Chris Borutski is the Food Services Supervisor at Thunder Bay’s Pioneer Ridge Long-Term Care and Senior Services, where has been working to increase the “local spend” of the raw food budget since 2015, when the City-run facility committed to a goal of spending at least 30% with farmers in Thunder Bay and the surrounding area every year. They achieved their goal in 2016 and have consistently hit that target every year since then, without going over-budget, and have built what they’ve learned into policy and a set of new processes that automatically include year-round and seasonal ingredients and foster the development of relationships with new growers. In the spring of 2022, the Ontario government allocated an additional 15% to long-term care homes’ raw food budgets, creating even more opportunities to bring in fresh food from the surrounding region.
Borutski says they’ve created internal processes to update their 4-week menu cycles and ordering guides with new local ingredients when they are available. It’s now easy for them to make use of ingredients from both seasonal producers like Arjen and Henriet DeBruin of DeBruin’s Greenhouses, who supply them with tomatoes and lettuce for about 5 months of the year, and others like Mike Visser of MyPride Farm, who makes regular deliveries of ground veal and stew meat year-round. Pioneer Ridge also uses products from Brule Creek Farms, a local grain and oilseed mill as well as pork and vegetables from other local farms and fish caught in the region.
Every year Borutski and his team conduct outreach in the farm community to meet potential new suppliers. With the 15% increase from the Ontario government, Borutski says hitting their annual target of a 30% local spend means the facility spends at least $300,000 with local producers.
Wholesale prices are negotiated annually, and tend to remain stable through ongoing market disruptions caused by supply chain issues, climate change and international conflicts. The new relationships have improved residents’ dining experience, helped stabilize Pioneer Ridge’s food budget and given local farmers consistent income streams through challenging economic times.