Feeding Canada

Nearly 80 per cent of the fruits and vegetables that the average Canadian eats are imported. The majority of Canada’s domestic produce is grown between June and October, leaving very little in the way of fresh local produce during the cold, barren, winter months. More than half of the produce we import comes from the United States, Canada’s main trading partner.

U.S. imported produce sits on the shelves at Whole Foods Ottawa

Imported U.S. produce sits on the shelves at Whole Foods Ottawa. Photo © Lauren Scott

In March’s federal budget, the Trudeau government stated it will increase agricultural trade. The Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food told Capital News in an email, “Canadian farmers and processors rely on trade and benefit directly from increased market access and the development of global markets.”

Our food is well-travelled. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, the average meal travels approximately 1,200 kilometres from farm to table.

Where does Canada’s food come from?

Despite the convenience of having strawberries year round, a “buy local” movement has grown out of concern for the environmental and economic impact of imports. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, there is no conclusive definition of “local.” In the interim, the CFIA has proposed that local food should mean “food produced in the province or territory in which it is sold” orfood sold across provincial borders within 50 kilometres of the originating province or territory.” So potentially, food produced in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., would still be labelled as local for a consumer in Ottawa, despite the two cities being 800 kilometres apart. However, dedicated locavores define “local” as within a 160-kilometre radius, also known as the “100-mile diet.”

In 2013, The Business Development Bank of Canada identified a movement towards buying locally as a consumer trend. Despite the prevalence of  “Product of U.S.A.” labels at the grocery store, a 2006 Ipsos survey found that Canadians have long thought that locally produced foods are better than imports.

Favouring local food

According to the survey:

  • 71 % of Canadians think local foods help their local economy
  • 70% believe buying locally better supports family farmers
  • 53 % believe local food tastes better
  • 43 % local food production is better for the environment

This means more Canadians are making the switch to local. In fact, last Spring 61 per cent reported that buying local food is important when bulking up their baskets.

Even the federal government has been taking a bite out of local.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s mandate letter to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food called for a more comprehensive local food policy that “promotes healthy living and safe food by putting more healthy, high-quality food, produced by Canadian ranchers and farmers, on the tables of families across the country.” What that policy will be is still unknown, but Canadians will likely be filling up their plates with more local foods in the coming years.

Here’s what two Ottawa residents think about local food


George Wright, owner of Castor River Farm in Metcalfe, says that there is a difference in quality of locally produced food compared to the imported foods consumers find in the supermarket. In addition to oats and grains, Wright raises cows, pigs and chickens, providing fresh meat to Ottawa residents all year around.

Mark Nicol ate only local food for two weeks this past winter, as part of an independent food security study for an online course he is taking at Ryerson University. He said it was challenging, but through this experiment, he formed a new relationship with his food and the people who produce it.

*Frontpage/ header photo © Lauren Scott

Lauren Scott is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University and an editor at The Leveller. She has been published with rabble.ca, Centretown News, and the Leveller. She is interested in politics multi-platform journalism, and puppies... she really likes puppies.

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