Good food jobs can grow in Ontario

Jan
6

If Toronto and Ontario want to be successful economically and socially over the next few years, we must create more jobs.

This has been on the mind of the public, businesses, and politicians lately, but hasn’t been prioritized in the way it needs to be. If we create new jobs in a good food sector, we have more work that is meaningful, and that improves the health of our communities and environment, while giving a leg up to newcomers, young people, and others looking to have a job and make a difference.

The GTA alone already has 110,000 direct food jobs, with those in processing being more resilient and higher paying than those of many other sectors. Most food grown in Ontario is also processed in Ontario.

However, the vast majority of food consumed in Ontario is imported. Farmers are suffering with an income crisis, while our food is being subsidized by off-farm incomes, cheap farm labour, environmental pollution, poor treatment of animals, and processed foods. So our health, environment, and work standards are affected. It doesn’t need to be that way. The solutions are complex, but there are some things we could be doing right away to make a change.

Quality grown foods sold to local markets can often yield farmers a better price while bringing good food through bakeries, dairies, and restaurants to consumers. The GTA Food and Farming Action Plan, endorsed by all area municipalities, champions a quite notable goal of creating the greatest food and farming cluster in the world. Working towards that goal would quickly bring good new jobs to Ontario. Political leadership in 2013 would support the sector in making it happen.

The Liberal Party leadership race has been talking jobs and entrepreneurship. You’ve heard it from Glen Murray, Charles Sousa and others.  Eric Hoskins mentioned growing food sector jobs specifically in a leadership debate, while Kathleen Wynne has vowed to bring back the Local Food Act and become Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs if she becomes premier.

A stronger Local Food Act that puts job creation at the forefront could go a long way.  In the United States, the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act has been proposed and co-sponsored by dozens of congressman and senators, and would provide policies and funding for good food jobs.

We need that in Ontario too. Many ideas to do it have already been proposed, and we now need them supported by better legislation, regulations, funding, and programs.

The Local Food Act must be strengthened to create further goals, targets, research, and support for hospitals, universities, and all other public institutions, to increase the amount of fresh, local, and ecologically produced food, as suggested by Sustain Ontario. The NDP’s Buy Local Food Act contained targets for local and organic food. The City of Markham’s local food policy has brought procurement of local sustainable food to 30%.

The Province should also work with businesses, municipal governments, public health and economic development departments, and other agencies to build the capacity needed to bring local food infrastructure back to Ontario.

A review of regulations that hamper small food enterprise could also lead to the creation of new jobs in Ontario. In rural, suburban, and urban parts of the province, entrepreneurs are finding unclear and outdated, intelligence-challenging regulations that don’t affect health, safety, or the environment, but hamper their ability to undertake a business venture.

PC MPP Ernie Hardeman has launched a survey of food processors, asking what regulations are causing headaches and to determine how the sector can be better supported. Some regulations don’t work for small-scale local enterprises and have resulted in closures. Governments need to be leading or supporting, not hindering the local economy.

Finally, the government can create jobs by investing in our communities, as has been proposed by the Green Party. Community food solutions from social entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations are forming healthier communities through community development programs, food literacy, and local economic development. Their work is often high-impact but low-budget. Governments have been largely missing in action, and must engage more closely with this on the ground work.

Providing stable community grants and funding to this work would be money well spent in creating good food sector jobs. Shifting a relatively small funding pool through in any of a number of ministries could be used by organizations to implement preventative health solutions while creating multiplier social and economic effects. Young people are ready with the skills and passion to work in this area and to show results.

By focusing on strong good food procurement and capacity, better regulations, and community funding, we can create healthier urban centres alongside more vibrant rural communities. The quicker we act, the sooner we see more people employed in this most critical sector.

Contact Darcy Higgins, Executive Director, at darcy@pushfoodforward.com