by Peggy Brekveld, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Sometimes, you leave a meeting and think, “That was a great meeting. I am really glad that happened.” It can be an insightful comment, an engaged group of participants, action to follow up on, or confirmation the organization is on the right track.
I had one of those meetings recently. Being at the helm of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), a president’s schedule would typically be filled with in-person speaking engagements, meetings, workshops and events. COVID-19 has unfortunately limited our face-to-face interactions and has put a pause on informal chats over a cup of coffee or a shared meal.
Our connections have pivoted to virtual, but the goal of Farms and Food Forever remains strong, as staff and board members continue to work alongside industry partners and stakeholders advocating for a resilient and dynamic agri-food sector.
With COVID-19 protocols in place, you may no longer see me shaking hands with politicians, but my days are still full of emails, calls and virtual meetings connecting with government representatives to advocate for a profitable agri-food sector on behalf of our 38,000 farming families, and connecting with members just like you.
Although we remain physically distanced, our organization is committed to hearing from grassroots voices and wants to ensure local federations are connected to the work being done at the provincial level.
This week, I hosted the first of two President’s Roundtables with the intent to have transparent, open dialogue with local federation presidents from across the province.
The roundtable served as a virtual check-in to see how everyone is navigating the pandemic, keeping their membership engaged, and how OFA can offer additional support on current issues or priorities. It was an opportunity for county and regional leaders to ask questions, share concerns and engage in an open floor discussion.
Despite this busy time of year, county leaders were able to take a lunch break from the field with no additional travel time, to share their local activities and concerns. Some noted that while they also miss in-person meetings, the option for online gatherings allows for discussions on emerging issues without the logistical burden of scheduling farm tasks, travel and accommodations.
It also allows for more flexibility in terms of having members log in and join from anywhere. With the click of a button on their laptop, tablet or smartphone, members can be connected to local federation meetings without the challenge of leaving the farm.
A silver lining of the pandemic is that we can easily host roundtables on virtual platforms and have representation present from all corners of the province.
There were 11 counties that attended last week’s roundtable and shared current county projects and initiatives during introductions. I was pleased to hear that many federations are currently working on farm safety initiatives, ag awareness projects and championing for agriculture through virtual presentations and meetings with all levels of local government.
A shared point of concern during these conversations focused on how to contain urban sprawl, Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs), resisting the pressure to develop farmland and the re-zoning/classification of agricultural land. This recurring theme of concern fits the mandate of our recently launched Home Grown Campaign.
The campaign aims to educate consumers on the detrimental impacts urban sprawl has on farmland and protecting our domestic food supply chain. To date, the campaign has received over 13,000 signatures from supportive citizens.
Preserving farmland for future generations and protecting the domestic food supply chain remains a top priority for OFA. Based on the examples and concerns shared by county presidents in this first roundtable, we know there is a growing need to continue amplifying the message of farmland preservation.
Whether virtual or in-person, connecting with our county and regional federations always requires an investment of time by our grassroots leaders. I appreciate the presidents who carved an hour out of their busy schedules to attend my first President’s Roundtable. We are pleased to have grassroots leadership that is strong and engaged.
I look forward to hearing from more federations during our July 16 meeting, and hope to establish these roundtables as a recurring open dialogue event for years to come.