The demand for local food is expanding and becoming more prevalent in homes across Ontario.

This demand stems from passion for food grown in Ontario’s backyard, allowing farmers to get their flavourful and safe food on our plates. When trying to get local food into our public institutions, farmers face barriers, including months-long food service contracts or pre-planned menus. But there is an easy, functional way to bring Ontario’s food to your plate: The Local Food Challenge.

An initiative by the Greenbelt Fund with support from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Jeff Leal, the Challenge encourages institutions across Ontario to bring healthy food from farms to people by including local food ingredients on their menus. Institutions include hospitals, schools, and childcare centres, and by bringing food from Ontario farms and creating tasty recipes, they serve their patients and students better. With the Challenge, these institutions grow to understand the barriers that Greenbelt farmers face, enjoying a little healthy competition — and food — in the process.

“We can all do more when it comes to buying local, even if it’s just one new item each week.”

The year-long challenge includes a grant of up to $15,000 from the Greenbelt Fund to support institutions’ efforts. The Fund then shares the success stories of each institution via traditional and new media, bringing staff and students along for the ride.

Education through participation

Participating institutions in the 2014 Challenge include Centennial College, Lakehead District School Board, Niagara Health System, and the University of Guelph. For Carleton University, their 2013 grant allowed them to deepen student understanding of local food, celebrating Ontario farms’ ingredients on their menus. That same year, Elgin County Homes found success with their grant, translating their local food commitment into activities for seniors, such as taste tests for new menus and voting on favourite desserts.

Burkhard Mausberg, CEO of the Greenbelt Fund, knows about the benefits of eating local food. “The Local Food Challenge gives institutions the opportunity to cook with more local food and explore their menus with the added incentive of having a little competition amongst communities across Ontario. We can all do more when it comes to buying local, even if it’s just one new item each week.”

Institutions will continue to be challenged on how local they can go, sharing their experiences and lessons to everyone across Ontario. So the next time you eat at a public institution, it will be clear where the flavourful, rich food comes from.