At its open house earlier this week, the City of Thunder Bay's Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) released its new Strategic Action Plan 2014-2017: Transitioning to Growth. While many of the themes connected to areas of the economy this region is commonly known for--most notably manufacturing and mining--new on the scene is the CEDC's commitment to supporting Regional Food and Local Agriculture.
And really, this makes a lot of sense. The local movement is booming in Ontario and across much of North America. Last November the provincial government passed the Local Food Act, which is intended to foster local food economies in Ontario, develop new markets for local food, and help increase awareness of local food in Ontario. The province also committed $30 million over 3 years to supporting local food projects--a grant fund that is now so oversubscribed by businesses and organizations looking for seed money for farmers' markets, food co-ops, food processing, among other things that the government has had to temporarily stop accepting applications.
A quick look at the numbers tells an impressive story of how important food and farming is to our economy and how it offers such a great opportunity for good economic development. Within Canada, the food and farming sector employs 1 in 8 people. In Ontario, food and farming competes with the auto industry as the largest contributor to GDP. Food and farming has also experienced a resurgence at the local level, as shown by the 2009 District of Thunder Bay Agricultural Impact Study. The number of farms in the District of Thunder Bay actually increased between 2001 and 2006 (from 238 to 375) which bucks a longer trend that's seen fewer farms over time. And the great news is that there's room to grow. In 1961, food was being grown on over 162,000 acres in the District of Thunder Bay, which is 100,000 acres more than what's in production today.
Growth in the food and farming sector also bodes well for the rest of the economy. Not only does this sector keep dollars in the local economy by employing people in agriculture and across the supply chain, but they also support jobs in related industries. According to a workforce multiplier study published in 2013, food production in the Thunder Bay District has an average workforce multiplier effect of 1.7. In other words, every 1,000 on-farm and food processing job supports an additional 700 jobs in related sectors.
So here's to you CEDC and may you be an asset to the local food movement going forward.