A study from a McMaster University professor says increasing Ontario's local food supply would create thousands more jobs in the province, including almost seven thousand in Hamilton, while benefiting the environment and making us healthier eaters. 

The study, Dollars and Sense: Opportunities to Strengthen Ontario's Food System, says that Ontario does not produce enough food to feed itself, but has the potential to do so.

The purpose of the study was to find out what untapped opportunities exist in Ontario's food and agricultural sector, said McMaster economics professor Atif Kubursi, one of four authors of the study.

Kabursi said there are some foods that Ontario exports but also brings in, such as corn, carrots, beans and peppers. He says Ontario residents prefer the look of imported carrots from the Florida area over locally, home-grown carrots.

Florida residents prefer the taste of carrots grown here.

The study also found that over half of the province's $20 billion in imported food products can be produced right here in Ontario.

'We import two times what we export' - Atif Kubursi, McMaster University economics professor

"We're not going to be arguing that we should be growing bananas here, it's not the issue that we can't produce certain vegetables or fruits, but that we can produce more of what we can grow," said Kubursi.

"We import two times what we export," he said.  

But if Ontario were to replace the Top 10 imported fruits and vegetables by growing them here instead, $250 million could be created for the economy producing 3,400 jobs. 

"Ontario is missing regional economic development opportunities to enhance and support the production and distribution of local food," reads the report.

Hamilton leads in broccoli and cauliflower production

The research also demonstrates when more food is produced locally, energy use and pollution from transportation are reduced.

It also examined what regions produce higher supplies of fruits and vegetables.

Hamilton tops the list as the leading supplier of cauliflower and broccoli in the province."I was surprised at Hamilton. You would think it was a more urban centre but if you look at the area some vegetables are in that area's specialization," said Kubursi.

According to Kubursi, we aren't eating enough fruit and vegetables, which also leads to food deficits. 

If consumers were to eat according to the Canadian healthy living guidelines, there would be major restructuring in terms of growing more fruits and vegetables to meet demand, he said.

A total of 105,352 full time jobs are sustained across Ontario by farm operating expenditures in Southwestern Ontario. That number includes 18,400 in the Niagara Region (and $745 million in wages and salaries) plus 6,850 jobs in Hamilton, the report says.

The study was sponsored by the Greenbelt Foundation in partnership with J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the Metcalf Foundation

Some interesting facts from the study:

  • Ontario runs food deficits requiring imports in potatoes, strawberries, apples, cabbage, beef, chicken and lamb.
  • Ontario produces surpluses of tomatoes, peppers, carrots, sweet corn, pork, turkey, grain and oilseeds.
  • Ontario's food system generates more than $63 billion in sales per year
  • Ontario's food system employs over 767,000 people, 11 per cent of paid labour force
  • Agriculture generates $11.5 billion annually in farm products
  • Ontario farmers and their suppliers spend $29.3 billion per year, generating $4.4 billion in tax revenues for all three levels of government