Make it easier to buy local

Ontario’s premier wants Ontarians to buy local foods…and not just fruits and vegetables. Dalton McGuinty told the audience at the fourth annual Premier’s Agri-Food Summit yesterday he wants buy local campaigns expanded to include meat, eggs and milk.

That’s an admirable wish, but one that is getting more and more challenging, in my opinion. Many Ontario-based food processors are feeling the pinch of tough economic times and their numbers are dwindling by the month, it seems.

CanGro, the only remaining North American fruit canning plant east of the Rockies, announced the closure of its peach processing plant in the Niagara area earlier this year and so far, efforts to save the plant – including looking to both levels of government for assistance – have been unsuccessful. The closure will leave growers will little option but to cease production of canning peaches. CanGro’s Exeter plant, which processes peas and corn, will also be closing this year.

And Gencor, a farmer-owned beef processing plant in Kitchener, closed its doors earlier this month. Those are only a couple, most recent of examples but the list is a lengthy one.

It is also at times difficult to buy local at our supermarket. Take garlic, for instance. My local Zehrs, part of the National Grocers chain that includes Loblaws stores, only carries US or Chinese garlic – and although i’d love to buy Ontario, I can’t. Same goes for strawberries. At the height of strawberry season, there’s often not a single Ontario strawberry to be found at those stores (where most Ontarians do their grocery shopping), whose shelves are instead stacked with somewhat flavourless if uniformly shaped berries from California.

Clearly more needs to be done, and although promotion and boosting of consumer awareness is great, the dots need to be connected more strongly to keep our homegrown agriculture and food industry alive and healthy.

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