TORONTO — The Greenbelt Fund Local Food Symposium was held last week at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. The event brought together producers, suppliers, chefs and local-food advocates to participate in conversations about how to get more fresh, local food onto Ontarians’ plates.
Keynote speaker Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, former Deputy Secretary of the USDA and executive director of George Washington University’s Food Institute, kicked off the day before a plenary panel took the stage to discuss how the industry needs to redefine local-food systems. Moderated by Michael von Massow from University of Guelph, the panel, which included agricultural economist Jim Barham and John Fisk of Wallace Centre at Winrock, tackled the issues of food-hub networks, clusters and value-chain coordination.
The morning breakout sessions included a discussion about local-food literacy and what successful local-food education looks like; food-hub operators, including independent grocery retailers, direct-to-consumer hubs, community-based hubs and local-food cooperatives, sharing their strategies for successful collaboration and best practices for achieving long-term viability; trends in technology and innovation in the agri-food sector; and debunking myths about food safety when it comes to provincial abattoirs and provincially inspected meat plants.
Chef and television personality Ali Hassan entertained attendees at the local lunch, which featured fresh Ontario ingredients provided by the event sponsors.
The afternoon sessions tuned the spotlight on how Ontario’s municipalities, healthcare and educational institutions can bring more local food to the table and addressed some of the top challenges faced by food-procurement staff and healthcare professionals. “Better Marketing for Local Food” brought ideas for successful local-food marketing strategies to the table and highlighted how to make choosing local a priority for consumers. Other topics covered included innovative finance models for supporting local-food start-ups and how to strengthen regional food systems though collaboration.
Attendees were then invited to attend one of three moderated networking sessions with industry experts. The closing plenary, The Future of Local Food, brought together industry leaders Doug Alexander of Ippolito Group, Dr. Rob MacRae of York University, Shanna Munro of Restaurants Canada and Beth Hunter of the McConnell Foundation to discuss how local food and farming is being increasingly recognized as a vital part of Ontario’s economy. Issues addressed by the panel included the importance of small-scale economic growth; larger sustainability issues and the role of chefs as a driving force behind the local movement.
The event wrapped up with the Local Food Champion Awards, presented to people and organizations in the agri-food sector for demonstrating leadership and innovation to create systemic change to get more Ontario food to Ontarians’ plates. Flanagan Foodservice and Local Line received the Local Food Champion Award in recognition of their partnership to increase local-food offerings to Flanagan Foodservice customers using Local Line’s online-ordering platform. The award was presented by Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Jeff Leal.
“Flanagan Foodservice and Local Line have taken a uniquely collaborative approach that is increasing the choice available to foodservice buyers when it comes to local products,” said Edward McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Fund. “The Greenbelt Fund is very pleased to recognize Local Line and Flanagan Foodservice’s outstanding leadership in this area with the Local Food Champion Award.”
The Greenbelt Fund also recognized Mohawk College for its project to increase local-food sales in Ontario colleges, as well as Dan Munshaw from the City of Thunder Bay for his work in implementing local-food policies at the municipal level.