Developing a Regional Food System In Ontario

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TORONTO — Proponents of the local-food movement gathered at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel for a Greenbelt Fund seminar yesterday that was designed to share ideas about the concept of food hubs, with an eye toward revamping the food-distribution system in Ontario.

Burkhard Mausberg, CEO, The Greenbelt Fund, knows the greenbelt has a lot of very creative and successful farm operators, but, while discussing the concept of creating regional food hubs in Ontario, he said the system needs to be re-designed. “The largest challenge will be logistics. Everyone buys into the idea of local food … but how do we change the system so farmers can contribute their great and safe Ontario products and feed it into the food-value system?”

The question was the focus of discussion. “What we’re trying to do is identify the opportunity for farmers, the ones that have the next best thing, the high-quality food, and the additional market to feed without them having to spend a lot on infrastructure,” Mausberg said.

Franco Naccarato, program manager, The Greenbelt Fund, said its regional food-hub project received funding from The Metcalf Foundation, The McConnell foundation and the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. “It’s a pilot project — we’re trying to get more local foods into the food system by integrating two systems; a regional aggregator who’s buying product direct from farms and [then] trying to use mainstream distribution channels to access the marketplace.”

A panel of five American local-food enthusiasts, who shared their success stories in the U.S., believe a new paradigm is key for a food-hub concept to be successful. “It’s early days, there’s no set solution, there’s lots of opportunity, and there’ll be lots of challenges,” said Naccarato. “As long as we keep an open mind and look to the future there’s opportunity to really change our food system for the better. To put the emphasis back on quality, back on building relationships and provide an avenue for a fair food system for everyone.”

Naccarato, who says funding will also allow the Greenbelt Fund to determine the concept’s financial viability, said a regional food-hub approach will make things easier for foodservice operators. “Gordon Food Service has a great program on local foods and their motto is ‘we want to make local foods easy,’ and that’s what the foodservice operator needs. They need their distributors to make it easy for them to access local foods. Distributors have done that for the broad line, but how about local? What about that product that’s different because of how that farmer grew it? That’s the next stage of development.”

Meanwhile, the Ontario government will announce that the nearly two-million acres of Greenbelt land will be expanded.

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