Food for the Economy

by Joan Brady, Women’s President of the National Farmers Union

The economy and the resilience of Ontario communities and citizens will be highlighted this upcoming election.  Attention and concern will be directed at maintaining and creating jobs, attracting and building industry and businesses and developing new opportunities for trade and commerce. One answer to economic growth that is often overlooked in favor of global attractions is the food we produce, prepare and eat in Ontario.

Statistics Canada information shows that agricultural exports have risen dramatically in the last 30 years.  Interestingly enough, the rise in agricultural imports has mirrored this rise in exports. Essentially we are replacing many of the same products that we are currently exporting with imports (redundant trade). Canada is trading much of our domestic production away along with jobs and prosperity.  If we consider that farm income has been below $0 and farm debt levels have risen 300% in the last 30 years, we must conclude that this increase in global trade has not improved the bottom line of farmers and much of the increased activity has become an added liability to farm families. A recent report by the NFU highlights these trends. For more, read the report here.

What would this same production within communities and for communities look like? What would the impact be of an Ontario focusing on feeding Ontario first and relying on trade to export the excess and import that which cannot be grown here?  How would this production be viewed when it is recognized that a strong domestic industry gives us thesolid base on which to adapt and respond to opportunities beyond our borders.

Here are some examples of these economic impacts. First, the Holland Marsh, a relatively small area (10,000 acres) of vegetable production in a relatively small area generates results in GDP of $35 to $58 million and in $95 to $169 million of economic activity in the provincial economy. For more see the Greenbelt Report on the Holland Marsh. Conversely the loss of Cangro’s plants in St. David’s and in Exeter and the direct replacement of Ontario grown product by imports has resulted in substantial losses of jobs, and economic activity (for more see this article).

Ontario’s farms have the ability to produce a wide array of products. Our climate, water supply and soil quality is among the best in Canada and the world. The farm families both new and experienced from generations on the farm are dedicated, innovative and proud. The buying public is becoming increasingly aware of food issues that affect our health, environment and economy.  The time is now to focus on a building local sustainable food system for Ontario, one which has communities and its citizens at the centre.

Joan Brady is helping to build a sustainable local food system in Huron and Perth Counties as a member of the Huron Perth Farm to Table Network.  Joan also works on behalf of farm families as Women’s President of the National Farmers Union of Canada.

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