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Group gets $114,000 grant to bring local food to public sector buildings

by Kelly Waterhouse

ELORA - The local food movement in Wellington County has received another boost.

Guelph Wellington Local Food (GWLF) has been awarded a grant of $114,000 from the Ontario government’s Greenbelt Fund, through its “Broader Public Sector Investment” program.

The grant will help support GWLF’s efforts to build a regional local food economy in partnership with public sector institutions, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, child care centers, universities and similar institutions.

During a networking session held at the Grand River Raceway on Sept. 20, food producers, economic development officers and OMAFRA officials met with representatives of public sector organizations - including the Universities of Guelph and Waterloo - to discuss the local food supply and  the demand for such goods in the public sector. 

Bill Duron, director of the Broader Public Sector Program, explained the purpose of the grant is to encourage the procurement of Ontario-grown foods, thereby stimulating the agricultural economy province-wide.

He acknowledged the main criteria for GWLF’s successful nomination. 

“With 98 public institutions with a combined $25-million food budget, GWLF wanted to make a dent in this budget with locally sourced food,” Duron explained.

“If they can make a dent in the food budget, they can make a big difference for the local food producers too.”

Geography was also key, Duron explained.

“Because they are in the epicenter of the agricultural sector, if GWLF is successful they will be an example of what can be done here; they could be a beacon of success for this jurisdiction.”

Recognizing the need for focused dedication and acknowledging the challenges in both the procurement needs and delivery issues, Duron was confident that GWLF has the foundation in place.

“GWLF have demonstrated a degree of success with their progress in the local consumer market,” he said.

“They have the organizational capability to facilitate the program.”

Sarah Megens, outreach coordinator for the Public Sector Project, will facilitate this grant initiative on behalf of GWLF, to be completed by March 2012.

Her role includes acting as a knowledge broker, providing resources and tools to connect buyers and suppliers. She recognized the obvious obstacles in local food procurement on a grand scale, but she shares Duron’s optimistic outlook for this project.

“Purchasers don’t always have the time or resources to search these opportunities out, so that is our role,” Megens said.

“We will look at what exists and what opportunities there are in place. We have to consider the challenge of the different sizes and buying needs of each different facility, and there is a lot of potential for this structure with an important economic development factor.”

Among other agricultural producers on hand for the meeting last week, was Arwa deGroot of Mapleton’s Organic in Mapleton Township. She represented her family’s farm by participating in the discussions with keen interest.

“From a philosophical perspective, it is a huge issue for my Dad and I to have healthy food in our health institutions,” says deGroot. “There are environmental concerns too, and this is a positive step.”

As a producer of organic milk, yogurt and ice cream, among other items, she understands the issues of local food suppliers and farmers trying to accommodate the public sector.

“It’s important for the suppliers to know what the buyers need and when, so they are prepared.

“We have the facility to produce large orders if we have the sense of schedule and order requirements.”

Moving forward, Megens and her advisory team will take the discussions from the Sept. 20 meeting to build a framework going forward.

 

September 30, 2011

 
 

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