With the growing season underway and having just marked Local Food Week, farmers are keen to point out the important role the agri-food industry plays in the area.
“We tend to think of Waterloo Region as being a tech powerhouse, which we are one of the most innovative communities in North America, but at the same time, the ring around the periphery of the cities is this fantastic and bountiful soil and countryside filled with farmers who are very skilled at producing nutritious food,” said Mark Reusser, vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
“We live in a rather remarkable place here in Waterloo Region, in that we have ready access to a large amount of locally grown food, both at the farm and at places like the St. Jacobs market, for instance. And in addition to that there’s also significant access to local food at the Elmira Produce Auction,” said Reusser, who farms near New Dundee and also serves as vice-president of the Waterloo Federation of Agriculture.
According to the OFA, more than 10 per cent of Ontario’s labour force is employed “from field-to-fork in the agri-food sector.”
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There are a number of reasons to buy locally produced food, Reusser said.
“This is probably the freshest food that you’ll ever get. It’s food that’s produced within virtually a walking distance of where people live, or more likely a short driving distance. It hasn’t come somewhere by truck or by plane or by ship. So it’s very local so it employs local people and local farmers and supports a very significant food processing industry in Waterloo Region and as a consequence employs even more people,” he added.
Like most other major industries, agriculture has been impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Even though food prices are rising, revenue for farmers has not increased, Reusser said.
“The interesting thing is that as the prices of our products go up, so do our input costs. So for instance, the cost of fertilizer has skyrocketed and almost solely because of the Ukrainian crisis, Russia is a big supplier of fertilizer to the world. And since the crisis, there’s been an embargo on it and significant tariffs. So farmers are looking at very large cost increases.”
The price of food has gone up and that’s good for farmers, not necessarily for consumers, but the cost of our income inputs have gone up also significantly. So our margins have not changed a whole lot,” he added.
Beyond buying, local residents can support the industry by promoting policies that protect farmland, Reusser said.
“I would reference here in Waterloo Region the hard, countryside line that delineates the boundary between urban and rural, and also our regional Official Plan which recognizes that sprawling development across farmland is not necessarily the best use of land, and it’s probably better to live in a little bit denser community and ensure that both farmland and the natural environment continue to exist in our region,” he said.
While not everyone has a direct connection to industry it is still all around them, Reusser added.
“It’s really close. I mean, you’re 10 minutes away from seeing local food being grown no matter where you live in Waterloo Region.”