Economic Rationale and Best Practices

Ontario’s agri-food sector makes a significant contribution to our economy — at the provincial level and locally.  From input suppliers to farmers to food manufacturers to retailers and food service operators,  the sector supports 740,000 jobs — or almost one in every nine jobs in the province.[1]  It is estimated that expenditures by food manufacturers alone generate $53.7 billion in upstream transactions throughout the province.[2]

There are many opportunities across the food system to support economic growth and development — farmers’ markets, culinary tourism and public sector food procurement to name a few.  But to take advantage of these opportunities, it is necessary to understand the unique challenges and opportunities within your local food system through activities like asset mapping or food system planning, and to ensure that the right infrastructure is in place (e.g. scale appropriate processing, distribution).

Farmers’ Markets

In 2008, total farmers’ market direct sales in Ontario were estimated to be in the range of $427 million to $641 million leading to an economic impact of $1.9 billion annually within Ontario.[3]  Farmers’ markets and other forms of direct marketing (e.g. on-farm stores) provide an opportunity for farmers to enhance their profitability by selling directly to consumers, and studies have also shown that they help to incubate new businesses by offering low-risk vending opportunities for start-ups.

  • ByWard Market, Ottawa: Established in 1826, ByWard Market is one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets.  It is home to both a farmers’ market and local artisans with over 260 stands and over 500 businesses.  With an average of 50,000 visitors per weekend in the summer, it is Ottawa’s number one tourist attraction and a premiere destination for shopping, dining and entertainment. The market is operated by the City of Ottawa’s Markets Management group, which also oversees the historic Parkdale Market. In 2012, Project for Public Spaces, a non-profit organization, was engaged in the visioning work to develop recommendations based on research and contributions from workshops held with key stakeholders, including community organizations, residents, and government. The recommendations will be reviewed by the City Council for consideration, and affected stakeholders will be engaged for further discussions before recommendations are implemented.

Culinary Tourism

Nearly 100% of all tourists dine out when traveling.[4] In fact, the food and beverage category ranks number one in visitor spending.[5] For many people, sampling local or regional specialties is an important part of their vacation experience. Many communities are making it easier for tourists to find local on-farm markets and restaurants, and some have developed sophisticated marketing programs and events to promote their region as a culinary destination.

  • Foodlink Waterloo Region’s Buy Local! Buy Fresh! Map: The Buy Local! Buy Fresh! map is a consumer guide to food products grown or raised on farms in the Waterloo Region. It has been published annually by Foodlink Waterloo Region since 2002. This map has also been adopted by 12 counties in Ontario[6] including Huron-Perth Farm to Table Network, Chatham-Kent, Elgin County, Brant County and Grey Bruce, as well as in BC and Newfoundland.
  • Savour Ottawa:  Launched by Just Food, a non-profit organization that works on rural/urban food issues in the city, in partnership with Ottawa Tourism and the City of Ottawa (Markets Management and Rural Affairs Branches), Savour Ottawa is a marketing, promotion and verification program for foods grown and made in Ottawa and neighbouring counties,  Membership is open to  restaurants, hotels, caterers, bed and breakfasts, producers, farmers, retailers, supporters, and microprocessors. The members receive support through collective promotional materials, business development events, and harmonized branding. Savour Ottawa received two years of funding from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (approximately $100,000 each year) with matching funds offered through farmers, farmers’ markets, City of Ottawa and Ottawa Tourism.
  • Taste Community Grown, Prince Edward County: Taste Community Grown is an annual food and wine festival, organized by the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association, that celebrates the region’s culinary community from farm to table. The event is supported by the County of Prince Edward, Foodland Ontario, Local Tastes, the Grape Growers of Ontario, and Wine Country Ontario.

Public Sector-Led Food Procurement

In 2008, it was estimated that broader public sector institutions in Ontario spent $1.8 billion on food and beverages.[7] This represents a significant market opportunity for Ontario farmers and food processors.  For example, the Thunder Bay Area Food Strategy Report (2014) states that “shifting even 10% of purchases to locally grown and processed foods would create a $1 million market for farmers and processors.” Local food procurement policies are a way for municipal governments to demonstrate commitment to their local farmers and food processors and to support jobs and economic development in their communities. The Local Food Act, 2013 contains provisions that, once proclaimed, would require the Minister to set targets for use of local food by public sector organizations.

  • City of Markham Sustainable Food Procurement Policy: The City of Markham, working with Local Food Plus, was the first municipality in Canada to adopt local, sustainable procurement policies for its municipal food services. Markham set short and long-term targets for local, sustainable food procurement — 10% of food purchases to be local and sustainable in year one, with a 5% annual increase years two through five — aiming to have 30% of their food purchases be local and sustainable within five years. Other communities, such as the City of Toronto, the Region of Halton and Simcoe County, have followed this example and implemented procurement policies to encourage local food purchasing.
  • Norfolk County’s Local Foods to Health Care Facilities Initiative: This initiative was funded by The Greenbelt Fund, a sister organization of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, as part of funding provided by the provincial government to increase the amount of Ontario food purchased by broader public sector institutions such as daycares, schools, hospitals and long-term care facilities. The project’s objectives included increasing the amount of Ontario food at three Norfolk County health care facilities, developing project communication resources and recommending purchasing policies and procedures that support buying local Ontario foods. Norfolk County partnered with Norfolk District Business Development Corporation (NDBDC), Cedarwood Village Nursing Facility, Norfolk General Hospital and Nursing Home, Norview Lodge long-term care home and VG Meats.

Local Food Processing/Incubation

Ontario’s food manufacturers are important economic drivers in communities in every region of the province, directly employing over 96,000 people in roughly 3,000 establishments across Ontario.[8] They are Ontario farmers’ largest customers, buying almost 65% of the food grown on Ontario farms.[9] Many municipalities have services in place to help new food entrepreneurs get started and scale up, whether that’s through hard infrastructure like commercial kitchen space or program supports like business advisor services.

  • Toronto Food Business Incubator: A non-profit organization that assists entrepreneurs in establishing their own food processing companies. Currently, the TFBI offers half-day workshops on how to develop a business plan and the basics around financing, branding and product development.  TFBI assists new and emerging food processing business with the goal of supporting entrepreneurship and job creation in the food manufacturing industry. Until January 2014, the TFBI operated a 2,000 square foot commercial kitchen with a range of commercial food processing and packaging equipment available to food business start-ups.
  • Agri-Food Venture Centre, Northumberland:  Northumberland County is creating a $1.2 million municipally-owned food business incubator and small-scale niche processing facility with partners across the region. The new Agri-Food Venture Centre will be a 15,000 square foot facility that can process fruits and vegetables into products that can be packaged, labeled and stored at the facility.  The Centre will also provide business assistance to farmers and small-scale processors, as well as teach food preparation to improve nutrition in the region.  The province has provided $490,000 in funding to support the establishment of the facility.

Asset Mapping

To effectively support strong local food systems, it is essential to understand the strengths and needs of the system.  Asset mapping can provide useful data to understand what agri-food assets are currently in place, how they inter-relate and their economic and social impacts.

  • Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance: Supported by funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance undertook a project to identify agri-food supply chain assets across the Golden Horseshoe, including farms, processors, distributors, as well as infrastructure, research centres and related-services that support the sector.  This data has enabled an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the region’s food system and the identification of gaps and emerging opportunities.
  • Northumberland County Business Retention and Expansion Project: In 2011, Northumberland County Economic Development led a Business Retention and Expansion (BR+E) project for local food, with participation from City of Kawartha Lakes, Peterborough, Hastings, Prince Edward, Lennox and Addington and Frontenac Counties, and the Cities of Quinte West and Belleville. Over 360 local food businesses were surveyed across the region, which represented 4,200 jobs in food production, manufacturing, retail and service. The project identified a number of activities, such as the creation of food business incubator, that the region could undertake to support their farm and food businesses and strengthen their region’s food system.


  1. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs website, accessed October 4, 2014
  2. Economic Contribution of Ontario Agriculture. 2013. Ontario Federation of Agriculture
  3. Farmers’ Markets Ontario Impact Study 2009 Report
  4. The International Culinary Tourism Association
  5. Culinary Tourism, A recipe for Economic Development Success
  6. Buy Local Buy Fresh Map
  7. Hammel, Kristine. 2012 Grey Bruce Broader Public Sector Institutional Local Food Project
  8. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs website accessed on October 1, 2014
  9. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs calculations from Statistics Canada data.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *