By Teresa Van Raay
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Monday marked the kick-off of Local Food Week in Ontario. It’s an annual highlight for our industry and all the hardworking individuals that grow, nurture and harvest the food that nourishes Ontarians, the province and the world. This special week of recognition takes place from June 6-12 and is the opportune time to celebrate the abundance of fresh, healthy food that is grown, produced, and processed right here at home. It’s the perfect month to commemorate local food as the growing season gains momentum with early season favourites such as asparagus, field strawberries and rhubarb.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) challenges everyone to take a moment this week to pause, reflect and celebrate how lucky we are to have easy, affordable access to high-quality foods. It’s important that we recognize the critical links in the supply chain that work tirelessly to ensure Ontarians have food on the table that is proudly grown, produced or raised in Ontario. From field-to-fork, more than 10% of Ontario’s labour force is employed in the agri-food sector in our province.
Whether farmer or consumer; we can all partake in celebrating Local Food Week by sourcing, purchasing and preparing local meats, produce, grains, preserves, beverages and condiments. Visit a community farmers’ market to gather in-season goodies such as produce, flowers and herbs. Additionally, be sure to check out community butcher shops, local restaurants and bakeries.
Local food is more available and accessible than ever before. The 2021 Census of Agriculture shows marked increases in farms reporting direct to consumer sales across many categories, including farm gate sales, U-pick operations, farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture. The census also captured a surging number of farms offering direct deliveries to consumers, a pandemic-driven trend that is expected to continue. Many municipalities prepare directories, maps, tours and ‘buy local’ campaigns to help consumers access local food direct from the farmer. Try a quick internet search to see what’s available in your area or check out Farm Fresh Ontario to find a local farm.
My family farm business sells direct to consumer, and we are beyond thankful for the public’s interest in local food. Ontario farmers work around the clock to provide high-quality food and meeting our customers makes all our efforts worth it. Our on-farm store provides us with the opportunity to connect with our customers and I love to answer their questions on modern-day farming practices. We truly love what we do and we couldn’t do it without the support of our community. Thank you to everyone that has taken the initiative to know their community farmers and who continues to support them through sourcing local.
Oftentimes, summer crops are featured as local and consumers are left wondering where to find local for the remainder of the year. Remember, local food is always in season and readily accessible. Local food extends beyond seasonal fruits and vegetables. It also includes a diverse range of commodities from the dairy in your fridge to the meat on your barbeque. Ontario meat, eggs, grains and dairy are in season throughout the year. Agri-food workers also go to great lengths to process frozen vegetables, jams, pickles and other high-quality products so that we can enjoy local all year round. Local food can be found in nearly every aisle of the grocery store 24-7.
Celebrate Local Food Week by utilizing OFA’s Always in Season toolkit, resources and ideas to highlight the agri-food sector year-round. To commemorate Local Food Week, Always in Season’s I ❤️ local Social Media Planning Kit provides free, public images for download to share and acknowledge the agriculture, food and beverage sector across the province. These visuals can also be shared throughout the year to show year-round support for locally grown products.
Sourcing, preparing and plating local food is the perfect family affair that teaches youth valuable food literacy skills for life. Welcome every member of the family into the kitchen to prepare delicious recipes with local food sourced from the farmers’ market, grocery store or farm gate.
OFA’s Six by Sixteen campaign aims to engage young people in preparing healthy, local food meals, and is full of resources including virtual tutorials hosted by a certified chef, recipes and fun activities for youth.
Celebrate Ontario agriculture throughout the year by consciously choosing to source and purchase local food products. Ontario’s farmers grow and produce over 200 commodities that feed our province, our country and the world. Purchasing local supports your neighbourhood farmers, processors, and small businesses while supporting the local economy and contributing to community economic recovery.
OFA encourages everyone to take advantage of all the local food products available throughout this growing season at grocery stores, farmers’ markets or farm gate stands. Let’s all celebrate this wonderful week and enjoy the best Ontario has to offer by filling your plates and cups with locally grown, produced and raised foods.