Ontario is one of Canada’s most culturally diverse provinces, with one in four residents coming from outside of Canada. With approximately 100,000 newcomers being welcomed to the region every year, the province’s local farmers and food processors have started looking outside the fruit and veg most commonly grown in Ontario to take advantage of this market opportunity to include items like bok choy, Ethiopian barley, and halal chicken in their offerings.

Today, Ontario grows and processes approximately 200 food products, making it the most diverse food sector in Canada. According to Jeff Leal, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, “We want to make sure that new Canadians have food products that they can avail themselves of that are grown here, but native to the country from which they came. Ontario has made tremendous advances in that area over the last several years, but we want to make sure that Ontario agriculture continues to innovate to meet those needs.”

To that end, the Province of Ontario launched a series of consultations in June, entitled Bring Home the World, to find out which world foods consumers want to see grown in the province. Leal believes that one of the biggest opportunities to expand the base of local food products in Ontario lies with smaller growers and processors who want to get into the area of world foods.
The Greenbelt Fund, a non-profit organization supported by the Government of Ontario to increase the amount of Ontario-grown and raised food available in the province, started investing in world foods when it was launched about eight years ago. “We’re working to make Ontario the UN of farming,” says Burkhard Mausberg, CEO of the Greenbelt Fund. “There are more languages spoken in the GTA than there are countries in the UN.”

The Greenbelt Fund supports farmers and the agrifood sector by investing in projects that make locally grown and raised food more abundant and more accessible.

One such Greenbelt Fund grantee is Bashir Munye, owner of Munye Kitchen. Munye has been cooking professionally in Toronto since 1997 and, for the past 10 years, has focused mainly on using food that is local, fresh, and seasonal. “While I’ve always been committed to local Ontario agriculture, I had a yearning for culturally relevant foods like homegrown ginger, okra, and chicory,” says Munye. “I started seeking out farmers who were diversifying into world foods.”

Munye realized that if he didn’t know where to look for these foods originally, then new Canadians wouldn’t either. He came up with the idea of a local food guide geared towards the multi-ethnic African community in the GTA. “I felt that the community could use a champion to help them find local foods that are culturally relevant to them,” he says. The guide will tell shoppers which farmers grow certain foods and where to get them, and will help to create local awareness of the world food available to them.

Once the guide is completed, then all consumers will know where to find, for instance, Ethiopian barley. Spoiler alert: it’s grown just outside of Ottawa and is coming to a store near you.