Increasing food prices, supply chain issues lead to thoughts of food sovereignty for Manitoulin

According to a recent Food Bank Canada report, nearly 1.5 million Canadians had visited food banks in March 2022, an all time high. Demand continues to grow. Grocery prices have increased at the fastest rate since August 1981, with prices up 11.4 percent in September compared to one year ago. Dalhousie University’s ‘Canada’s Food Price Report 2022’ has forecasted an overall food price increase of five to seven percent for the coming year.

"It's important for consumers to understand that food prices have been going up for some time, and there's no turning back," says Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, project lead and director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University. "Our relationship with food is changing, and so will our food budgets. Showing up at the grocery store knowing what you should be paying will help."

The report suggested that consumers’ food choices are motivated by health, environmental sustainability and a commitment to supporting local food supply chains. Many families have turned to using coupons, meal planning, and reducing food waste as ways to cope with increased costs.

Reducing food waste is a good place to start. In Canada, up to 30 percent of food is wasted and sent to landfills, with unused food in landfills contributing to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Planning meals, using up food already in the house and shopping based on the plan can help reduce costs.

A Manitoulin grocery store or co-operative would speak highly to food security and access to food, said local farmer Nic Harfield. “I think it could be done in such a way that the local food in the market could be very closely matched to grocery stores’ food to have much more accessible local food,” he said.

Nic’s Farm Market on Bidwell Road is still open on Fridays and Saturdays. When he made the move to full-time farming after almost 15 years of teaching high school science and environmental science, his idea was “just to have really delicious quality products and people would come and buy them,” he said.

They did come and buy during the first two years of the Covid pandemic. It’s harder to get people out to the farm now. During Covid, he explained, people had time and money. Now a lot of his staple customers are on traveling or the younger group, the people with kids, don’t have time between jobs and school and sports and other activities.

Busy families have a hard time accessing a local market like Nic’s Farm Market, because they can’t get to it when it’s open. A Manitoulin store that’s open during regular grocery store hours, that carries all local products would be more accessible for Islanders who don’t have time, while still allowing for on-farm experiences for those who want them.

One of the biggest obstacles is that most local farmers are too busy. “It’s a full-time job just to spearhead the project,” he said.

As food costs rise and supply chain issues continue, supporting local farmers could be one way to improve food security and sovereignty on Manitoulin.

Lori Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Manitoulin Expositor