on Food and Farming survey. Because food and farming touch so many important areas of our lives, and shape our regional character, economy, culture, and communities, the survey has six broad questions related to the economy, health, the environment, access, education and collaboration — along with key actions that will shape the future of food and farming in this region.

A week after sending out the survey, we have had responses from 26 of the 44 “active” races (not acclaimed) from all eight municipalities in Wellington; from every ward in Guelph; and from 10 mayoral candidates (including four in Guelph). This is the most active and engaged regional response in the province. Read more

Keeping it Local with Nick Weir of Stroudco Foodhub

Stroud Life, October 20, 2014
ONE of Stroudco’s largest suppliers is Stroud Community Agriculture (SCA) which farms 23 acres of land around Hawkwood College overlooking Stroud. SCA was established 14 years ago by a group of volunteers who wanted to provide an alternative to the supermarket system by building a direct connection between the people growing the food and the people eating it. They started off by growing vegetables on less than one acre and sharing produce amongst the small group of supporters who set up the farm community. SCA is now a thriving, community-run social enterprise with over 230 household members around Stroud who collectively pay all the costs of the farm including the wages of three full time farmers. In return the SCA members receive a weekly share of the produce harvested from the farm. Read more

Eat Local Sudbury working to offer more local food in region

Local food hub to offer food to other parts of northeastern Ontario
CBC October 14, 2014
Eat Local Sudbury is in the process of developing a business plan to expand its local food hub to other areas in northeastern Ontario. The new areas to have service include LaCloche-Manitoulin, North Bay, Temiskaming, Muskoka and parts of Algoma. According to Eat Local, a local food hub helps with the collection, storage, processing and distribution of local food.
The plan, called the Eat Local Sudbury Food Hub Business Plan project, is moving forward after the co-op received $17,200 from the province’s Greenbelt Fund. The Managing Director of Eat Local Sudbury, Peggy Baillie said demand for local food continues to grow. “More and more people are gaining interest in terms of local food and wanting access to it, including institutions, schools and public health facilities. This plan is trying to address those needs.”
Read more

Food Banks Canada & RFDA deliver fresh food to First Nations

Thunder Bay’s Regional Food Distribution Association is part of a pilot project to send fresh food north
CBC October 21, 2014

A group of First Nations in northwestern Ontario is getting fresh fruits and vegetable this month, thanks to a pilot project between Food Banks Canada and the Regional Food Distribution Association. Volker Kromm is the association’s executive director. He said statistics show one in five Aboriginal people, living on reserve don’t get enough to eat, and nearly half of those people are children. Kromm said, through the partnership with Food Banks Canada, he was able to purchase $20,000 worth of fresh groceries to take to some First Nations communities that are accessible by road. He said he was transporting everything from potatoes to granola bars to cantaloupe. Read more

WEBINAR

Shared Opportunities on Institutional Lands: Challenges and opportunities of on-site food production

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 22, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. EDT
In Ontario, several institutions are already producing food on their properties as a way to generate revenue; supply nutritious fresh food for consumption (by staff, patients, students, etc.); provide skills training and therapeutic benefits; and build social enterprises. This webinar will share how project partners at health care, social service and educational institutions went about getting gardens off the ground at their institutions, as well as some of the lessons we learned in the first year of working with pilot projects across the province. Read more

Is that all there is… to debate?

Vote on Food and Farming analysis

Many have commented since the June 3 Ontario leaders’ debate that little attention was paid to health care, which makes up about 40% of the provincial budget. Food and farming faced the same lack of attention – hardly surprising, given the six ‘representative’ questions that the media selected to guide the debate: ethics, energy, jobs, debt, transit and education.

It’s a shame that the agriculture and food debate –organized by OFA and the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors– was cancelled. This debate might have given some insight into party platforms that don’t get a lot of prime time exposure.

It’s also a shame that there wasn’t a seventh question in the televised debate, asking the leaders to explain how their earlier positions would affect the development of agriculture and food in the province – forcing them to make clear the links between education, jobs, investment, (health!) and agriculture and food policies.

On May 23rd, Sustain Ontario’s Vote on Food and Farming campaign attempted to do just that, by asking party leaders to reflect on questions covering topics as diverse as health promotion, training and cross-ministerial cooperation – as they relate to agriculture and food issues. I went through their answers with interest, looking for points of consensus as well some of the details in their proposed solutions to issues that shape our food systems.

Three parties –the LiberalsNDP and Green Party– submitted thorough responses, while the PC leader sent a form letter with three brief paragraphs about the Million Jobs Plan. As a result, the Vote on Food and Farming Report Card was full of question marks in the PC column. I hunted down the PC white papers (which can’t be accessed from their own website!) in order to fill in that picture.

And what these white papers show is that the PC Party’s agri-food platform is largely silent on many of the issues captured in the Vote on Food and Farming. This is hardly surprising for issues that the party’s current election platform prevents them from acknowledging – such as increasing social assistance to cover the cost of a nutritious food basket, or increasing the reach of the Student Nutrition Program. In other areas, the white papers’ silence reflects low priorities (at least at the time of writing) for the promotion of healthy eating; encouraging ecologically regenerative agricultural practices; protecting pollinators and their habitat; and protecting farmland.

It is also hardly surprising that, on many of these same issues, the other three parties are all pointed in the same direction, differ only in degree, and could therefore –in theory– work with each other. For example, while the Greens advocate universal approaches in student nutrition programming, guaranteed annual income, protection of class 1 farmland and neonicotinoid controls, they would be unlikely to reject Liberal or NDP policy suggestions which move in the same directions.

One set of solutions highlights interesting differences between the parties: how to get beyond the Ministry-level ‘silos’ that often discourage cross-ministerial cooperation and coordination on food issues.

  • The NDP would “develop a coordinated approach that makes sense”;
  • The PCs would “create one-window access to government for farmers and agribusinesses so they can obtain information efficiently and get one straight answer from government”;
  • The Liberals would “convene an inter-ministerial committee to engage stakeholders such as Sustain on an integrated government approach to agriculture, food, nutrition, health, and environment issues”; and
  • The Greens would convene “an Ontario Food Policy Council with stakeholders and members of the public that is ingrained within OMAF, including a representative from each party and the Premier’s Office”

While I don’t want to overstate the significance of a single statement, these replies suggest some fundamental differences in their approaches to governance.

However, differences were not the rule. In fact, all four parties agree on two issues: setting targets for public procurement purchases of local food, and realizing the Community Food Program Donation Tax Credit, which are both sections of the Local Food Act, but are not yet proclaimed. Of course, even universal agreement doesn’t guarantee action in the current legislature: all parties promised to ease the regulatory burden on small and mid-scale processors in the 2011 campaign, and are repeating that promise in this campaign – since nothing was accomplished in the interim.

Often, the reason for lack of action can be found in the details. For example, only the Greens acknowledged that setting targets for procurement of local foods would be unhelpful without also increasing the funding to hospitals and other institutions. It is often such details that turn what appears to be consensus on the campaign trail into division in the legislature.

Another example: while there is a general consensus that the province needs more regionally-based infrastructure to move local food, the Liberals are investigating whether this can be done by giving money to mainstream distributors, and the PCs are suggesting that another food terminal will do the trick. These approaches reflect a fundamental misreading of both the historical lessons of regional food processing, distribution and marketing in the province, as well as the necessary components of a sustainable, regional-scale food infrastructure.

The leaders’ debate could have provided some much-needed details on the factors that shape their parties’ food and farming policies. Before you make your decision on voting day, be sure to take a look at the Vote on Food and Farming Report Card, which provides some of those details.

Phil Mount,

Valens Ontario