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Going local, slowly: Toronto adopts plan to buy half its food from local farmers - NOW Toronto

July 16, 2011
Ben Spurr
NOW Toronto

City council voted to update Toronto’s local food procurement policy Thursday, directing city staff at daycares and seniors’ homes to buy locally-produced food whenever possible, as long as additional costs are not involved. The aim is to eventually reach a point where 50 per cent of all food procured by the city is locally-produced.

The policy also directs that roughly $125,000 of money obtained through a provincial grant should go towards buying food processing equipment, developing local food recipes, and educating city staff about the importance of local food.

Frantz Hartman of the Toronto Environmental Alliance called Thursday’s vote a win-win for the city and Ontario farmers. “Today there was almost unanimous support for Toronto to continue increase its purchase of local foods for city run daycares and seniors homes,” he said. “This is exactly the signal that we needed to send out to our farming neighbours who supply us with good nutritious local food, and to the food industry that wants to increase its use of local food.”

The local food policy had been in the works since 2008, and Darcy Higgins of local food advocacy group Food Forward was relieved that it received support given the current climate at city hall, in which environmental concerns are seen to have taken a back-seat to cost-cutting measures.

“The policy was under stress because of a discussion at the government management committee a couple of weeks ago. We were quite concerned that the policy would be eliminated,” he said. “So we were really pleased by the decision at council, and the great show of support that almost all councillors, except one, voted in favour of it.”

Each year the city spends about $11 million buying food for daycares, long-term care homes, and hostel services. Roughly 7,600 clients use these services on a daily basis, and proponents of the local food policy say that buying local will not only be healthier for those who depend on the city for their meals, but will also benefit Ontario agriculture workers.

The version of the policy adopted Thursday has been watered down since 2008 however. Critics charge that the program has been undercut by the addition of the stipulation that local food can only be bought when it's not more expensive than other food products. And while the ultimate goal is still to see 50 per cent of the city’s food locally-sourced, a consultant report commissioned by the city found that target is not achievable in the near future because of “the constraints and limitations of the local food industry.” In the short term, the new goal is to reach a target of 25 per cent.

Achieving that goal will be made easier if Ontario’s agriculture ministry accepts the city report’s recommendation to alter the definition of local processed food. The city report suggests that to be classified as local, processed food should need to have only 51 per cent local ingredients.

Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who lobbied council to adopt the new policy, said that under current definitions products like pineapple yogurt cannot be considered local even if the dairy products used to make them are produced in Ontario.

“To me, processed or canned or fresh, it’s still from Ontario,” she said. “Then you’re supporting other jobs too. We were supporting our farmers but now we (hope to be) supporting processing plants, packaging plants, and truckers.”

Higgins said that the new definition won’t necessarily mean that less healthy foods are classified as local. “We’ve got a lot of jobs in local processing in Toronto. It’s really important to support that and help the healthy processing that’s just the basics, that’s not putting in a whole lot chemicals in the food,” he said.

For all its purported benefits, council’s near unanimous endorsement of the updated policy can be attributed to the fact the fact that it won’t cost the city a penny. All the funds being used came from a $225,000 grant from the Ontario agriculture ministry’s Greenbelt Fund, which was awarded to help the city develop ways to increase local food procurement.

As originally published here:

2011-07-16 Going local slowly _NOW_.pdf18.71 KB