Dollars & Sense: Opportunities to strengthen southern Ontario's food system

In recent years, the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, the George
Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation, and the J.W. McConnell Family
Foundation have worked to strengthen sustainable food systems across
the country through initiatives that increase market access for farmers,
build or improve supply chains, protect prime farm land, help new farmers,
raise public awareness about sustainably produced food, and bring about
changes in public policy.

This report has two objectives. First, to better understand the economic
and environmental impacts of regional food systems. Second, to assess
how increasing regional food production and distribution would affect
the larger food system, including businesses that supply farmers, food
processors and distributors as well as food retailers and food service
operations. Southern Ontario, a nationally significant food production
region that grows 98% of the province’s food, was chosen as the focus area.
However, the patterns and scenarios outlined are relevant to local food
systems in other geographies.

Ontario is a major net food importer, and this study concludes that we
are missing regional economic development opportunities to enhance
and support the production and distribution of local food. The authors
estimate that more than half of Ontario’s $20 billion in imported food
products could be produced in the province. If local production were
expanded to replace even ten percent of the top ten fruit and vegetable
imports, the Ontario economy would gain close to quarter of a billion
dollars in GDP and 3,400 full-time jobs. The research also demonstrates
that when more food is produced locally, energy use and pollution from
transportation are reduced.

Much of the recent growth of the local food movement has been driven by
consumer demand. Our view is that the potential for local food systems
to build healthy economies, protect the environment and strengthen social
fabrics is far from being fulfilled. The report makes the case for investing
in the development of regional food systems and providing the supportive
regulatory environment, infrastructure, and distribution networks
required for these systems to flourish.

We hope that this research will inform and stimulate public discussion,
inspire policy change, and increase investment in regional food systems, in
Ontario and beyond.

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