Local Food - A Rural Opportunity

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 Executive Summary

This research provides a literature-review-based overview of the emergence of modern local food systems, and the associated benefits. The report also reviews initiatives in Canada and other countries and looks at the barriers to developing of localized food systems. Finally, the report looks at potential strategies to develop a local food system and what role government might play.

Over the last 60 years, Canada’s overall food system has become more geared to large-scale systems of production, distribution and retail. There is now a growing interest in the production, processing, and buying of local food. New “local food systems” are being set up to organize the various components that will meet the needs of all the stakeholders in the community or region.

Farmers markets have been working since pre-industrial times and have gained increased interest in the production, processing, and buying of local food. Local foods systems provide several advantages over conventional and global markets including socio-economic and environmental benefits. Buying locally strengthens regional economies, supports family farms, provides delicious, "fresh-from-the-field" foods for consumers, preserves the local landscape, and fosters a sense of community.

Farmers’ Markets, Community Supported Agriculture, Local Food within Grocery Stores and Food Co-ops are among some of successful initiatives of Canada. Other similar initiatives include restaurant and chef initiatives, culinary tourism and regional cuisine initiatives, food security or policy groups, food box programs (door to door delivery) and regional value chains.

Local food systems have been implemented successfully in other countries around the globe. USA’s Food and Nutrition programs, “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, The Farm-to-School and Farm-to-Institutions are good examples of local food systems. The similar programs in the UK include Food for Life partnership, Making Local Food Work, Office-based buying groups, Look for Local Food, Local food initiative and New Community Shops Network.

There are a number of barriers to the development of localized food systems. These include lack of financing, a limited growing season and a lack local processing infrastructure. In addition, the people working on developing local food systems are fewer and far between. More important perhaps are the lack of information on the consumer and the social and environmental consequences of the conventional food system.

Potential strategies to develop a local food system include promotional programs focused on local consumers, institutional purchasing programs that create direct links between local growers and local institutions, low interest small loan programs for young farmers. Establishing a cost share program may also help farmers transition to local food production. Other important steps include increased processing capacity, increased market access, improved links between local producers and area distributors, increased private sector involvement and improved agriculture education, etc.

Governments can play a very important role in the development of local food systems by providing system-wide support for food grown using sustainable methods and appropriate technology for small-scale farms, improving labeling laws and supporting research and extension programs to disseminate information and research findings. Outdated municipal bylaws may also stand in the way of urban agriculture. There is a need to make planning for food part of the municipal planning process.

Click here to view the full report.

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Humaira Irshad.
This document is maintained by Stacey Tames.
This information published to the web on February 3, 2011.
Last Reviewed/Revised on November 14, 2014.