OFA: Agriculture more than just farming

Special to WC Online

The following op-ed piece was written by Paul Vickers, executive member, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

OPINION – This week marks Ontario Agriculture Week. Strategically selected to be just before Thanksgiving, it’s a perfect time to celebrate the abundance of locally produced food, fuel, fibre and flowers that we are lucky enough to have easy access to here in Ontario.

Nowadays, less than two per cent of Canada’s population is involved in farming and the closest many of us ever get to a farm is shopping at a local farmers’ market or visiting an agri-tourism at­traction near an urban area – but there’s so much more to agriculture than most Ontarians realize.

Paul Vickers, executive member, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Paul Vickers, executive member, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Ontario farmers proudly grow and produce more than 200 different food and farm commodities from grains and meat to fresh produce, honey and maple syrup for the province, the country and the world.

I’m one of those farmers – my family has a dairy farm near the Georgian Bay area town of Meaford, ON, where we also grow corn, soybeans, wheat and hay, and sell some freezer beef.

I’m also a member of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture board of directors, where I represent farmers from Grey and Bruce counties. This is a more rural region of our province, and agriculture is a major contributor to our local economy – not just the farms, but also all of the businesses and services that support what we do, from feed suppliers and trucking companies to veterinarians, bankers, and more.

Agriculture matters in other parts of the province too, even in urban areas that wouldn’t at first glance feel like they might have a strong connection to what we do.

That’s because Ontario’s agriculture and agri-food sector is an economic powerhouse in this province. As one of the largest economic drivers in Ontario, we contribute an estimated $47 billion to the provincial economy every year and employ more than 10 per cent of Ontario’s workforce.

But farming isn’t just about jobs and the economy. It is also about housing, healthcare, environment and climate change, and food security. Let me explain what I mean.

Modern technologies and new hybrid work arrangements have made many rural commu­nities and regional hubs more accessible to urban Ontarians, offering new opportunities for families looking for increased affordability. The growth of these municipalities can relieve urban housing market pressures and offer solutions to gridlock and associated emis­sions concerns.

Food is health. A balanced diet can go a long way to having a positive influence on human health, from fighting inflammation and metabolic syndrome to reducing the risk of conditions like cancer, heart disease or diabetes. Reducing the risk of illness or pre­venting people from getting sick is a key way to reduce wait times and manage ballooning healthcare costs.

When it comes to environment and climate change, agriculture is one of the only sectors in the world with a built-in capacity to sequester car­bon, offsetting not only its own footprint, but that of other sectors as well. Healthy farming practices – often called regenerative agricul­ture – and smart agri-tech innovations are in wide use on farms across Ontario.

And last but certainly not least, Ontario has a remarkable ability to produce food of all kinds. The food system can be fragile, though, threatened by everything from supply chain chaos to natural disasters and world events far from home. Producing as much food as possible right here in Ontario keeps our supply chains short and nimble and protects our food security.

Ontario Agriculture Week ends with the Thanksgiving holiday, and an opportunity for all of us to take a few minutes to appreciate where we live and what we have. As Ontario’s farmers, we thank all of you for supporting local food and farming, and we invite you to share the bounty of our year’s harvest this weekend as you enjoy your Thanksgiving celebrations.

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