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Getting local food into our public institutions

The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation and the Greenbelt Fund are spearheading the grants and two other initiatives in an effort to connect Ontario’s farmers with public institutions like daycares, schools, hospitals, universities and long term care facilities.

Ontariofresh.ca, a new business to business website is being launched this fall to link buyers and sellers of Ontario food. The 2011 Ontario’s Local Food Champions report is currently available and nominations are now open for the next round of Champions.

The goal is to both provide new opportunities for farmers and champion the use of locally grown food in these settings. This will boost positive economic and environmental spinoff effects and create sustainable change in our food system.

“The basic premise is to get more Ontario food onto the plates of students, patients and others to benefit everyone in the food value chain from producer to consumer,” says Foundation President Burkhard Mausberg. “With these new projects, we are supporting leadership and cultivating a change in attitude amongst the broader public sector when it comes to local food.”

Twelve projects were funded in the first round last winter, with another 10 to be announced later this month. Cohn Farms in the Holland Marsh received funding to create a co-packing line and provide facilities to help up to 30 area farmers wash, slice and package vegetables for use in public institutions. This spring, the facility purchased a “waterless” potato peeler, which uses up to 80 per cent less water than standard equipment.

Sysco Ontario, a major foodservice distributor, received funding to upgrade its ordering system to track local food offerings increase the amount of Ontario cheese purchased by their customers. 100 Mile Market used its grant to improve its local food distribution network, and Eat Local Sudbury received support to deliver local foods directly from northern farms to public institutions in Sudbury.

Grant proposals are assessed on six criteria, including the ability to showcase innovation, leadership, return on investment, shared results, systemic change and co-operation through strategic partnerships.

“We’re going to track the economic impact resulting from these grants,” says Mausberg. “Our agenda is to help farmers by growing economic opportunities and returns in Ontario.”

A new “dating service for farmers and buyers”, as Mausberg calls it, is being launched in September. Ontariofresh.ca is a business to business website that will help link farmers with public institutions and buyers by registering their profiles online. Sign-up is free, and don’t worry if you don’t feel too Internet-savvy – you can also register by phone at 1-888-249-9399.

“Buyers want a one stop source for Ontario food and we’re helping to make these connections,” says Mausberg. “This site is about growing the business of local food and helping to foster the movement of larger volumes.”

The Foundation is also currently accepting nominations for the next round of Ontario’s Local Food Champions, which recognizes the efforts of individuals and businesses who are promoters of local food.

Leslie Carson of Guelph’s St. Joseph’s Health Centre was featured in the first Ontario’s Local Food Champions Report. With a daily budget of only $7.33 to provide patients with three meals and two snacks, St. Joseph’s is now developing its own salads and hot dishes made with Ontario foods – and its food service satisfaction rate has risen to 87 per cent. Leslie is actively also sharing her experiences with other hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Other champions included the City of Markham and University of Toronto chef Jaco Lokker. Vineland Growers, Algoma Orchards and Rowe Farms were also highlighted as leaders in serving public institutions. You or someone you know could be the next Ontario Local Food Champion – nomination forms are available at www.greenbelt.ca/nomination or by calling 416-960-0001.

All of these new initiatives are open to farmers and food businesses across Ontario that service public institutions. The Foundation’s original mandate was focused only on activities within the Greenbelt, but its success there has led to expanding local food programs province-wide.

Note: A slightly longer version of this article was published in the Ontario Farmer, June 7 2011 edition.

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