Due to the emergence of centralized distributors, the loss of local food infrastructure, and the dominance of corporate food service companies, food is now sourced from all over the world. This means that within Thunder Bay and Area, the rest of Ontario, and much of Canada, public dollars used for buying food for hospitals, day cares and other public sector institutions are not being spent on food businesses that would benefit the local economy.
This is a serious oversight when we consider that the Broader Public Sector (BPS) plays a significant role in the food economy and has dramatic buying power. The Ontario healthcare system alone serves an estimated 115,000,000 meals to patients every year, with the value of food in all those meals estimated to be over $285,000,000. In 2014, BPS institutions in Thunder Bay and Area will spend approximately $10 million on food. Shifting even 10% of purchases to locally grown and processed foods would create a $1 million market for farmers and processors. Public institutions have the potential to use their significant purchasing power to invest in local agriculture, while providing opportunities to other local food entrepreneurs along the supply chain.
The City of Thunder Bay’s Supply Management Division reports that the City has successfully raised their total spend on local (Ontario) and regional foods to 38.45 percent in 2016.
The Manager of the Supply Management Division, Dan Munshaw, has named several key drivers behind the increase in local food spending including having the commitment of City Council, building trusting relationships with regional growers, building meaningful relationships with innovative distributers, and investing in education, training, and empowerment.
Munshaw attributes a large portion of this success to the multiple champions within Pioneer Ridge thanks to the efforts of the organization’s Nutrition and Food Services Supervisor, Chris Borutski and his team. With forward buy food contracts in place with several regional growers, Pioneer Ridge and other homes for the aged were able to confidently anticipate a supply of local vegetables year-round. Notably, the increase in local food spending was achieved while remaining within the City’s existing funding envelopes.
Over 2014 the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy worked with the City on a local food procurement project that aimed to increase the amount of local food being sourced by the City's Homes for the Aged and daycares. Following this, the City identified 6 local food procurement objectives for 2015 that it wanted to pursue:
In 2013, the City of Thunder Bay partnered with the Thunder Bay Federation of Agriculture, Food Action Network, Thunder Bay District Health Unit, and Food Strategy on a local procurement project. The partnership received a Greenbelt Fund Regional Food Grant to strengthen the connections between institutional buyers for City long-term care and childcare facilities and area producers and distributors. Building on the findings of the Making Connections research that came out of the 2011-2012 Greenbelt funded procurement work, the project aimed to increase the share of local foods bought by municipal day cares and Homes for the Aged in 2015 by at least 10% over a baseline established at the project's outset in 2014.
The project included administrative and front-line staff from (3) city-run long-term care and (4) child care facilities and a broad range of producers, distributors and other institutional suppliers in a series of educational and resource exchange workshops.
The final report provides an overview of the research that was conducted, a summary of the challenges that institutions experience in sourcing local food, and best practices for moving forward.
The report and resources are all available for download:
In 2012, the City of Thunder Bay, Thunder Bay District Health Unit (TBDHU), Food Action Network (FAN), and Thunder Bay Federation of Agriculture (TBFA) partnered on a Province of Ontario Greenbelt Fund grant to assess the demand for local foods by Thunder Bay area institutional buyers and the capacity of area producers to meet the demand.
The report, Making the Connections for Public Sector Local Food Procurement, included an assessment of the supply and demand for local foods and profile stakeholders from both the production and procurement perspectives. The project was supplemented by an Education Strategy Report that identified a number of opportunities for training and information directed primarily at growers and public sector buyers. The educational strategy also includes a Food Infrastructure Research Report, which looks more closely at players operating in the space between producers and institutions.