by Crispin Colvin, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
There is no denying that COVID-19 has made 2020 a challenging year for the agri-food sector. This pandemic has put growers, producers and everyone along the supply chain through countless hardships and challenges. Nevertheless, our sector has persevered. Collectively, we rolled up our sleeves to fulfill our responsibility of keeping consumer plates full of fresh, healthy and affordable food.
The job of feeding the world felt heavier this year. But, your efforts in these trying times has reaped many benefits. Recently, the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) released its 2020 Public Trust report and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is very pleased to see that public trust in Canada’s agri-food sector is at an all-time high.
More specifically, the food system’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is highly praised by Canadians; nearly nine in ten (87%) trust that the food system will continue to supply all Canadians with fresh and affordable food no matter the circumstance. Farmers have continued to take the necessary steps to ensure a healthy food supply chain for all consumers, despite the stress and pressures of our current environment.
Farmers make up a mere 2% of the population and it can feel as though some consumers are not aware of our sector’s struggles to provide them with safe, healthy and affordable food. However, CCFI’s report found that consumers and producers share similar concerns and interests regarding food production and the environment.
As farmers, food safety is always a top priority, and today many consumers have become more mindful of the foods they are purchasing. Many people are looking to create more sustainable choices, influencing their attitudes and behaviors towards various industries. Almost half (45%) believe sustainable food positively impacts the environment and 31% identify sustainable food as food grown locally. Furthermore, 22% believe that sustainable food provides a healthy standard of living for farmers.
We have seen the pandemic create momentum for direct farm gate sales, farmers’ markets and buy local campaigns. When I talk to consumers, they are interested in knowing more about agriculture and our farming practices. People are showing a greater interest, and desire, in knowing where their food is grown as well as how it is grown and by whom it is grown. We have an opportunity to engage and educate our urban neighbours about the business of agriculture.
According to the CCFI’s Public Trust Report, farmers are both the leading industry and the most trusted entity in our food system when discussing public trust among Canadian consumers.
As many as 56% of consumers trust farmers with the food they’re producing and that it’s being done safely. This is a tremendous step in growing public awareness of our farmers’ efforts to produce healthy, sustainable food.
A significant impact of public trust comes from where people are going for information. While the number one source for consumers to get their agricultural information is from websites and Google, the highest credibility ranking goes to farmers at 71%. Sites like Google and other Internet websites often contain inaccurate facts and misinformation.
Farm & Food Care Ontario (FFC-O) champions this cause to equip farmers for these conversations, providing consumers accurate information and realistic insight into modern-day agriculture through their publication The Real Dirt on Farming and 360 virtual farm tours. As an OFA director, I also sit on the Farm and Food Care board as vice-chair, where we offer many resources such as the Speak Up for Agriculture sessions. As well, we provide farmers with the resources they need to learn to be effective communicators for the agri-food community.
Farmers work hard to ensure a safe and sustainable food system for Ontario. OFA will continue to advocate for our Ontario farmers to ensure they are receiving recognition for their efforts across the food chain.
As each of your farm businesses continues to navigate and overcome the hurdles of COVID-19, I hope you do so with newfound motivation. Your commitment and dedication to putting food on consumers’ plates is appreciated.