This week has been a good one for local food in Ontario.
This week, the Province’s Local Food Act passed its final vote with unanimous all party support. The Act sets out a high level vision for enhancing the economic vitality of local food production and environmental health in Ontario. Highlights of the act include specified areas where the Minister of Agriculture and Food must set goals and targets for public sector procurement of local foods, requiring annual reporting to track progress, and authorizing tax credits to farmers who donate products to food banks.
This Act can help position Ontario to be more: a) self sufficient, by producing more of the food it relies on, b) sustainable – particularly as it relates to using fewer fossil fuels to ship food long distances; and c) supportive of our local agricultural economy.
This is great news but in the grand scheme of things, supporting local sustainable food systems may have benefits that extend even beyond Ontario and the food sector.
We’re already starting to understand that the world is facing a critical challenge. Changing rainfall patterns caused by climate change and severe water shortages are making it increasingly difficult to sustainably grow food for the world’s growing population. The Earth’s current population of 7.2 billion people is twice what it was in the mid-1960s. It is expected to exceed 10 billion people later this century.
At the same time, water supplies used for agriculture around the world are drying up and the pressure on existing water supplies is growing. Some of the world’s most water-stressed areas happen to be where the most people live too, including northern Africa, the Middle East, central and southern Asia, and northern China.
The Great Lakes, on the other hand, hold almost 20 per cent of the world’s available freshwater and supplies 40 million people with drinking water on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. It is one of the most abundant sources of clean, accessible freshwater in the world. Ontario, as such, could be seen as being in a crucial position to help the world adapt to a reality where arable land and water is much scarcer.
Farms in the Great Lakes region and other parts of the Midwest, U.S. will be under greater pressure to produce. Demand for food is growing and the Great Lakes region – including Ontario`s Greenbelt – could evolve into a much more agriculturally dominant area.
But in order for that to happen, we have to do a better job of taking care of that which makes us most special – our land and water. This means that we need to use our resources more efficiently, permanently protect productive farmland, keep harmful pollutants and toxic substances out of the water, and promote sustainable agricultural practices that preserve important environmental areas, including wetlands.
The Local Food Act is a great step forward to helping Ontario better manage and grow our local food production capabilities. We hope the proposed Great Lakes Protection Act (currently being studied further in standing committee) is passed so that we can strengthen protection of our rivers and lakes on which we all depend. We look forward to the day where both pieces of legislation are implemented. Ontarians owe it to the world and its future inhabitants to look after what we are lucky enough to have.