The Im­por­tance of Sup­port­ing Lo­cal

DINE and Destinations - - ONTARIO - By Adam Wax­man

Adam Wax­man: Why is it so dif­fi­cult to find lo­cal On­tario pro­duce in lo­cal On­tario su­per­mar­kets? Premier Kath­leen Wynne: Well, it shouldn’t be. At the On­tario Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture and Food, we give out awards to re­tail­ers for their dis­plays of pro­duce. That is what the On­tario Food­land brand is about. It’s why we have brought in lo­cal food leg­is­la­tion and lo­cal food funds. We’ve got $30 mil­lion that we’re dis­tribut­ing to or­ga­ni­za­tions and com­mu­ni­ties to pro­mote lo­cal food. The re­al­ity is that re­tail is a highly com­pet­i­tive busi­ness, and our pro­duc­ers are com­pet­ing with other sup­pli­ers for shelf space. On­tario Food­land is well-known, and we are re­ward­ing re­tail­ers who dis­play their food in an easy-to-find way. AW: But it does seem that most of the pro­duce I find in the su­per­mar­ket is im­ported. On Satur­day morn­ings, I go to the farm­ers’ mar­ket in Strat­ford. Af­ter­ward, I go to the su­per­mar­ket and sense an an­tag­o­nism be­tween the two. There are sea­sonal re­al­i­ties, but why can’t there be a lo­cal/sea­sonal sec­tion? KW: Some of it is about the sea­sons. That is ab­so­lutely true. At any time of year, there is On­tario pro­duce in our stores—but it is un­even, the way re­tail­ers dis­play it. We’re try­ing to push from the Min­istry by putting an incentive in place to dis­play On­tario food. I am a big sup­porter of farm­ers’ mar­kets. The re­al­ity is that farm­ers’ mar­kets are never go­ing to be able to carry the range of things that a su­per­mar­ket can carry, so we have to be sup­port­ive of both. We’re try­ing to help re­tail­ers and sup­port farm­ers’ mar­kets. I’ve seen dis­plays in su­per­mar­kets of lo­cal pro­duce, par­tic­u­larly in sea­son, in one area in the store, and they’ve re­ally ad­ver­tised it. It is hap­pen­ing, it’s just not hap­pen­ing evenly. AW: Why do lo­cal prod­ucts cost more than im­ports? For ex­am­ple, the best gar­lic in the world is from Perth County, but it costs more than the bleached, im­ported gar­lic we get at the su­per­mar­ket. KW: I’ve had con­ver­sa­tions with gar­lic farm­ers about this. They have labour costs, and the gar­lic com­ing in from Asia does not in­cur those same costs. I’m adamant that we need to sup­port our gar­lic farm­ers. I re­ally want to see us buy­ing On­tario gar­lic, be­cause the taste of On­tario gar­lic is so in­tense and so much stronger. There are in­put costs that our farm­ers have that others don’t, and so again, this is part of why we’re try­ing to sup­port farm­ers with the lo­cal food fund to mar­ket and to raise aware­ness about their pro­duce. Many peo­ple don’t think about where their gar­lic comes from, and don’t even re­al­ize that On­tario gar­lic is strug­gling, and so it’s also buyer aware­ness that we need to deal with. AW: How do we do that? Our lo­cal food move­ment has taken off in restau­rants but it has not reached the home con­sumer on the same level. KW: Some of the projects that we will be fund­ing through the lo­cal food fund will be mar­ket­ing to help par­tic­u­lar re­gions and or­ga­ni­za­tions raise the pro­file of their pro­duce. My hope is that this will fur­ther ad­vance lo­cal food buy­ing. AW: As you can imag­ine, I dine out a lot. One of my big­gest peeves is look­ing at a wine menu and not see­ing an ad­e­quate se­lec­tion of our lo­cal wines. I’d put some of the wines com­ing out of Ni­a­gara and the Twenty Val­ley area up against Ore­gon, Cal­i­for­nia or Italy any day of the week, but I can’t find them in restau­rants, and I can’t even find them at the LCBO. KW: We’ve just put $75 mil­lion into an­other five-year wine-and-grape grow­ers strat­egy, and again, that is about get­ting the word out. We’re look­ing at chang­ing the rules around farm­ers’ mar­kets, and what can be sold at farm­ers’ mar­kets. We’re try­ing to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for more of our vine­yards and our vint­ners in On­tario, be­cause they are fan­tas­tic. It’s about pro­file. As a gov­ern­ment, we haven’t re­ally tack­led the restau­rant in­dus­try on this. Grape grow­ers and wine­mak­ers have been do­ing their own dis­tri­bu­tion, so it is some­thing that we need to look at, be­cause we could do a much bet­ter job of mak­ing sure that On­tario wines make it into our restau­rants. This is a young in­dus­try. Thirty years ago, no­body wanted to drink On­tario wine. Now we all want to drink On­tario wine, and it’s not just wine, its craft brew­eries as well. How do we ex­pand the dis­tri­bu­tion? How do we work with the LCBO to make sure they are pro­vid­ing the shelf space? You know, it’s a lot bet­ter than it was 10 years ago, and it will con­tinue to im­prove. The other area is in ex­port­ing. There are ex­port op­por­tu­ni­ties that need to be ex­panded as well. AW: Has culi­nary tourism had sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on our lo­cal economies? KW: It’s been crit­i­cal. Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen par­tic­u­lar re­gions of the prov­ince tak­ing on a per­son­al­ity. Prince Ed­ward County be­ing a wine des­ti­na­tion, for ex­am­ple. Nor­folk County has as­para­gus and pump­kins, and par­tic­u­lar things that they do very well, and they draw peo­ple on a sea­sonal ba­sis. We are see­ing that dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion around the prov­ince. It is very im­por­tant that the gov­ern­ment plays a role in pro­mot­ing that, and that is one of the parts of the Lo­cal Food Act—to help re­gions to pro­mote them­selves. AW: How can we, as con­sumers, sup­port our farm­ers? KW: It’s buy­ing lo­cal pro­duce, but it’s also ask­ing the re­tail­ers where the lo­cal prod­ucts are, and be­ing re­ally as­sertive about want­ing to see On­tario prod­ucts first. In sit­u­a­tions where there might be a dif­fer­ence in cost, mak­ing it clear that those of us who can are will­ing to pay a bit more for On­tario pro­duce. AW: But why should we have to pay more for On­tario pro­duce? KW: What peo­ple have to rec­og­nize is the vol­ume that our farm­ers are pro­duc­ing com­pared to other mar­kets. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the re­tailer and the pro­ducer, and how those con­tracts are put into place, is highly com­pet­i­tive. We want to sup­port our lo­cal pro­duc­ers and make them com­pet­i­tive with other mar­kets, so the more vol­ume that we can pro­mote, the bet­ter off our farm­ers will be.

An in­ter­view with the Hon­ourable Kath­leen Wynne, Premier of On­tario and Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture and Food.

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