Many people agree that supporting local food is a really good idea. People feel good about supporting farmers, their neighbours, and local businesses. It keeps money in the local economy, it helps reduce food insecurity (global crop failures have less impact locally on food availability and price), and can spawn new businesses, expand existing ones, and create local jobs. One of the most critical aspects is that you don’t need a lot of money to get involved. You just need some time, access to a small piece of land (the land doesn’t even have to be yours), and some seeds.
To encourage the growth of local food, some municipalities around Ontario have adopted local food-based directives. These may come in the form of strategic plans, strategies, action plans, bylaws, charters, and can even get as specific as a procurement policy, which sends a clear message to local businesses about the municipality’s commitment to them and to local food.
One piece of good news is that the North Grenville Municipal Council has already adopted a local food charter, though that happened a couple of years ago and we haven’t heard much about it since. If municipal council isn’t prepared to go further, and commit to creating these directives, there are still other options for them that could encourage the growth of local food.
One option could be to develop a local food procurement bylaw. For example, the municipality could require that a certain percentage of food served at any municipal event or institution would have to be made with ingredients sourced in Leeds, Grenville and Lanark Counties, but prepared in North Grenville. This would mean that ingredients could be sourced from a larger area, but a North Grenville business would have to prepare it. Having a successful local food system involves using a regional approach. Sharing assets located with other municipalities ensures that those assets are not being underutilised, and that no-one wastes time and money building something that already exists elsewhere.
The impact of this type of bylaw on North Grenville would not be as big, because we don’t have municipal social service organizations like child care centres, senior residences, etc., which would require food to be prepared. The impact on larger municipalities that do have these institutions would be greater. Initially, it might be challenging to secure a consistent supply of locally sourced ingredients, but once that supply was established, the positive benefits to the local economy could be significant.
North Grenville is fortunate to have the Two Rivers Food Hub only a thirty-minute drive away in Smiths Falls. Two Rivers already collects a large variety of local items (meats, produce and prepared foods) from smaller producers across the region, and distributes them to restaurants, stores, and other institutions. If the municipality wanted to implement this type of bylaw, Two Rivers would be an excellent place to start for locally sourced products. Even the Kemptville Farmers’ Market could act as a supplier for at least five months of the year.
Adding a municipal local food procurement bylaw to the already existing local food charter would be a positive step in supporting the expansion of local food in North Grenville. It would also set a good example for other businesses and institutions to follow: an important gesture to our existing agriculture and food businesses, to show that the municipality recognizes their importance in the future of our local economy.