Strengthening our food and farming sector: Update on the Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance

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The Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Action Plan, to which the TFPC contributed, was launched by the Greater Toronto Area Agricultural Action Committee, the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, the City of Hamilton and the Region of Niagara in 2012. Since its launch 7 municipal and regional councils across the Golden Horseshoe region have endorsed and financially contributed to the Plan.

Following the development of the Action Plan, The Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance (GHFFA) was formed to oversee and ensure its implementation. The GHFFA is a coalition of multiple stakeholders from food and agriculture – from farmers and food processors, to governments, foundations, and educational institutions. The Alliance includes a political representative from each of the participating municipalities.

This Action Plan provides five broad strategies and specific actions to ensure that the Golden Horseshoe is the home of a globally-recognized and vibrant food and farming cluster. This cluster includes the businesses and institutions that comprise and support the food chain in this region, including farming, food processing and distribution, food service, and supportive activities such as training, education, research, and technological innovation.

The Golden Horseshoe already has one of the most extensive food and farming clusters in North America, contributing $12.3 billion to the provincial economy and comprising 38% of the agri-food businesses in Ontario.

Through the Food and Farming Action Plan, the GHFFA endeavors to enhance and expand this cluster by overcoming some of the challenges that hinder its growth. Some of these challenges include loss of farmland due to land prices becoming unaffordable to farmers, regulations and policies that hinder the growth of food and farming businesses, the cluster’s stakeholders operating in silos, and uncertainty about the impact of climate change.

Current Work of the GHFFA

mapThe GHFFA has begun its work on a collaborative project to collect data that will paint a picture of the food and farming activities and trends taking place in the Golden Horseshoe region. This is being done through the lens of ‘assets’ – by mapping the valuable components of the supply chain that already exist, in order to identify the priorities for moving the Action Plan forward. Phase 1 of the Asset Mapping project was completed at the end of last year, and Phase 2 has begun.

A key role of the GHFFA is to enable the replication of good ideas across the region. This involves supporting enabling policies that can allow the growth and enhancement of agri-food activities. Earlier this year, for example, a regional workshop was held in order to begin the conversation about creating agricultural policies that will enable farmers to “add value” to their farm, such as food processing that will allow farms to become more financially viable. This workshop brought together municipal planners and farmers to discuss existing barriers and ways to address them through planning.

Wide-spread Interest in Food and Farming

What is exciting about the GHFFA’s work is its synergies with the work of outside players within the Golden Horseshoe region. As Janet Horner, the GHFFA’s Executive Director explains, many parts of the Action Plan are “being accomplished through the efforts of others”, as many people are already invested in innovative ways to improve the food and farming sector in this region.

One exciting example is the Food and Beverage Innovation Centre that is in the works. This is a collaborative effort between the Economic Development Division of the City of Toronto, the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors, the Mars Centre for Innovation, and many other partners. The Innovation Centre would provide expertise, a support network, and physical space for entrepreneurs to develop and move forward their new food and beverage ideas.

“There’s room for everyone”P1030715

An important characteristic of the GHFFA is that it bridges ‘camps’ that are sometimes understood as divergent, such as ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ and ‘conventional’ and ‘sustainable’. Janet Horner believes that “anybody and everybody who wants to farm is a valuable piece of our whole initiative”.

The GHFFA is excited to work with the TFPC and others to plan for larger scale urban agriculture projects. An urban farm in the Rouge Park is one opportunity that the GHFFA wishes to bring to fruition. Janet sees the beauty of urban farming as the ability for urban dwellers to be able to “jump off the subway” right onto farms.

For more information about the Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance visit http://www.foodandfarming.ca/