City plots ‘cautious approach’ to buying food locally

Next week the city of Toronto will have a chance to become a leader in Ontario when it comes to using local food, even if its lead is a matter of baby steps.

Toronto’s government management committee yesterday recommended that a local food procurement policy be sent to city council for a vote.

Jamie Kirkpatrick, a campaigner for the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA), was dismayed that their group’s amendments to the policy were not adopted, but remained hopeful that they will eventually be included.

“It’s the right direction, it’s a very cautious approach, and we’ll be looking for councillors to take up our recommendations and set this policy back on the right track,” he said. “We want to see the city of Toronto emerge as a leader, so we can see what big purchasers can do.”

The local food procurement policy is part of an effort to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases created when food is transported from its source to the dinner table.

It will set in motion an incremental, phase-by-phase plan to increase the proportion of the city’s food budget that is spent on locally-made food.

The first phase will be a $15,000 project run by the Department of Child Services in city daycares. The program will be extended to other departments after city staff report back on the initial pilot project.

TEA recommended two amendments to the policy. One asked for city staff to look into a definition of sustainability and the possibility of including sustainable production methods in the policy. The second asked the committee to adopt 50 per cent of its food budget as a goal for the local food policy to work towards.

Councillor Gord Perks, although not a government management committee member, spoke in support of TEA’s recommendations, neither of which were ultimately successful.

The recommendations would provide the policy with a sense of direction, according to Perks.

“It would give staff some guidance about what kind of work they have to do once we move past the pilot phase,” he said.

Councillor Doug Holyday said he did not feel the city should set up a program that will monitor where food is purchased from, especially given the current economic climate.

“The government can’t interfere in every aspect of everybody’s life, from what strawberries they’re going to eat in the morning or what carrots they’re going to cook on Sunday.”

He proposed an amendment requiring city staff to report back to the committee in a years time “so we get a chance here to see how this experiment has worked, what difficulties they’ve encountered, what they were able to accomplish and whether we want to proceed with this; at what cost and at what increase in bureaucracy.”

The policy will be voted on by city council sometime next week.