Growing Local Economies with Good Food

Vote ON Food & Farming surveys begin by asking councillor and mayoral candidates how they, if elected, will support local food and farm enterprises. The question is broad for a reason. Food and farming enterprises take many forms and are constantly adapting to new market trends, and so there is a wealth of opportunities for local governments to evaluate and enable the impacts of economic drivers rooted in this sector.

The diverse actionable strategies suggested to candidates in the solutions-based surveys include: working with planning departments to increase enabling policy and zoning for economic drivers such as farmers’ markets, on-farm processing, food hubs, and urban agriculture; working with economic development and tourism departments to develop regional branding and related tools such as Buy Local maps; and working with the province to reduce red tape and provide “one stop” regulatory resources.

But how do local food and farm enterprises contribute to the bottom line for regional economies?

The central economic benefit of an active local food industry is the multiplier effect, when each initial dollar spent in the local economy leads to increased spending within that community. Farmers’ markets demonstrate a great example of the multiplier effect. In 2008 farmer’s market direct sales in Ontario were between $427 and $641 million, which lead to an overall economic impact of $1.9 billion annually within Ontario.[1]

What can municipalities do to increase support for local food and farming practices? In line with the recent Local Food Act (Bill 36), more municipalities and public institutions are assessing how they can increase local food procurement to provide for their public and be a model for sustainable purchasing in their communities. In 2008 the City of Markham, in partnership with Local Food Plus, was the first municipality in Canada to adopt local, sustainable food procurement policies. Within three years 25% of Markham’s food budget was certified local and sustainable.[2] The City of Markham is within York Region, where one of the local Vote ON Food & Farming campaigns is taking place this October.

Additional municipalities in Ontario are turning their attention to these kinds of policies and practices. Sustain Ontario is currently working alongside the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, Bruce County, and Durham Region in establishing local food procurement plans in a project supported by a Greenbelt Fund grant.[3]

Attracting and retaining locally-embedded businesses will also support job creation. It is estimated that in the Waterloo Region for every job in the agricultural sector, four additional jobs are supported in the local economy.[4]

Read more about the economic case for strong municipal policy for local food and farming in our new Rationale and Best Practices resource featuring leading Ontario examples.




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