Ontario’s Greenbelt is critical to the province’s food supply. Here’s how you can support your local Greenbelt farmers this summer.
Ontario’s Greenbelt, which stretches from Niagara in the south, to Tobermory in the north, and west past Cobourg, is the largest in the world, composed of over two million acres of protected land. Apart from providing world-class outdoor recreation, fresh air, and clean water, the Greenbelt is critical to the province’s food supply.
With some of Canada’s richest agricultural land, a favourable climate, and proximity to urban areas, the Greenbelt enables consumers to buy fresh foods close to home — while supporting Ontario’s economy in the process. “The Greenbelt protects some of Canada’s most fertile farmland and productive farming communities,” says Edward McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to fostering the health and prosperity of Ontario’s Greenbelt. “At the Foundation, we invest in the Greenbelt farming communities that feed Ontario. We help farmers innovate, get their products to new markets, and ensure Ontario shelves are stocked with fresh local food.”
From fruits, vegetables, and specialty crops sold at farmers markets; to craft beer and cider, award-winning wines, and culinary tourism experiences, the Greenbelt is a vibrant part of Ontario’s food culture.
Shift to e-commerce platform keeps Greenbelt farmers selling despite COVID-19
COVID-19 hit farmers and food producers hard. “The lockdown and distancing regulations restricted the ability of farmers’ markets within the Greenbelt from operating as usual,” says McDonnell. To aid in COVID-19 recovery, the Greenbelt Foundation reached out to provide support to partners and producer organizations in the agri-food sector.
One of those partners is the Greenbelt Farmers’ Market Network. The non-profit, comprised of almost 100 regional markets, has been facilitating market access for local producers over the past 15 years, as local food has become more popular with consumers. The Greenbelt Foundation invested in the Network, helping them to develop an emergency digital platform in order to get their farmers to operate in virtual markets and continue to sell their products to consumers, onboarding about 600 vendors so far with more to come. “We were able to offer a free platform to 44 of our most vulnerable markets in need in order to get their farmers and vendors selling,” says Daniel Taylor, Co-Director of Greenbelt Farmers Market Network.
Many benefits to buying local
Ontarians can support Greenbelt farmers during COVID-19 recovery and beyond by buying local. “It’s the freshest and healthiest food you’re going to find and it’s good for your community,” says Taylor. It also helps support environmental stewardship globally, which has a positive impact on climate change. “The way these farms produce food is helping everything from the birds and bees to the air you breathe, so this is a great way to have an impact simply by doing something you do all the time,” he says.
Moreover, supporting local farmers is a great way to experience and learn about food. “As businesses reopen, we encourage people to seek out on-farm experiences where they can learn about, sample and buy local food,” says McDonnell. With 10,000 kilometres of trails that wind their way through lush forests and vibrant farming communities, Ontario’s Greenbelt will once again provide an abundance of opportunity to get outside and explore. Stop to taste local cuisine, sample wine and craft beer, visit natural heritage sites, and bring home fresh ingredients for delicious homemade meals.