Best parts of Local Food Act are still M.I.A.

By MPP Toby Barrett
As we drive the countryside this time of year and see the many crops coming off the fields, it’s apparent we are blessed. We live, work and play in Ontario’s Garden, the Golden Garden – the country’s most diverse agricultural area.

Due to our diverse soil types and warmer-than-average climate, growers enjoy long seasons to give us an abundance of extraordinary foods. Our rich riding of Haldimand-Norfolk is Canada’s leading grower of asparagus, cabbage, cucumbers, ginseng, peppers, pumpkins, squash, zucchini, sour cherries, strawberries and sweet corn.

For those looking for something a bit sweeter, we have honey, maple syrup and a host of successful wineries. The riding is also home to many family-owned butchers, with local beef and other meats at the forefront.

Projects and programs to promote our locally-grown food are ongoing and we now see health care facilities serving up fresh from the farm produce. This should be encouraged in other government organizations across Ontario, rather than buying packaged food from around the globe.

Over the past year there has been much discussion and debate concerning The Local Food Act; despite the bill being passed, certain parts of the bill have not come into effect.

After receiving all-party support in the Legislature and given Royal Assent, legislation must be proclaimed before going into effect. The government can choose whether to proclaim the whole bill at once, or as they did in this case, chose not to proclaim certain sections.

From what I can determine, the sections of the Local Food Act that have not come into effect are those which require the Minister of Agriculture, within one year, to set targets and goals for:
* Encouraging increased use of local food by public sector organizations; and
* Increasing access to local food through a tax credit for farmers who donate to community food programs and food banks – an amendment made by the PC Caucus.

I’m disappointed that after claiming to be a champion of local food, Premier Wynne has been sitting on the best parts of the Local Food Act.

Making excess produce available to local food banks is an innovative idea but the longer we wait to see this come to fruition, those dependent on the food bank will continue to miss out on the area’s bounty. It seems to be an idea everyone but the government is eating up!

Haldimand-Norfolk is a leader in promoting locally grown food, and has expanded its work into health care facilities. Norfolk County’s Local Foods to Health Care Facilities Initiative was funded by the Greenbelt Fund, a sister organization of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. Who wouldn’t want to receive meals made from local food during a hospital stay, for example?

We see Community Food Centres popping up across the province. In my colleague Randy Pettapiece’s riding, there’s The Local in Stratford. It’s a welcoming place where people come together to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food. They often provide emergency access to high quality food in a dignified setting that doesn’t compromise self-worth.

Government inaction has created a double whammy for Ontario. Farmers are losing out on increased sales, and those who need it most are being robbed of increasing healthy, local produce in their diets. Our most nutritious and cost-effective food is right here at home, so it’s time government eats up the idea.