OFA Viewpoint: rewarding farmers’ ecological stewardship

ONTARIO – It’s been almost two years since COVID-19 changed the world as we know it.

As farmers, we are familiar with volatile markets, unpredictably and vulnerability to extreme weather.

The pandemic, however, disrupted all facets of farming, from labour to supply, and barred access to traditional market streams.

Many farm businesses showcased their resiliency and perseverance as they made the pivot to direct marketing and farm gate sales.

Those that made the leap did more than survive—they thrived as Ontarians were eager to support local growers and producers throughout the food value chain.

It provided an opportunity to reinforce the importance of buying and supporting local businesses, connecting with our consumer base and promoting products that are available all year-round.

It seems ironic, but as our customers become further removed from the farm, their interest in where their food comes from and how it’s grown continues to grow.

The pandemic motivated and escalated a “support local” boom, opening great opportunities for our sector to engage and inform Ontarians about modern agriculture.

It’s a movement the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) wants to foster for generations to come.

This year, the Virtual Annual General Meeting (AGM) is slated to begin at 9am on Nov. 22. The focus is on Connecting with Ontarians.

The theme highlights the importance of relationship-building with customers, increasing public connection to the food value chain and bridging the gap between Ontarians and farmers.

Whether you produce or purchase, we are all connected through our shared values of family, community, local, small business, environment and food security.

Through a suite of new campaigns, events and initiatives, the OFA is working with partners to better connect Ontarians with the farm and food sector—from field to fork.

As a farmer and OFA director, I understand the public branding dynamic and its ability to cultivate sustainable and profitable farms.

The goal for me is to increase public loyalty, understanding and empathy for the agriculture sector.

It has been my personal view the general public has the greatest impact on the farm sector and more specifically our OFA members.

Our farmers produce the highest quality food, fibre and fuel for the province, country and world. It’s important that we share our story and continue to garner public support through the creation of an emotional, authentic and personal connection.

Canadian broadcaster and host of the award-winning radio show Under the Influence Terry O’Reilly,  will be addressing attendees as a keynote speaker, discussing the bigger issues of marketing, emotional storytelling and how to relate your story to an audience outside your echo chamber.

I’ve known Terry since our days growing up in Sudbury when I delivered the daily newspaper to his family. His endearing presentation style and professional background will be sure to inspire you.

Thompson to appear

Additional agenda highlights include an election for director-at-large on the OFA board and an address from Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Mary Robinson and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs minister Lisa Thompson.

The AGM is an annual highlight for me as members from across the province get the chance to review the work done by the organization over the past year and begin setting priorities for the future.

I look forward to hearing from fellow farm leaders on how they fared this past year, their expectations for next year and how the OFA can support them in achieving their goals.

I sincerely hope to “see” you there to participate in engaging conversations and presentations, select new leaders, vote on resolutions and learn more about the organization’s direction entering the public trust forum.

For event details and information visit ofa.on.ca/agm.

Hugh Simpson is a director with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

Hugh Simpson