Food for Thought

A while back I mentioned a report that suggested more than half of the province’s $20 billion of food imports could be replaced with locally sourced products. (Of Bubbles and Bushels). Replacing just 10% of fruit and vegetable imports was projected to add $242 million to provincial GDP and add up to 3,400 FTE [full time equivalent] jobs.

Since then we’ve had a glimpse of how unstable things could become economically, and politically as well as environmentally, in the coming years. A political storm could outweigh climate change as our biggest threat. It would make sense to give this food security proposal some serious consideration.

The report, Dollars and Sense, suggested increasing some production, diverting a portion of exports and redistributing this fruit and vegetable surplus to Ontario regions where supply is lacking. This would achieve the goal of reducing transportation ‘food miles’, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also suggested increasing processing and storage of more products for winter consumption.

“A 10% reduction in imports of the top 10 imported vegetables does not necessarily call for additional local production to make up the difference. In some cases, such as tomatoes, peppers, carrots and sweet corn, it may involve diverting some exports to offset the import reduction. In others — for example, cabbage, lettuce and green beans — increased production may be needed. These different situations have somewhat different economic and environmental impacts.”

Our region, included in ‘The Outer Greater Golden Horseshoe’ accounts for “at least $2.4 billion worth of farm products” but has a “deficit position” for most fruits and vegetables. Carrots, onions, sweet corn and potatoes are the exception. 

“In the case of most vegetables, replacing the top 10 imports with local production is feasible based on a combination of redirecting some exports into the local market and increasing the acreage and storage of vegetables that can be kept
 well beyond the harvest period. Direct import replacement for many fruits is not realistic since Ontario produces most of its own requirements while the crop is in season. However, direct import replacement is feasible for storable fruit crops such as apples (with an import value of $106 million) …”

As far as I can tell, the report didn’t consider the potential impact of expanding urban farming where specific crops are needed. This is the process of growing crops in a building within an urban location using greenhouse and hydroponic technology and sophisticated computer controlled processes. The most successful Canadian example seems to be Lufa Farms in Montreal ( The company started in 2011 with what was billed as the “world’s first commercial rooftop greenhouse” above an industrial building. It required an investment of $2 million. A second operation opened in 2013 and the third growing facility (2017) is now also their largest with 63,000 SF of space.

  • a system of plastic tubing feeds [plants], recycles the water and reuses it;
  • the circulation system and microclimate are managed by computer software
  • A rooftop greenhouse absorbs heat from the building below – it uses 50 per cent less energy than one on the ground – and reduces energy costs for building owners
  • The produce is sold to directly to consumers, (9,000 subscriber families); There are more than 300 pick-up points in cafés, pharmacies and yoga studies around
  • only what is sold is harvested – produce is always fresh; both waste and need for storage are eliminated

An American urban farm goes a step further using computers and special lamps to generate a custom light spectrum for specific crops within an enclosed building.

Urban farming may be another strategy to fill the need for a greater variety of locally-grown fruits and vegetables in our region, and a more reliable and affordable supply in winter. Innisfil’s yet to be developed ‘industrial’ lands may ultimately take on a role and character we hadn’t imagined – food production, food processing, seasonal storage, and distribution coexisting with commercial/industrial sites.