Since 2014, the week beginning on the first Monday in June in each year is known as Local Food Week in Ontario.
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Local Food Week was proclaimed in the province’s Local Food Act 2013. The purpose of the Act, according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) is to foster successful and resilient local food economies and systems throughout Ontario, as well as increase consumer awareness of local food and the diversity of local food available.
I was happy to see that where I live in Oxford County, Local Food Week was heavily promoted and I took the opportunity to visit my local farmers market to talk with some vendors and fellow shoppers.
As I anticipated, many shoppers I conversed with told me they enjoy the ability to purchase locally-grown food, and support local farmers.
Freshness and quality are also top of mind. These are the two things that keep me coming back to the farmers market, too.
Before grocery prices started soaring to new heights last year due to inflation, the cost of items at the farmers market didn’t really affect my purchases. In fact, I often found prices to be in line with retailers. At first glance, produce can seem more expensive, but I have always thought it was worth it because of the freshness and knowing I am paying the grower directly.
A large cabbage priced at $4 may seem like a lot at first, but a retailer would charge me by the pound — making the same cabbage $8, as I unfortunately found out this past fall during a grocery trip to a local WalMart.
I realize many local growers don’t have the scale of production as those that bring their wares to the Ontario Food Terminal, but selling at local markets can make a significant contribution to the bottom line of a smaller operation.
Vendors told me they had much more interest from shoppers during the pandemic, particularly when health restrictions were in force and shoppers were leery of being in stores. Some also couldn’t get the products they wanted, when they wanted them.
When our reporter Diana Martin and I were discussing what may be happening with farmers markets this year, Diana reached out to Catherine Clark, Farmers’ Markets Ontario executive director. She said “A lot of the support that went to the farmers’ markets during the pandemic were new shoppers (who) were afraid” but noted this levelled off last year because “the panic of sourcing food eased along with restrictions.”
Clark said this season, vendors may see an uptick as consumers continue to search for the best value for dollars or a desire to put their money directly into the hands of farmers who produce it rather than corporations.
That’s certainly what I’ve been seeing.
My trip to the farmers market earlier this month was my first of the year, and I did notice increased interest and engagement with vendors by shoppers than I have in previous years.
I also overheard several complaints about the prices of food in the grocery store, and have heard similar grumblings while shopping retail.
Canadian consumers have been so concerned over food inflation the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food put the CEOs of major Canadian grocery retailers to task, asking them if they were taking advantage of the supply chain shortages and other factors to in order to gouge consumers.
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The committee heard testimony from 58 witnesses over nine meetings held between Nov. 21, 2022 and April 17, 2023. These included representatives from Canada’s three largest grocery companies — Loblaw, Empire and Metro — as well as from civil society groups, and stakeholders from the following sectors: primary production, food and beverage processing and food retail.
On June 13, the committee presented its recommendations to the federal government on how it can tackle food inflation in a new report, Grocery Affordability: Examining Rising Food Costs in Canada.
The report contains 13 recommendations, including strengthening data collection on price formation throughout the supply chain and addressing financial challenges faced by farmers and food processors.
Other recommendations include addressing challenges related to relations and competition in the food supply chain, notably the implementation of a mandatory and enforceable Grocery Code of Conduct for the sector and strengthening the Competition Bureau’s powers.
My hope is that the federal government will take action to address these recommendations — particularly the challenges faced by farmers, such as high input costs.
It may be harder for the federal government to justify a fertilizer tariff, for example, when it is a contributing factor to food inflation.