Local Food: Success in Eastern Ontario
“Do business with purpose, dignity, integrity and community, and profit will come at the end.”
This was the advice given to participants at the Eastern Ontario Local Food Conference (EOLFC) held last week in Cornwall. Tareq Hadhad, a Syrian refugee who came to Canada in 2015, spoke to a crowd of over 200 people about his life’s journey. His family now operates a successful business selling chocolate to many countries around the world.
The theme of the conference was local food, with a special focus on relationship-building as one of the most relevant factors for successful producers. A number of presenters gave their thoughts on how they have been successful by producing a specific product and selling one-on-one to customers looking for that particular product. Building a local food business has its challenges, but Hadhad had some advice: “There is always fear, but success is on the other side. Mistakes teach. It is healthy to fail – it means you are trying. Always fail forward. Lean on the uncomfortable.”
One presenter mentioned that eastern Ontario seems more involved with local food production than western Ontario is, though he couldn’t specifically say why. But he did add that a lot of local farmers tend to have a secondary source of income, according to OMAFRA statistics.
One reason given why local food is finding favour with consumers is that consumer preference has changed. This means that more consumers have made that conscious decision to purchase local food. They want to know how and where their food is produced, and they accept the fact that this knowledge will usually cost more.
Not only are consumers interested in local food, but processors are, as well. Processors are finding opportunities for unique or custom-produced foods that require specific inputs, which the processors want sourced locally. These arrangements are based on certain requirements for the raw material. For example, some processors are seeking oats with certain genetic characteristics. And because of the local connection, these foods come with lower transportation costs and a feel-good story.
The EOLFC was an encouraging day for the attendees. It was clear that there is opportunity for people to manage small farms that serve a local area and are based on relationships with the consumers. While concerns about increasing farm sizes are a recurring topic in agricultural circles, it’s good to remember that there are still plenty across the countryside who are making good things happen on a smaller scale.
Paul Bootsma is Field Services Manager for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, and CKNX Wingham.