This past week the city of Belleville was host to the Eastern Ontario Local Food Conference. Organized by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the annual event attracts hundreds of foodies, farmers, researchers, authors, politicians, entrepreneurs, chefs, municipal staff and all levels of government employees from across Canada, and even a few people from the U.S. It’s a veritable big box candy store for anyone with an interest in agriculture and food. Kemptville resident Katie Nolan was one of the organizers.
The first day of the conference was a local food tour, where a full bus of participants toured across the Bay of Quinte area stopping in at five different local food businesses along the way. A new malting facility (for beer production), a premium beef farm, a well hidden boutique winery, a food canning facility, and a three hundred head dairy farm that was actually on the tour because of their anaerobic bio-digester (which converts organic waste into electricity), were all on the day’s schedule. Armed with a local food bag lunch, participants were treated to a textbook example of how enjoyable and informative local food tourism can be.
The possibilities for economic development through local food tourism seemed endless. Immediately following the tour was the local food extravaganza, with two rooms full of local food businesses giving out delectable samples of their craft. Local wines, local craft beer, local fresh pasta, and a wide variety of local meats were just some of the delicacies served up by the business owners themselves. Three solid hours of nibbling and networking were a fitting end to a memorable first day.
The second day of the conference was a series of guest speakers and information sessions. The range of topics discussed was remarkable. Everything from converting your lawn to a garden, to providing municipalities with a step by step approach to developing local food for economic development, were just some of the topics that were presented. The keynote speaker was Sarah Elton, a best-selling and award-winning author, who talked extensively about the theme of the conference, which was ‘resiliency’ in local food systems. Her two books, ‘Locavore’ and ‘Consumed’, should be priority reading for anyone working in or curious about agriculture and local food. Kemptville’s own Bruce Enloe, who is the general manager of the Two Rivers Food Hub in Smiths Falls, was also one of the guests speakers.
Probably one of the key takeaways from the conference was the need for education. There is a huge void in terms of education about all aspects of local food. There was an especially urgent call for young people to be taught how to grow food, process food and prepare it in order to live healthier lives. If not shown this, and the value of making their own food, they’ll choose unhealthy options like cheap, unhealthy, processed foods that are too easy to just heat and eat. There was also a call to educate adults, community leaders, and politicians about not only the health benefits of local food, but the community and economic development possibilities around developing a strong local food system.
Currently, we have some great good local food assets here in the North Grenville area. Those assets could become even stronger by bringing them together and cultivating new assets in order to build a strong sustainable local food system. This can be accomplished by providing education and training, and creating opportunities to share information about funding options, available resources, and recent innovations. Until recently, there has been a large leadership void in the area of local food. The Kemptville Farmers’ Market has attempted to fill this void by working with their current vendors and encouraging anyone else to start producing their own food and then to become a market vendor. The market is starting to develop strategic partnerships in order to bring leaders and experts in different areas of local food to speak to their vendors and anyone else with an interest in local food.
It was great to see Councillor Donovan Arnaud in attendance for the second day of the conference and hear him speak passionately about what he saw and heard and how he believes that local food has incredible potential for North Grenville. Here’s hoping that he can light a fire under other members of council and staff, so that they begin to understand the enormous potential for economic development in sectors like job creation, increased tourism and even the improved health of residents which are all possible with a strong local food system. What became obvious throughout the conference was that we’re currently missing the boat on local food in the North Grenville area. When you compare the benefits of local food that other regions of Eastern Ontario are enjoying, it’s a very big boat that we’re missing. However, I do take a little comfort in knowing that councillor Arnaud professes to be a former Navy man.

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