By Brent Royce
Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Every year in early June, Ontario sets aside one full week, designated as Local Food Week, to celebrate and recognize the abundance of fresh, affordable local food we are privileged to have access to across the province. This year, the Local Food Week celebration runs June 1-7.
As the agriculture industry continues to wade through extensive obstacles and struggles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no time like the present to celebrate and support Ontario farmers who have been working tirelessly to keep our food supply chain moving from farm to fork. Throughout COVID-19, Ontarians have continued to have access to a diverse range of products grown, produced and processed across the province.
Ontario’s agri-food sector has a tremendous impact on the provincial economy, contributing more than $47 billion to the province’s annual GDP and employing over 837,000 Ontarians. There are 49,600 farms across the province working every day to grow and produce more than 200 different fresh, safe and nutritious products for all consumers to enjoy.
There is no question that the COVID-19 crisis has significantly disrupted mainstream market channels for many Ontario products due to the closing of restaurants, hospitality venues, tourism and farmers’ markets. However, farmers are known for their passion, resiliency and dedication to producing high-quality products for consumers and they continue to adapt to the circumstances of today’s environment in order to sell those products. In recent months, we have seen farm businesses pivot their business models to service new and alternative markets to reach their consumers. Asparagus farmers have incorporated drive thru options for purchasing and picking up locally-grown asparagus, the backroads have an increased number of farm gate fruit, vegetable, and flower stands, and farms normally open to the public now offer curbside pick-up or they’ve implemented their own delivery services. Farmers are committed to complying with public health protocols and recommendations to ensure customer safety and allow consumers the ability to enjoy the great taste of local Ontario grown food.
Farm businesses pivoting or adapting their business models to reach consumers can explore a variety of options and resources. For farmers interested in reaching customers online, Local Line is a platform that may be an option to explore at www.localline.ca. OFA members receive a 30-day free trial, account set-up, website builder and 20% off their first-year subscription. Additionally, OFA has developed the Guide for Direct Sales to Consumers During COVID-19 and Beyond, which offers ideas for exploring alternative market channels, tips on setting up your operation, and marketing your products using social media and other online tools. The Guide is available at ofa.on.ca and visiting our Resources section.
Although the pandemic has delayed the opening of Ontario farmers’ markets for the 2020 growing season, with the help of the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association there is guidance to assist farm marketers with navigating new protocols for when they re-open sometime between late-June and mid-July. As markets begin to re-open and measures surrounding social distancing guidelines are lifted or reduced, farm businesses and marketers intend to offer consumers the same high-quality products they’ve come to know and love while supporting their local agricultural community.
A silver lining throughout the pandemic is that families are spending more time together at home and in the kitchen preparing meals and sourcing local ingredients. During Local Food Week, OFA’s Six by Sixteen food literacy initiative has partnered with Farm & Food Care Ontario and AgScape to celebrate and promote the wide variety of Ontario foods and beverages available all year long. The celebration will include six Farm to Facebook live tours and a three-recipe live cooking demonstration hosted by food influencer and chef, Andrea Buckett. For anyone interested in tuning into the live demonstration, you will learn about where the ingredients were grown and the backstory behind each local ingredient. For more information on this event, visit www.farmfoodcareon.org/local-food-week.
Support your farming community during Local Food Week by filling your plates with fresh, healthy food grown right here at home.