This month the Ontario Government presented the draft of a Promoting Local Food Act. Farmers need legislative support, but so far the new bill falls short of meaningful action. It declares a Local Food Week in May and gives the Minister of Agriculture authority to set goals for public sector organizations to use local food. Coinciding with the release, Premier Dalton McGuinty challenged Ontario families to shift $10 per week to local food. Many will ignore the challenge, as long as Ontario supermarkets offer produce from California and Chile at lower prices.
Local food means more local jobs. It relies less on petroleum and establishes food security in case of environmental or economic crisis.
Public policy must encourage young farmers to produce fruit and vegetables currently under-represented on Ontario farms. Promoting food through the public sector is good, but government must also support local networks (check out Local Food Plus and Sustain Ontario) moving food from producers to consumers through markets and restaurants. Large grocery chains need incentive to promote local products.
My partner and I spend much more than $10 a week buying most of our produce, meat and dairy products from local farmers. It costs more than shopping at a supermarket. In tight economic times and long Ontario winters those tables of inexpensive foreign fruits at Zehrs look awfully appealing, but I prefer to support our neighbours at Guelph Farmers’ Market.
Regardless of rhetoric, until legislators boost local economies, most consumers will find it easier to buy imported food.