Local Food Webs: The Solution to Food Insecurity?

June 5, 2020 | Marie Versteeg

Local Food Webs: The Solution to Food Insecurity?

The government of Ontario has promoted local food for many years, and this week – Local Food Week – is one of the initiatives legislated under the Local Food Act, 2013.

Food systems in general have been in the spotlight recently, due to the COVID-19 crisis. Many are weighing the comparative benefits of the global long-chain food system with those of more localized short-chain systems.

For example, Food Secure Canada (FSC) has recently issued a new report examining food insecurity in the context of COVID-19. The report suggests that strengthening our local food system is one solution to a looming problem: the number of Canadians who experience food insecurity (4.4 million) is estimated to double by the end of this year as a result of the pandemic.

FSC recommends a sweeping shift in food policy in order to move away from globalized food chains toward local food webs. Food webs offer “economic renewal of rural and remote communities, greater access to healthy and fresh foods, lower-emission food systems, greater resiliency to shocks and reduced food waste.”

A shift like this would require initiatives that support young farmers and sustainable farming practices, as well as diversified and regionalized food processing systems.

FSC sees the potential for big returns on investment: for example, Ontario could add 3400 jobs and $250 million in provincial GDP just by replacing ten percent of our top fruit and vegetable imports with Ontario-grown produce. Still, even with numbers like these, it’s unlikely that Ontarians would give up bananas that easily.

While the FSC report calls for sweeping change to the agricultural system, CFFO sees opportunities for a balanced approach.

Government has a chance here to balance support for global trade opportunities for farmers with strengthened food security for Ontarians. We see many paths toward improving food security for the long term, from protecting our specialty crop land, where most of our local fruit production takes place, to supporting local abattoirs, to supporting further development of alternative points of sale, such as farmers markets and online sales, beyond the pandemic.

We are already seeing promising trends, both in terms of public interest in local foods and in terms of government support to help Ontario farmers meet new demand.

One of the commitments of the Local Food Act is to increase access to local food. It’s strange to consider that this goal has gotten a boost from a pandemic. Time will tell whether post-pandemic recovery efforts continue to prioritize provincial food security. 

The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, and CKNX Wingham.