Chet Greason, Gazette staff
A roundtable discussion on local food, held at the Local Community Food Centre in Stratford on Tuesday, found consensus almost across the board.
Hosted by Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece, the discussion focussed on what changes are needed in the local food industry.
This was the fourth such roundtable that Pettapiece has been involved in, with previous discussions held in Essex, Lambton, and Wellington counties. This was the first discussion, however, that talked about the Liberal government’s new Bill 36, which focuses on local food.
Pettapiece, a Progressive Conservative, said the bill was a necessary one.
“We want to support it,” he said, adding there were two issues he hoped might be addressed when the bill goes to committee; the first being the choice to set the date of Ontario’s Local Food Week for the week before Thanksgiving.
“This would put Local Food Week on top of Agriculture Week,” Pettapiece noted.
He suggested the double-booking was an oversight, adding he hopes a better date for Local Food Week might be selected.
Pettapiece noted that his only other beef with the bill has to do with its lack of teeth.
“It’s wishy-washy. There’s no meat to it,” he said, pointing to the bill’s language, which states, “The Minister of Agriculture and Food may establish goals or targets to aspire to in respect of local food.”
“If my dad had of said, ‘Do you aspire to milk the cows?’ I’d have gone back to sleep,” Pettapiece joked.
Other than those two issues, Pettapiece said the concept of the bill is fine.
He noted the biggest point of contention at Tuesday's meeting was the definition of local food itself.
“Some want it to be local, as in Perth County,” he explained. “I think the government holds a broader view ... meaning all of Ontario.”
He clarified the government’s position, which he said he shares, that certain produce can only be grown in certain areas during certain times of the year.
“Like tomatoes,” he said. “You have to get them from somewhere. Just not Florida; not when you can get them from Leamington.”
Besides that, Pettapiece said most everyone in attendance expressed the same concerns regarding local food.
“The consensus was that there’s a need to promote local products more ... Stratford’s done a phenomenal job, but it’s getting harder ... especially with meats, seeing as there are no abattoirs in the county anymore.”
Pettapiece also cited the abundance of red tape as an obstacle for local producers, adding, “Farmers just want to get on with life, but there’s too many rules and regulations.”
But is it possible to call for a reduction of rules and regulations while, at the same time, complaining about a food bill lacking teeth?
“It’s a bit of a paradox,” Steve Stacey, director of the Local Community Food Centre, admitted. “Do you need government to step in and say government shouldn’t step in? I don’t know.
“Some red tape is important,” Stacey added. "Such as regulations in regards to food safety. We shouldn’t get rid of everything.”
However, Stacey noted these sorts of debates will only result in better legislation.
"It’s really important to have these discussions with the food act on the table” he said. “Hopefully they get it right. They have a chance to put together legislation that could really support local farmers and the food system in general.
“The more input they have, the more informed the legislation can be.”
Stacey also noted that a well-supported local food industry can only benefit a community in the long run, producing a ripple effect by stimulating regional economic and environmental spheres in a positive way.
“It’s a win,win,win scenario,” he said.