Due to the emergence of centralized distributors, the loss of local food infrastructure, and the dominance of corporate food service companies, food is now sourced from all over the world. This means that within the Thunder Bay Area, the rest of Ontario, and much of Canada, public dollars used for buying food for hospitals, daycares and other public sector institutions are not being spent on food businesses that would benefit the local economy.
This is a serious oversight when we consider that the Broader Public Sector (BPS) plays a significant role in the food economy and has significant buying power. The Ontario healthcare system alone serves an estimated 115,000,000 meals to patients every year, with the value of food in all those meals estimated to be over $285,000,000. 1 In 2014, BPS institutions in the Thunder Bay Area spent approximately $10 million on food. 2 Shifting even 10% of purchases to locally grown and processed foods would create a $1 million market for food producers, harvesters and processors. Public institutions have the potential to use their significant purchasing power to invest in local agriculture and forest and freshwater foods, while providing opportunities to other local food entrepreneurs along the supply chain.
Throughout Canada and many other countries, the consumption of local foods within the BPS is being promoted as a means to scale-up local food systems and enhance local economic development. Locally, awareness is increasing among the public, the BPS, restaurants and businesses that buying local means tangible economic benefits. This increased awareness is generating growing demand, market opportunities and greater capacity—all of which is enhancing the local economic development cycle.
Local food not only has economic benefits, but often also means more culturally appropriate, nutritious, fresher, and tastier food. The BPS is responsible for the health and well-being of many people, including students, the elderly and those in healthcare institutions. Sourcing local food is therefore a way to raise the bar towards offering good food to a wide range of people. Buying food closer to the source would also mean reducing greenhouse gas emissions that come from shipping food long distances.