Four Ontario Institutions Use Purchasing Power Worth $10 million to Put More Local Food on the Table

June 6, 2014

Four Ontario Institutions Use Purchasing Power Worth $10 million
to Put More Local Food on the Table

3P Mentorship Program helps public institutions push the market to be responsive to local food needs

Four Ontario public institutions, representing more than $10 million in food purchasing power, are collaborating on a shared vision to get more local food into their facilities. This first cohort of the Public Purse Procurement (3P) Mentorship Program, represented by two campuses and two healthcare facilities, are using the power of their dollars to drive purchases of local, sustainable foods and to help build a more resilient local food system.

An additional 10% spent on local food by the cohort would represent a $1 million dollar investment in the local food system. Through the program, each facility is supported to explore strategic ways to work with their suppliers to get more Ontario fruits, vegetables, and protein to the table for their staff, students, patients, and residents.

Health Sciences North (Sudbury), Queens University (Kingston), Humber College (Toronto), and Sunnyside Home (Kitchener-Waterloo) have been selected to be in the first cohort of the program. Each facility is pursuing individual goals that align with their facility’s mission and that create a positive impact for the food system. Two longtime partners in the non-profit world facilitate the program: My Sustainable Canada (an NGO specializing in purchasing for social good) and MEALsource (a healthcare group purchasing organization), with funding from theGreenbelt Fund, who named the duo Local Food Champions in 2012.

“This program is about sharing the lessons we’ve learned and supporting the cohort to ask questions about their food. In the last three years I’ve seen a transformation in the way the market is able to source and identify the origin of foods. This started because there are a whole lot of us who have started asking questions,” says Hayley Lapalme, MSC’s Program Designer. “Institutions have huge buying power, so when they ask about local food it has the power to drive the supply chain innovation that is needed to make our food systems more sustainable and accountable to local needs. Plus it takes the burden of ‘doing the right thing’ off the underemployed millennial, the new Canadian, or the single mom.”

“Public dollars for public good, that’s what we’re working for,” says Wendy Smith, Materiel Management Analyst with MEALsource. “Our first project with MSC back in 2011 began our journey towards an awareness of our duty to support the communities in which we serve while complying with our procurement rules laid out in the Broader Public Sector Procurement Directive. Now we’re looking to repeat that success with this cohort.”

“We want to increase the quality of the food we purchase, which is prepared from scratch in-house,” says Barb Collins, Food Services Manager at Sunnyside Seniors’ Services with the Region of Waterloo, “and we want to find opportunities to support local producers.” During this inaugural Local Food Week, their residents are being served Ontario asparagus.

Joli Manson of Sodexo and General Manager of Queen's University Hospitality Services sees a specific opportunity with meat on her campus. “We want to increase our Ontario protein by 10%,” says Manson. “We need to have the ability to access provincially inspected protein for this to happen.” Often mainline distributors and food service contractors default to purchasing federally inspected meat. “This is the sort of systemic change the 3P Mentorship Program was designed to tackle,” Lapalme says. “Food safety is paramount. And we’re working on recognizing the rigour of the provincial meat inspection program to enable institutions like Queen’s to support local abattoirs and farmers.”

Lindsay Walker, Sustainability Manager at Humber College says, “Humber College is the largest college in Ontario and spends a great deal of money on the food served on campus. Being part of the 3P Program is helping us understand more about our food purchasing practices and how we can both procure more sustainably and share the knowledge we gain with our campus community, and other institutions in Ontario.”

At Health Sciences North in Sudbury, Nutrition Manager Kathy Berger reports, “We started asking our local distributor, Harvest King, to report their local content. Harvest King started doing it and now they’re sending everyone invoices that breakdown local options. We’re excited to be helping to create this kind of shift.”

Members of the program are encouraged not to consider local food as inherently more valuable than other foods, but to consider what implications knowing the provenance of food can have for the sustainability of the food system. At Humber College, Lindsay Walker says, “Supporting local food has so many benefits to our community, our health, our sustainability. By considering the environmental, social and economic impacts of food, we can take actions to improve. These actions help foster strong local economies, healthier environment and secure livelihoods for farmers.”

The mentorship program launched in March 2014 and will run for one year, until February 2015.

Hayley Lapalme, Program Designer My Sustainable Canada 647-470-5389 [email protected]

Wendy Smith, Materiel Management Analyst MEALsource 519-751-7096 x3045 [email protected]

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Photo: From left, Barb Collins, Food Services Manager and Karrie Mercier, Coordinator Food Production receive an order of Ontario  asparagus they will serve to their residents as Sunnyside Seniors’ Services in the Region of Waterloo during Local Food Week.

Photo courtesy Sunnyside Seniors’ Services, Region of Waterloo.