Letter to Premier Wynne Concerning the Local Food Act

Click image for full text of letter to Premier.

The Government of Ontario, under the leadership of Premier and Minister of Agriculture and Food Kathleen Wynne, recently introduced Bill 36 – An Act to Enact the Local Food Act (2013). The aim of Bill 36 is to foster resilient local food systems throughout Ontario in addition to increasing awareness of and encouraging the development of new markets for local food.

As previously stated, Sustain Ontario and its members welcome the reintroduction of the Local Food Act and believe that such legislation is vital to ensuring an equitable, ecological, sustainable, and prosperous food system.

A diverse array of organizations, including Sustain Ontario, have come together to highlight certain key areas that should be emphasized in further developing and implementing local food policy. These key areas are outlined in a letter addressed to Premier Wynne and signed by representatives of those organizations (view full letter by clicking image at beginning of post).

Beyond promoting awareness of local food and improving procurement, signatories believe that in order to achieve its full potential in making Ontario a leader in developing sustainable and healthy food systems, the Local Food Act and/or subsequent regulations or programming should include the following strategies and goals:

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Local Food Act Coverage

By: Ravi Singh

Last Monday, the Government of Ontario reintroduced the Local Food Act, which had previously died when parliament was prorogued in late 2012.

The preamble of the Act, which builds upon the principle that “Strong local and regional food systems deliver economic benefits and build strong communities”, puts forth the following objectives:

  •  To foster successful and resilient local food economies and systems throughout Ontario
  • To increase awareness of local food in Ontario, including the diversity of local food
  • To encourage the development of new markets for local food.

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People and politicians must value local agriculture

By Jamie Reaume, Executive Director of the Holland Marsh Grower’s Association

“We, the undersigned, believe that a healthy food system is necessary to meet the urgent challenges of our time… Governments have a duty to protect people from malnutrition, unsafe food, and exploitation, and to protect the land and water on which we depend from degradation. (FoodDeclaration.org)

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I was recently asked by a City of Toronto politician why it was important that the city fathers consider agriculture important. My response was clear: “Do your constituents eat?” People, regardless of where they live, require four basic things: air, water, shelter, and food.

Canada needs a commitment on healthy food and farming, something like our American brethren came up with in the Food Declaration. We are out of touch with what is happening in the countryside. Today’s farmer is doing more, in Canada, with less, than ever before. There are fewer, but older farmers, less farmland (which, in itself is a problem that will need to be addressed in the future as we continue to pave over all of the best growing lands in Canada), and no prospects for a future generation interested in taking over the reins.

Farming has always been brutal, hard, bloody, and difficult – at the best of times. That must be understood by a society that has seen dramatically altered perceptions over the past four decades of globalized food acquisition. Conventional and organic fruit and vegetable production are still reliant upon labour at harvest time. If the sun is out, and strawberries are ready to be picked, they are out there – both organic and conventional workers.

So how do we value local food production and the whole range of ecological services that farmers undertake – but that the public doesn’t see? There are hundreds of books, movies, and multi-media items about the “industrial” farm and its take over of our society but it is simply not the case in Canada. More than 97 per cent of all farms in Ontario and Canada are family owned and operated. And their farmers have an interest in looking after the land, air, and water. Farmers are entrepreneurs, business and community leaders, and environmentalists, activists, and socialists. They are fighting not just for themselves but for their fellow Ontarians; their fellow Canadians. They are feeding an exploding global population.

A new attitude is needed – specifically one that affirms what many of us already know: this is a vibrant, exciting business desperately needing a focus rather than excuses. Ontario, and Canadian, farmers are actively looking for new ways to handle production; new ways to add value to what they do; and new opportunities to move what it is they produce. There is nothing wrong with that – except they are continually stymied by ineffective rules and regulations that were developed at the turn of the century – the 20th Century not this new Millennium. Times have changed and outdated and outmoded legislation has done nothing but keep farming, as a business, on the backburners of our society.

Governments – all levels – must quickly come to the realization that Canada is one of the very few countries that could be sustainable unto itself. As a resource-based nation, we are blessed with overwhelming access to that which other countries can only dream about, and we need to speak up and re-establish agriculture as a vital ministry within the governments. Agriculture is the only industry found in all provinces and territories.

Being a net importer of food begs the question, when the borders are closed and the countries whose names we can’t pronounce stop shipping their cheaply produced food to us in order to feed their own citizens, what will Canadians eat? A country that cannot feed itself cannot be considered a country. And yet, the entire Canadian food system could wind up turning to 1.5% of the global population to ensure that there is food for 33-million Canadians.

Farmers need to get out a key message that can be used by all stakeholders, including government: farmers are the stewards of the land – they provide more than food – they are conservationists, protectors of the land for future generations, returning enriched oxygen to a carbon-filled atmosphere. Farmers are making contributions towards energy, biomass conversion, protecting water sources, developing environmental farm plans that showcase and highlight the conservationist nature of the industry, while, at the same time, providing food and fiber. And that’s just the tip of it.

By linking marketing, development, environment, and a program that ensures farmers of today are able to look at handing off their operations to future generation, agriculture will survive, thrive, and prosper.

On its own, each farm is an entrepreneurial effort. Collectively, agriculture and agri-food becomes the number two economic driver in this province, providing more than 730,000 jobs. Again, a message lost in the chaos of day-to-day life.

Finally, there is a way for government to contribute. Is it too much to ask that local, seasonal food be served to this province’s guests for fancy dinners? Or at any other government run facility and cafeteria? Token samples and displays are flights of fancy – and most of us see through them. If local consumption starts from the top down, more and more of our citizens will begin to see the value our province can provide – not just from agriculture but also from all economic sectors.

“We have a duty to respect and honour the labours of the land without whom we could not survive.” (Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture)

Local Food AND Biodiversity Conservation, not Either/Or

by Joshua Wise, Ontario Nature

Local food and biodiversity conservation, not either/or. 

Ontario’s farmers play a unique dual role as both producers of our food as well as stewards of much of the province’s landscape. In order to strike a healthy balance for rural Ontario’s economic, cultural and conservation goals we need to make sure a system is in place to provide incentives for farmers trying to conserve our natural habitats.

The introduction of the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) created uncertainty within the farming community about the potential consequences of stewardship, and in particular the restoration of habitats such as wetlands and grasslands. What would happen if an endangered species were to move in once a habitat were restored? Would it limit a farmer’s ability to work their land? Would the hammer of the law descend? This uncertainty can create a disincentive for farmers who might otherwise want to initiate new conservation projects on unproductive portions of their land. With a large proportion of endangered species in southern Ontario found on private land, it is clear that the farming community is an important partner in implementing solutions for conservation.

Safe Harbour stewardship agreements under the ESA can help to address this concern. Safe Harbour agreements are voluntary, time-limited stewardship agreements which ensure that if a landowner restores habitat for an endangered species, they will retain the option of undoing those actions at a later date. These agreements also cover  “incidental take” (harm to a species) that may occur throughout the duration of the agreement. Safe Harbour agreements ensure that farmers who wish to create or restore natural features to their property can do so, and embrace the appearance of endangered species on their land, rather than fear it.

These agreements have yet to be implemented in Ontario. Recognizing the balance and flexibility provided by this type of agreements 15 groups, representing agricultural and conservation interests sent a letter to the government requesting their implementation earlier this month. (http://www.ontarionature.org/protect/campaigns/PDFs/Safe%20Harbour%20ltr%20Minister%20Jeffrey.pdf).

Looking towards the future of Ontario, we must make sure that sustainable food includes agricultural practices that sustain the rich web of life of which we are a part. To this end, we need to ensure these two interests  – sustainable local food and biodiversity conservation – are not placed at odds with one another, but rather coexist in harmony.

-        For more information on Safe Harbour agreements visit (http://www.ontarionature.org/protect/campaigns/safe_harbour.php)

If you’d like to see where the four major political parties stand on food and endangered species, check out:  http://www.greenprosperity.ca/platforms/

Ontario Nature is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters and 140 member groups across Ontario. We work closely with Ontario’s farming community to help create inclusive solutions that benefit both Ontario’s farming community and our wild species and wild spaces.