Local Foods Act falls short

Last week, MPPs debated Bill G36—the Local Foods Act.
In theory, the idea of a Local Foods Act is a great idea. Local foods are vital to the health and well-being of our communities and successful family farms are vital parts of our local economies.
When I think of a Local Foods Act, instinctively I think of a document that outlines how government will support local foods and the concrete steps it will take to enhance and grow this very important industry.
Steps like a long-term commitment to researching our unique regional eco-systems to enhance productivity and yields; educating the public about healthy food choices and promoting agri-foods as a career choice; creating initiatives that make local foods more accessible; and supporting our local farmers’ markets.
But other than establishing a Local Foods Week, which would be the same week as Agriculture Week and thus compete for attention, the proposed bill does little to support local foods.
Instead, the only other components of the bill are that it allows for the minister to eventually set goals, if she chooses, after consulting with hand-picked stakeholders.
Unfortunately, we in the north have seen what happens when government hand-picks its stakeholders, with policies such as the Far North Act resulting from such short-sighted approaches.
I would like to see a guarantee that Northwestern Ontario producers not only are included in the process, but that any future goals include northern-specific priorities.
Programs such as forage insurance often leave out unique northern species, and there is a strong belief on the part of northern farmers that the program is in need of a major review.
The Agricorp program also is in desperate need of review.
Farmers are growing frustrated with these programs and despite making equal payments to be part of the program, northerners feel we are being treated differently and unfairly.
Certainly I believe government could be doing more to support our local farmers’ markets. It always is a pleasure to be able to visit the Clover Valley Farmers’ Market in Fort Frances and the Cloverbelt Farmers’ Market in Oxdrift, and the producers who supply these markets do an outstanding job of reaching out to other communities.
Many of these producers travel hours to regularly attend markets in Sioux Lookout, Kenora, Red Lake, and Atikokan. But serving these additional markets also poses its own set of challenges, including the associated transportation, storage, and refrigeration.
In addition, “community gardens” across our region help many experience fresh fruits and vegetables of their own.
Our region’s agriculture industry is doing an excellent job ensuring communities across Northwestern Ontario have access to fresh, safe, and healthy locally-produced foods. Good government policy can help extend that reach while promoting this important industry as a career choice for our youth.
While the proposed Local Foods Act is more of “a plan to make a future plan,” I believe there is a chance it could be strengthened after being reviewed at committee.
For that reason, I supported it in its second reading.
To see my entire speech on the Local Foods Act, you can view it online at www.YouTube.com/krrndp