By Sara Wood, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
February 22 was Canada’s Agriculture Day – an annual event that brings both consumers and farmers together to celebrate the local food we all love to enjoy and the hardworking contributors across the food value chain that nurture it from field-to-fork.
In Ontario, we are privileged to have access to a bounty of fresh, nutritious, affordable foods produced right here on our own farmland and available all year-round. Over 200 diverse food products are grown, produced and raised by farmers in Ontario. As an economic powerhouse, the agri-food sector in our province contributes more than $47 billion annually to the economy and employs over 860,400 Ontarians.
Even in the heart of winter, local food surrounds us and can be found at the grocery store, farmers’ market or purchased directly from the farm. Ontario tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce and strawberries are accessible throughout the year, thanks to a strong and innovative greenhouse industry. Our emerging controlled-climate vertical farming sector provides Ontarians with leafy greens, microgreens and baby greens as well. Ontario dairy products are always readily no matter what season we’re in as dairy cows continue producing high quality milk that that is processed into butter, cheese, cream, yogurt and ice-cream. Keep an eye out for the blue cow logo that promises the items in your cart are made with 100% Canadian milk.
Additionally, the meat and poultry sector steadily produces and processes farm fresh products. Ontarians can purchase and enjoy fresh meat and poultry by visiting their local butcher shop, grocery store or directly from farmers in their community. Ontario grown vegetables can be found in the freezer aisle and were flash-frozen at peak freshness, preserving all the nutrients. They are an affordable and healthy way to enjoy Ontario produce in the colder temperatures.
If your taste desires, remember to pair your meal with local beer, cider, wine and spirits. Ontario craft brewers source local hops and grains, cideries frequent Ontario orchards and the VQA medallion ensures that your wine is made entirely from Ontario grapes.
Although this is certainly cause for celebration, it also provides us with a stark reminder. Ontario continues to lose an average of 175 acres of productive farmland to urban development every day. With Ontario’s average farm size being 249 acres, this equates to a loss of 5 family farms per week. To add context, in one year, 175 acres can produce 58,000 packages of bacon, 1.3 million servings of nachos, 532,400 turkey dinners, 1.1 million quarter pounders, 273,000 chicken wings, or enough eggs to make 2.9 million omelettes.
Without serious intervention to preserve farmland, the Canadian foods we all love to enjoy could potentially disappear forever. Farmers are tirelessly dedicated and proud to provide food for the province, country and world, but we simply cannot grow food without arable land. We all have a role to play in preserving farmland and that contribution is making the conscious choice to source local. Buying local is good for the economy, better for the environment, supports our domestic food supply chain, contributes to farm businesses and rural communities and encourages the preservation of farmland for future generations.
Closer to home, sourcing local is a fundamental part of a healthy diet for you and your family. Local food not only tastes better, but it is superior in quality, nutrition and freshness. The benefits of sourcing local are abundant. But, from my experience, the most significant impact is the human connection that’s established. When you source local you start a relationship and connection with that local farmer and their family.
Through conversation Ontarians can learn the love, care and dedication that farmers put into raising the crops and livestock that nourish our family and yours. Through connecting with our customers, we are re-connecting them with the agri-food supply chain. Re-establishing that connection is the goal of OFA’s new pilot project alongside Farm & Food Care Ontario – Source Local. I’m a poultry farmer, but I’m also a director, mother, wife, friend and athlete. I share the values of family, quality, taste, community and health with Ontario consumers.
Today and every day, let’s raise a fork to the food we love, the people who produce it and the consumers who purchase it.