New report highlights how knowledge and experience can improve the Local Food industry and offers opportunities for other sectors of the Creative Economy in Ontario East
The “farm to table” industry in has a new tool to improve economic development in Ontario East. The final report of the “Plan to Grow” action research project was funded through the National Farmers Union’s New Farm Project. Although this research focused on Frontenac, Lennox and Addington and the City of Kingston, the knowledge it contains can be used by rural communities throughout Ontario East. The report highlights the priorities of people interested in a more sustainable food and farm system in this area, including farmers, processors, distributors, restaurateurs, food security advocates, and eaters, but will also be relevant to others in the Creative Economy, including marketers, builders and architects, and supply chain management experts.
The report notes “[a] healthy local and regional food economy will support not only strong and diverse farm businesses but will also benefit the region-wide network of businesses and services using local farm products. Local food benefits us all in that local farm and food business pay local taxes, employ local people, circulate dollars in the local economy and provide us with food and farm products that we want and need. All of us eat, and we are all affected by the quality of our food and the health of our communities.”
By promoting local food as an economic booster through business improvement and tourism-focused campaigns that highlight the availability and diversity of locally produced and prepared products, business opportunities for farmers and restaurateurs have increased. Still, the report notes gaps that can be filled through co-operation with others in the sector. One area is improved awareness, including renewed marketing campaign efforts such as a Buy Local Campaign and a “Local” label or brand for local food, and continued promotion of local food directories
The report found that a vibrant local food system includes many sectors that work together to grow and eat locally produced food. These sectors also address the need for access for all residents and viability for farmers. There has been an expanding interest in local food over the last decade with co-operation among food security programs, urban agriculture initiatives, farmer organizations and more. However, the short to mid-term supply of local food, defined as food grown on local acres produced for local consumption, is far outweighed by short to mid-term demand, and there is a lack sufficient local infrastructure for processing and distribution.
The report suggests that undeveloped co-ordination and planning across the entire local food system is among the top three gaps in the local food system. Without better coordination and participation from across the system in collective planning activities, emerging enterprises may be duplicating rather than complementing efforts.
The interest in accessing local food reaches across individual eaters, small retailers, restaurants and institutions. Residential consumers are more likely to buy from small local food retailers and farmers’ markets. However, retail and institutional purchasers prefer readily and consistently available food obtained at a central location. The lack of these sites is a major barrier to local food participation by food-based programs and commercial retailers.
Producers say transporting their product to different locations is challenging and costly. In addition, most small producers have limited capacity to store their product, which affects limits the ‘shelf life’ of the food they have available to sell. They say a method of pooling of produce would to make it easier for people to purchase locally produced foods
There is no shortage of successful strategies to ensure long-term success for the viability of farms. A priority is a strong financial understanding of the farm business. Ongoing on-farm innovation and open sharing of successful production and business models is also required. Key on-farm factors for long-term success were passionate farmers, efficient production and detailed business planning.
The report notes that more advanced types of knowledge and skills are also necessary, including the strong need for an extension type of service providing on-going one-on-one support, advice and networking. However, geographic distances and travelling times for farmers to meet and visit each other can be a challenge, one that may be overcome by the use of social media and the Internet.
While the focus of the report was the local food sector, others may benefit. Logistics and supply chain management experts may be interested in the challenges of moving products from the farm to the market. Architects and builders could assist in designing and constructing centrally located facilities. Marketers may create new campaigns to promote locally grown food and financial experts can offer advice on sound business planning.
The ”Plan to Grow” project included the perspectives of a number of present and potential participants in all areas of the local food system, including farmers, processors, distributors, retailers, municipal and provincial employees and program staff across a number of community organizations. The information about local food strengths, challenges and pressures will allow the community and the NFU New Farm Project to evolve the local food system.