This is my first column as chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA). I appreciate the confidence that my fellow board members have placed in me to lead this organization. We’re in a turbulent time in the world – two years into a pandemic, we’re also dealing with global supply chain disruptions, rapidly rising prices, war in a major global food-producing region, and a growing realization of what a changing climate will mean to our lives.
Turbulence makes it extra challenging to be a leader and I’d like to take a moment to recognize our past chair, Bill George, for his service to our organization. It’s something I didn’t get a chance to do properly at our recent annual meeting, which was held virtually again this year due to the pandemic.
I’ve been involved with OFVGA in different capacities for many years, and I believe Bill has had the toughest job by far as chair of this organization. Most people going into a chair position have some ideas on what they’d like to achieve during their tenure, particularly on a proactive basis. Bill didn’t get much chance to do that as the pandemic has defined the majority of his time as OFVGA chair.
It's beyond imagination how much time and effort leading during crisis takes, including on evenings and weekends, and how much stress it can place on business and family - but, together with the OFVGA team, Bill has done a phenomenal job in getting us through the past two years and the growers of Ontario appreciate everything he has done.
As we transition into the recovery phase of the pandemic, I hope we will get a bit of a break from being reactive and instead, have the opportunity to once again concentrate on more proactive work on behalf of our industry.
We’ve already started down that road in the last year with the More than a Migrant Worker outreach program. Early successes in getting our side of the labour story out to politicians, media and the public are encouraging and as a board, we hope to apply a similar approach to other big issues affecting our industry such as crop protection and environment/climate change.
It’s a bit of a shift in thinking for OFVGA, as we’ve long focused our efforts almost exclusively on government relations and lobbying. We’re not going to move away from that or lessen our advocacy efforts, but we are going to be more active in reaching consumers directly. This includes working with our More than a Migrant Worker program partner Farm & Food Care Ontario, whose principal mandate is ensuring public trust and talking to consumers about where food comes from.
During my first week as chair, I participated in OFVGA’s Queen’s Park outreach days. Pre-pandemic, we held these meetings with elected officials, political staffers and bureaucrats in person, but we’ve shifted on-line for the last couple of years. One of the topics that came up frequently in those meetings was food security, and in particular access to and protection of top-quality farmland for food production.
From a horticulture perspective, we are lucky in Ontario to have some unique specialty soils and microclimates that let us grow crops most other parts of our country cannot. This gives us opportunities to expand our sector and strengthen our place in Ontario’s economy by producing food not just for our own consumption, but also for export markets.
At OFVGA, we’ve long been advocating for a strong focus on domestic food production throughout all aspects of public policy, and the pandemic has heightened the need. This means a consistent and balanced approach to land use planning, crop protection, labour and energy policy at all levels of government so that growers can remain productive and competitive.
Many people don’t understand the complexities of food production and everything that goes into ensuring food is available in our stores, so it’s up to us to help ensure our ability to grow food isn’t curtailed by well-intentioned but impractical or unrealistic government policy and regulation.