Atmosphere of optimism at Mowat Centre

Image copyright U.S. Department of Agriculture Image caption Change will be slow at first but progress is happening, stakeholders say

As the doors to a modernized food supply distribution centre and new research station in Toronto rise, celebrations are in store for local food producers from all over the world.

This is one of Canada’s leading agricultural achievements.

It’s one that first integrated health into the food system.

More than just research

It involves closer food production to the consumer and less reliance on the commercial supply chain.

Mark Stanford heads the partnership between Toronto, Indigenous People and the University of Toronto.

It’s a partnership built on an understanding that we really need to integrate health in the food system, and we really need to build a food system that actually links the food, the health, the labour, and the economy in a way that no one else has ever done before, because the current status quo is just one part of the entire food system. Mark Stanford

“We’d been planning what the next steps would be so that this would be an impactful step forward for both the city and for Indigenous people,” he said.

“Because this is about so much more than just research. For us, health care is the only option for people today.

“People depend on our health care system; their families depend on it to provide for their physical health.

“And so being able to invest in our institutions, our institutions build our health care system, meaning it’s funded from the quality of what we produce.”

Call to action

Change comes slowly at first, he said, because businesses adapt but it becomes a broader strategy.

A major achievement is the next level of border tariffs on Canadian and American produce, capped at 10 per cent.

Mark Stanford said the relationships these growers have built with their customers are changing.

There are pipelines that bring oilsands crops from Alberta, through the province, to Toronto and Buffalo.

In a small way, that helps people with diabetes and high blood pressure.

So does working with Indigenous customers in places like Alberta to implement disease management programs.

“I think the impact that we’ve had on the way the food system works and the way it’s being managed and distributed is huge.

“We need to invest in community food systems so that they will continue to be a tool for creating healthy and sustainable food systems in the long term, and that’s why the health department partners with us and comes to visit us for us.”

Time to build the future

It was local food’s participation in Mowat Centre’s labs, that helped discover “toal quininae,” a legume touted for its ability to help manage wounds after combat.

It could also help with oral nutrition to build better diets.

“I mean, maybe you could say that it’s a health food, but to me it’s a nutrient that helps the body detoxify.”

“When the fourth industrial revolution arrives, there’s going to be three, four to five billion people living in this post-industrial world.

“We are not going to be able to feed that.

“We’ve got to keep the world food secure for our future.

“I think investing in the food system and investing in community food systems helps build the future for the whole world.”

Local food has been one of the fastest growing sectors of Canada’s farm sector since the 1990s, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

The transformation from an industry made up of just three percent of Canadian farmers to an agricultural powerhouse has been spectacular.

But Mark Stanford says the success is not something to be given away, that the challenge now is to make sure that the food movement grows for the benefit of everyone.

“The relationship that we have with people that are part of the food system, it’s something that builds the community and it builds engagement in the community with eating well and being healthy,” he said.

“It builds a different relationship in a much more productive way than any of the other solutions that we currently have available.”

Image copyright U.S. Department of Agriculture Image caption This is one of Canada’s leading agricultural achievements.

Mark Stanford is a project manager at the Mowat Centre, a research facility on Peel Farms in Toronto.

Leave a Comment