MUSKOKA – Buying local food has become a pet project of the premier.
The provincial government announced on Oct. 4 that Premier Dalton McGuinty has issued a $10 local food challenge to Ontarians. The challenge urges families to shift $10 of their existing weekly food spending to local food.
According to the government, the initiative is meant to increase sales and create jobs across the province.
“If every Ontario family made the weekly shift it could increase Ontario food sales by $2.4 billion and create 10,000 jobs,” stated the province in a media release.
McGuinty’s challenge is a prelude to the Local Food Act, which is pending legislative approval. The act, states the province, would promote food grown and made in Ontario while setting production, processing, distribution, sales and marketing targets for the province’s food.
Kelli Ebbs, general manager for Savour Muskoka, said area farmers could use the support offered through the buy-local challenge.
“It is an absolutely incredible plan,” said Ebbs. “That is a phenomenal thing to think about – how easy it is to spend $10 on something local and the impact it could have if we all did it.”
She said producers in the region need all the area support they can get, especially with the hot, dry growing season this year.
“The crazy weather in the summer made it hard for a lot of people. Everybody’s crops were decimated by the heat,” she said. “One farmer in the area was feeding her pigs 700 heads of lettuce a week because she couldn’t sell it, it was so bitter from the intense heat.”
And farmers are reporting that straw and hay have doubled in price this year due to drought and many have had to reduce their herd sizes because they cannot afford to feed them.
But farmers are resilient, she said, and the region’s producers have the products to support the challenge issued by the premier.
“The more we can support farmers in other ways, the better. If we can’t buy lettuce from them, let’s buy their lamb,” she said. “It’s been a hard year.”
And the more demand there is locally, the more farmers will produce, said Ebbs. Farmers just need to be able to sell what they grow or raise.
Ebbs noted the national beef recalls are an excellent argument for buying local, too.
“This is something that is point-blank telling us what is wrong with our system. That kind of mass production and processing of meat is dangerous,” she said.
People from across the region are already phoning area meat producers to place orders because they are now refusing to buy processed meat from mass distributors, said Ebbs.
“Everything happens for a reason – thank goodness no one has died – but it is such a great wakeup call for everyone to realize smaller farm, pasture-raised meat is the way to go for so many more reasons than just taste and quality,” she said.
Savour Muskoka lists several regional producers on its website, which can be found at www.savourmuskoka.ca/farmers.