FarmStart’s November conference, Growing International: Producing and Marketing Ethnic Food in Ontario, was a great success. The aim was to create discussion on how to develop a local supply for the province’s growing ethno-cultural or world-food markets.The three day conference attracted a diverse crowd: in Durham over 40 participants joined us; the Toronto event drew over 70; and Guelph hosted over 60 people for the morning, with most staying for the strategic meeting in the afternoon.

Many organizations and stakeholders were represented including: OMAFRA, University of Guelph faculty and researchers, Farmers’ Markets Ontario, Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Growers, Ontario Institute for Agronomists, the AfriCan Food Basket, ethno-cultural community leaders, farmers from all backgrounds, and many other people representing various segments of the food supply-chain and related organizations.

Overall, it was clear there are many pieces and players necessary to encourage a local, world food system and a clear communication between all stakeholders needs to improve. Bill Sciarrapa, the keynote who shared his experience leading a large-scale research and extension project focusing on world crops in the NE United States, clearly attributed their success in the north East US to the wide range of industry, government, not-for-profit and university partnerships and networks.

The discussions largely centered on the production and market opportunities for ethno-cultural- or ‘world’- crops. The keynote along with a variety of panelists and conference attendees brought up issues and opportunities facing Ontario production and distribution of world crops. The conference provided an excellent opportunity to start many different conversations, but the long-term outcomes will depend on how organizations follow-up with the ideas and relationships formed throughout the three days.

The following is a short summary of the key points and questions raised during the conference.

Production Potential

Several presentations addressed the varieties that can be grown, the issues preventing access to appropriate seeds, necessary and potential growing conditions, and how to deal with weeds and pests. While some research has taken place in Canada and more in the US, it was clear that everyone supported the funding of large scale market oriented research and effective communication to farmers around new varieties and production issues.

Market Opportunities

The market opportunities and distribution of world crops was another prominent issue addressed. The variety and size of the markets was discussed through the work of Bill Sciarrapa’s research team, and in Ontario through demographic statistics, presentations by ethno-cultural and food chain leaders, OMAFRA new crop specialists and FarmStart market research findings. Key components for the development of these market opportunities is to understand the diversity and specific demands in the ethno-cultural markets, the structure and players in the food chains, and the potential to widen the markets to include mainstream consumers.

Farmers needed!

Another piece of the discussion centered around how to enable new farmers- both Canadians and newcomers- to start new farm enterprises and existing farmers to transition into world crop production from another farm enterprise such as tobacco. A major concern raised was finding access to adequate information on growing world crops and identifying and accessing appropriate markets. Barriers facing new farmers also include new access to resources such as land, equipment, and capital. A third opportunity discussed was the potential of tapping into the valuable knowledge of new comers to Canada who have agricultural backgrounds. The struggle is how best to connect them to the farming community.

Research and Extension Needed!

Along with that discussion, came the topic of university research and the role of OMAFRA and other relevant organizations. It was generally acknowledged that more research was needed and more effort needs to be put into outreach. Overall, it is clear there are many pieces and players necessary to encourage a local, world food system and a clear communication between all stakeholders needs to improve. Sciarrapa clearly attributed their success to the wide range of industry, government, not-for-profit and university partnerships and networks.
All presentations and more in depth discussion of the conference proceedings and this topic will be available in the MarketLINK section of the website soon.

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