Ontario Agriculture Week

For the past fifteen years the week before Thanksgiving has been Ontario Agriculture week. This is a time to recognize the food farmers grow, but it is also much more. It is also an opportunity to recognize how our farmers care for the land and to acknowledge their contributions to our rural communities and our provincial economy. However the Local Food Act that is now before the Ontario Legislature is threatening to eliminate it.

Most people are surprised by that fact. While the Local Food Act is mentioned frequently in the media many people are unaware of what it actually proposes, and perhaps more importantly what is missing. As introduced the Local Food Act would only allow the Minister of Agriculture to set targets for the broader public sector to aspire to, requires the Minister to report on Local Food every three years and replaces Ontario Agriculture week with Local Food Week. While it’s important to recognize local food we don’t believe taking away Ontario Agriculture Week is the solution.

We believe that the Local Food Act can do much, much more. We believe that it should have an impact on local food across Ontario, not just in government buildings.

Over the past six months the PC Caucus held local food roundtables in Woodstock, London, Windsor, Stratford, Kingston and Ottawa to bring together local food groups, restaurants, retailers, processors and farmers and hear their ideas on what we can do to strengthen Ontario’s food system. Two things that we heard strongly were the importance of helping the farmers who produce our food with the challenges they are facing and the need for more food education.

We’ve all heard stories of young people who are graduating from school without basic cooking skills and enough nutritional knowledge. In fact a study by Farmers Feed Cities found that only 41% of 18- to 34-year-olds claim to be aware of where their food is grown.

That’s why we have announced that we are putting forward an amendment to the Local Food Act to require food education in all grades.

We are also putting forward an amendment to create a tax credit for farmers who donate crops to a food bank and an amendment to create separate weeks for Local Food Week and Ontario Agriculture Week.

A Food Act is an opportunity to have a real impact on Ontario’s food system – from field to fork. It’s an opportunity that we don’t believe should be missed. Over the next two weeks the Legislative Committee on Social Policy will be holding hearings on the Local Food Act. I encourage you to share your thoughts on what should be included by emailing the committee clerk at william_short@ontla.ola.org.

Hopefully this Ontario Agriculture Week we will celebrate by making long term positive changes to help Ontario’s farmers and strengthen Ontario’s food system. And hopefully it won’t be the last time we celebrate it.