by Nathan Stevens
This week, the Provincial government introduced the Local Food Act, 2013. This act has the potential to be a positive opportunity for government to lead the way on local food. It also represents an opportunity for farmers in Ontario to supply Ontario’s public bodies with local food.
The Act has three simple purposes. The first is to foster successful and resilient local food economies and systems throughout Ontario. The second is to increase awareness of local food in Ontario, including the diversity of local food. The third is to encourage the development of new markets for local food.
The Local Food Act will focus primarily on enabling the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food to establish local food targets for a wide array of publicly-funded institutions. Targets and goals can be set, in consultation with organizations that have an interest in the particular goal or target that is being considered. Every three years a report is to be prepared that assesses the progress being made on achieving the local food goals and targets.
The scope of the Act allows for a selection of which foods are included in a target, which means that the quantitative targets can also have qualitative implications. This will allow government to prioritize certain food types over others if it chooses to do so, based on public concerns. For example, it could set a target for fruits and vegetables in public institutions, but not for other food groups.
Unfortunately, there is no contingency for dealing with price gaps between what an institution can afford and what a farmer needs to be profitable. This means that some targets may be very difficult to achieve for public institutions, especially in an era of tight fiscal situations for both governments and public institutions. If targets must be met, then institutions will be forced to reduce service in other areas.
The Local Food Act has the potential to turn our public institutions into champions of the local food movement. This, in turn, has the potential to benefit many Ontario producers that are focused on producing food for consumers close to home.