Helping public institutions jump on the local-food bandwagon

Long list of potential benefits starts with consumer access

By: Dick Snyder

Every Sunday from January 11 to February 1, we'll be publishing Greenbelt Fund-focused articles by respected journalist Dick Snyder. The four-part series, which will first run in the Toronto Star on the Saturdays preceding our posts, will highlight the diverse and innovative local food successes of our farmers, schools, hospitals, industries, and other Greenbelt Fund partners.

Over the course of our four-part series on how the Greenbelt Fund is affecting change in local food, we’ve heard many perspectives and opinions on how to improve consumer access to local foods.

We’ve also examined how local food initiatives positively impact economies, businesses, health and the environment.

It seems that the biggest challenge — and the biggest opportunity for our local food producers — is to get more products into public institutions. 

According to the experts we’ve talked to, here’s what we need to do.

Define “local”

The Local Food Act requires that only one ingredient in a food product be locally sourced.

But Foodland Ontario generally states that a product is local if it is grown or raised within Ontario. When it comes to processed food, Foodland Ontario defines it as local if the majority of the ingredients come from the province and 80 percent of the direct costs must return here. “If we are to measure results, we all need to be using the same measuring stick,” says Peter Bozzer of Gordon Food Service.

Bring cooking back

Mary Weiler of St. James Catholic High School in Guelph suggests getting rid of the microwaves and reheating units and bringing back kettles, ovens and knives. Let the people cook.

Reframe the concept of cost 

Local food doesn’t have to be more expensive (or not that much more, anyway).

Chef and food activist Joshna Maharaj was able to create scratch meals at Scarborough General for just 33 cents more per meal than the existing budget.

Look at the big picture

“The (Local Food Act) is an example of a much more effective public procurement strategy, one that takes into account social, environmental and economic practices.

“Any public dollar that is spent with a social purpose behind it carries more value than just the dollar,” says Bozzer.

Share ideas

The Greenbelt Fund hosts regular networking events to bring people in the food industry together and learn about how each unit is doing business and innovating. There’s power in partnerships.

Food literacy

Teach students about the holistic benefits of local food, and they’ll choose it over fast food.

“When students are engaged and know more about where it’s coming from and the benefits, they make the right choices,” says Soni Craik of EcoSource.

Protect food budgets

Broader public sector operators need to know their food budgets are stable and will not fluctuate. 

Food budgets should not be lumped in with operations and maintenance.

 

Getting to the heart of local-food buying means peeling back the layers. Read Toronto Environmental Alliance's Story Here.