Good Food and Farming Ideas for Ontario

Provincial Election – the 2022 campaign is live!

The elections of 2022 come at a time when we, across society, are revisiting what we prioritize, challenging accepted wisdom, and questioning the way we’ve done things for generations. In the wake of a pandemic, when we are being asked to ‘build back better’, better must include systems solutions that are designed for resilience, that make our communities more flexible in a crisis, that can provide for everyone now and into the future, no matter what the future brings.

At this moment we need leaders at all levels and jurisdictions.
We need leadership that recognizes the multi-jurisdictional roles required to address complex, systemic issues.
We need leadership that collaborates well.
We need leadership that takes on its fair share of responsibilities, and does not download to communities without resources.

The following Issues, Evidence and Action Items come from diverse regional experts working together in many areas of our food system, to identify pathways that transition toward sustainable food systems.

Candidates: please consider adopting these Good Food and Farming Ideas to support your platform this election. Voters: ask your candidates if they support these ideas, and vote for those that do!

12 Questions for Candidates

Preserve Farmland and Enable Future Farmers

Despite decades of attempts to develop policy that curtails uncontrolled development on prime farmland in Ontario, in 2022 we are faced with significant threats in the form of new highways (e.g. 413 and Brantford Bypass), a new prison (the Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex), and continued growth of urban boundaries. Given the public popularity of farmland preservation, the commitment of all of Ontario's farm organizations, and a growing movement of grassroots organizations mobilizing opposition, it's time to bring together an Ontario Farmland Preservation Working Group with teeth—and a mandate to stop sacrificing prime farmland to other priorities. Permanently.

Ontario has an aging farm population: 55% of farmers are over 552 and will be retiring in the next 15 years.

At the same time, 91% of these farmers don't have a set plan on how they are going to transition their businesses, including $135 Billion in assets3. This is an immediate threat to the industry. It is also an opportunity to support a new generation of farmers who will help Ontario meet the demands of the future—including the demand for food produced in the local region, a demand that has grown stronger since the start of the COVID pandemic.

The opportunity will require support for new entrants. While the province supports new farmer training at post-secondary institutions, there is a clear demand for practical, hands-on training that receives no provincial support.

New entrants also find the cost of farmland prohibitive. Farmland values have more than doubled in most regions of the province in the last decade, and increased last year alone by over 20%! 4 The purchase of farmland by non-farmers is an unnecessary and unsustainable driver of farmland cost inflation.

To promote sustainable farming, we must incentivize farming practices that regenerate soil health and biodiversity, while conserving natural resources. We must also ensure that all viable farmland remains in production, and forests and freshwater food sources remain accessible.

2 StatsCan CANSIM table 004-0239

3 StatsCan CANSIM tables 004-0245 and 002-0007

  1. Support Farmland Preservation
      1. Mandate a new Ontario Farmland Preservation Working Group with veto power over all municipal planning and OLT decisions that involve prime agricultural land
      2. Place strict controls on speculation in, and commodification of, Ontario farmland by prohibiting the acquisition or control of class 1-4 farmland in the province by non-farmer and/or absentee investors
  2. Support Ontario’s future farmers
    1. Provide stable core funding for existing and expanded on-farm training programs, providing apprenticeship and mentorship for new entrants and diversifying farms
    2. Inventory publically-owned farmland in the province, ensure that it is permanently protected for farming, and make it available to new graduates of farmer training programs
    3. Work with farmers and farm organizations to develop programs that provide long term access to farmland for new and young farmers working across a diversity of scales.
  1. Incentivize and support sustainable farming practices
    1. Adopt a program that measures soil organic matter on farms in Ontario every three years, using a robust and consistent methodology.
    2. Tie these soil health indicators directly to financial instruments, such as farmland taxation rates5 and crop insurance subsidies6
    5 Dr. Ralph Martin, “A way to stop the decline of soil organic matter”, Guelph Mercury Tribune https://www.guelphmercury.com/opinion-story/8154610-a-way-to-stop-the-decline-of-soil-organic-matter/
    6 Report of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario: Putting Soil Health First: A Climate-Smart Idea for Ontario.

Bring Healthy Food and Food Literacy into Ontario Schools

Connecting children and youth with good healthy food, through school meals and education, has tremendous potential to improve the future of our province. Educators across Ontario know that children learn better when they are well nourished and not hungry. Providing kids with healthy and culturally appropriate food in schools and teaching them to grow, cook, eat, and value healthy food can play a critical role in promoting health and reducing chronic disease while strengthening Ontario’s economy and supporting its agri-food sector.

Many educators have discovered that children learn best when practical food and experiential opportunities are incorporated into the curriculum. Children can learn how their food is grown, raised or produced, how to be good stewards of the land and water, the importance of cultural diversity, and the value of collaboration.

Furthermore, school food initiatives create opportunities for community connectedness. They bring together community members and partners including local food providers, chefs, families, seniors, Elders and Knowledge Keepers, and socially excluded or vulnerable groups to create relationships across generations, build skills, and be a part of a supportive community. Good healthy food can support student and community wellbeing and it can help connect us all.

See the evidence for school food here.

 
  1. Increase Ontario’s annual investment in the Student Nutrition Program to accommodate rising food costs and greater demand for the program in light of Covid. This will work towards the goal that all children and youth in Ontario can access a healthy and culturally appropriate meal or snack, in a non-stigmatizing manner, at school each day, and will align with the federal government’s proposed National School Food Policy and program. If virtual learning continues in Ontario, provide additional funding to reflect the costs of accommodating vulnerable at-home learners. Learn more about the benefits of school food programs and the collaborative work taking place across the country on the website of the Coalition for Healthy School Food.
  1. Invest in school food infrastructure and capacity building funding for schools or community organizations that provide programs in schools including installing or improving kitchen, food service, garden and other infrastructure so that school food programs can serve healthy food and teach food literacy while supporting job creation.
  1. Consult with Indigenous Nations and leaders and provide additional funding to Indigenous Nations and communities in Ontario to support and advance Indigenous-led school food initiatives.
  2. Strengthen the conditions for food literacy to be taught as a mandatory part of the school curriculum through grades K-12. This will better enable students to learn about food systems and how to grow, harvest, prepare, preserve, and choose healthy, local and sustainably produced food. Opportunities include reintroducing and passing the Food Literacy for Students Act, investing in teacher training on how to use the curriculum to teach food literacy, and supporting community-based partners that provide food education in schools. Access Sustain Ontario’s Policy Brief to inform Bill 216: Food Literacy for Students Act.
  3. Prepare to accept matched funding from the federal government and negotiate a cost shared national healthy school food program.
 

Download the full school food and food literacy pre-election toolkit here!

Support Community Growing

Urban agriculture is expanding rapidly on the roofs, public and private land in our towns and cities—including community gardens in urban and rural locations. In some Municipalities, different interpretations of the Accessibility of Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) standards make building or retrofitting community gardens prohibitively expensive. We need a provincial policy to act as a guiding standard that provides meaningful opportunities for Ontarians with disabilities to participate without creating barriers to low-income and other marginalized groups.

Example: Waterloo Region produced a guide in conjunction with people facing accessibility barriers which offers options that reflect community garden realities.

Similarly, municipalities rely on provincial guidelines requiring soil tests that are prohibitively expensive on municipal lands--yet not required on private lands. Gold standards for soil testing are standing in the way of new community gardens.

Example: Toronto Public Health released a peer-reviewed, award-winning Guide to Testing Soil in Urban Gardens and Technical Rationale that provides evidence-based, low-cost strategies for assessing soil safety and reducing risk.

  1. Help implement AODA standards  
Support and fund communities to develop and implement practical Accessibility of Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) standards for new or retrofitted community gardens, whether on public or private property.
  1. Support soil testing policies that enable community growing
Develop and implement a process for soil testing with standards that create favourable conditions for the development of community gardens.
  1. Recognize urban-grown food as green infrastructure
Explicitly include food plants in any planning documents, funding or incentive programs to increase green infrastructure.
  1. Provide more support and funding for building relationships with Indigenous communities
Community growers want to work on right relations with Indigenous people. Training and supports to engage with Indigenous knowledge keepers are needed to ensure this happens in a good way. This should not come at the expense of resources for Indigenous-led placemaking initiatives.

Enable all Ontarians to Access Healthy Food

Income is the root cause of household food insecurity. 1 out of every 8 households doesn’t have enough income to cover rent, bills, and food. This affects working families (60% of food insecure households in Ontario have employment income) as well as those on social assistance (64% of Ontario households reliant on social assistance remain food insecure). 1 out of every 6 Ontario children live in a food insecure household.

Food insecurity takes a serious toll on people’s health, and is closely associated with a greater reliance on healthcare. Income solutions such as a basic income guarantee, a living wage, and social assistance rates geared to the real cost of living are needed so that everyone has the money for basic needs, including food7.

7 All information above from https://www.odph.ca/centsless and http://proof.utoronto.ca/

  1. Set appropriate standards and gather evidence
    1. Develop and adopt transparent and regionally appropriate calculations of social assistance rates to include the cost of a nutritious food basket in all areas of the province
    2. Commit to consistent participation in Household Food Security Survey Module of Canadian Community Health Survey, to provide evidence for policy on food insecurity.
  1. Prioritize poverty reduction
    1. Increase social assistance rates linked to the real cost of living, utilizing the recommendations from Income Security: Roadmap for Change report.
    2. Immediately introduce an indexed minimum income floor under which no one falls in Ontario, as the basis for income determination and supports.
    3. Create policies that encourage good jobs with regular hours and benefits, including a living wage, related to the cost of living.
  2. Use healthy food to serve health needs Implement a program to provide fresh food prescriptions to people with chronic health issues, included in the pharmacare plan.

Support Sustainable and Just Local Food Production

Purchasing local, sustainably-produced food helps keep family farms viable, and creates job in processing and distribution. Money spent on local food stays in the local economy, multiplying the impact. Standards for local food procurement can make local, healthy, sustainable food accessible to all. As buyers, public sector institutions can use their purchasing dollars strategically to support local, independently operated food infrastructure projects—including processing and distribution—during their start-up phases.

This will also support new and young farmers, who are more likely to start with smaller, direct-marketing operations, and scale into regional marketing—where they run into a barrier because this regional infrastructure is missing. There are also other tools to support new regional food infrastructure and farm enterprises, including positive examples of innovative financing policies from other provinces,1 where tax breaks encourage people to invest in their communities!

While federal policies determine most of the conditions for migrant farmworkers, many of the regulations are actually under provincial control, mainly via the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health. Labour protections for migrant farmworkers do not include overtime and holiday pay, sick days and other protections otherwise guaranteed under the Employment Standards Act. Additionally, there are no agriculture industry-specific regulations protecting the health and safety of workers, such as harnessing at heights, exposure to hazardous chemicals, pro-active enforcement, and anti-reprisal measures.

1 See e.g. Nova Scotia’s CEDIF http://farmworks.ca/about/investment/

  1. Strengthen protections for migrant farm & food workers
    1. Migrant farmworkers should have full and equal access to injury compensation (WSIB). Migrant farmworkers should have the protection of regulations in line with Residential Tenancy Act provisions and the Occupational Health and Safety Act 
    2. All residents of Ontario, including migrant farmworkers, should qualify for health care coverage while in the province.
    3. The province should advocate to the Federal government for permanent immigration status for all food workers.
  1. Facilitate access to capital for provincial food and farming entrepreneurs
      1. Permit new vehicles for investment capital, such as a tax credit which allows ordinary people to move their RRSPs into a community project investment
      2. Expand the Staycation Tax Credit to apply to farms offering tourist experiences (such as pick your own, B&B stays, tours, etc.)
      3. Improve access to regional food infrastructure including incubation, aggregation, distribution, processing and access to internet connectivity (e.g. local abattoirs, food hubs): As with public roads, use public funds to invest in food infrastructure for long-term rural development goals
    1. Institute sustainable food procurement policies, and ensure that public dollars go to purchasing Ontario food and farm products Enact Local Food Act targets. Specifically, require public sector organizations under provincial control (e.g. healthcare, child care, correctional services, schools, colleges/universities, long term care) to purchase 20% Ontario products, with incentives and supports to increase to 40% by 2022

The Ontario Food Policy Council

Establish a Provincial Food Policy Council with an independent budget, staff and decision-making power, that will connect the work of similar regional and municipal food policy groups (including councils, strategies, alliances, roundtables, etc), indigenous councils and provincial food systems actors, with a mandate to support a National Food Policy Council.

This council would also use an evidence-informed plan (e.g. as developed by the Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy group)9, to support the planning, implementation and monitoring of programming across multiple ministries (Health, Education, Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs, Environment, Municipal Affairs and Housing, Economic Development and Growth, Aboriginal Affairs, Energy) that work on interconnected food systems issues related to jobs, health, economic development and climate change.

 

9 Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy Group. The Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy; 2017. Available from: http://sustainontario.com/work/ofns/

Background to Vote ON Food and Farming

The priorities on this page have been updated throughout April 2022, primarily through meetings of our Community Growing Network, Edible Education Network, and Buy Local Food Network, as well as consultations with an emerging New Farmer Network, and input from a well-attended ad hoc Farmland Protection Working Group.