Toronto

Farmers, grocers 'relieved' that Ontario Food Terminal will stay in Etobicoke

Farmers and grocers employed at the Ontario Food Terminal in Etobicoke can breathe a sigh of relief — their facility isn't going anywhere anytime soon. 

Many feared province's push to 'modernize' the facility would involve relocation

The province will work with the Toronto Wholesale Produce Association to modernize the facility, with a focus on the farmers' market, Ontario's Minister of Agriculture Ernie Hardeman announced Monday. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

Farmers and grocers who rely on the Ontario Food Terminal in Etobicoke for their businesses can breathe a sigh of relief — the facility isn't going anywhere anytime soon. 

Many had been fearing the worst pending a provincial review of the terminal, which was launched in April with the aim of modernizing the facility, as well as the wider agri-food sector in Ontario. There was speculation that it could be shut down or moved to another location farther from Toronto. 

The province eased their anxieties at a news conference Monday morning with the announcement that it would keep the decades-old facility near the corner of The Queensway and Park Lawn Road. Instead the province will work to improve the existing location. 

"We're definitely relieved," Steve Bamford, vice president of the Toronto Wholesale Produce Association, told CBC Toronto Monday. 

"There was a lot of sleepless nights wondering 'what if?'" 

When you actually put it to people, everyone realized this is a great place for the food terminal.- Ernie Hardeman, Ontario minister of food and agriculture 

Between farmers, buyers, wholesalers, independent grocers and restaurant owners, the terminal directly employs 5,000 people and indirectly employs about 165,000 others. 

Spanning across 40 acres of land, it has grown to become the largest wholesale produce market in Canada, and the third largest in North America. 

Focus on farmers' market 

That's in part why Garab Serdok, manager of a restaurant called Tibetan Kitchen, was worried when he heard about a plan to review the facility.

"Not only the people who work there but there are thousands of restaurants here, especially small business ... Everything we have we got from the food terminal."

The food terminal is like a 'stock exchange' for produce where buyers and sellers can negotiate prices based on market value. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Moving forward, the province will work with the Toronto Wholesale Produce Association and the Ontario Food Terminal Board to modernize the farmers' market, which is a 1.6-hectare area with 550 stalls for sellers.

"We want to make sure that going forward, the food terminal stays up to date — just like the producers, just like the whole industry," said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario minister of food and agriculture.

"We can't stand still with the system at any time." 

The Ontario Food Terminal, near the corner of The Queensway and Park Lawn Road, was established in 1954. Over two billion pounds of produce are sold through the terminal annually. (Colin Cote-Paulette/CBC)
 

As the review continues, the government says it will also look to capitalize on modern food distribution systems, infrastructure enhancements for farmers, and the promotion of local food. 

"I'm glad that we're able to relieve any rumours out there," MPP Christine Hogarth, who represents the area, told CBC Toronto Monday. 

"The minister was very clear that it's going to be in place for 50 years." 

Now, Hogarth says it's important to enhance the facility so it can provide more jobs for the community. She also says she hopes to give the building's exterior a face-lift. 

Independent grocer Steve Bamford said as a wholesaler he would lose customers if the terminal were to be shut down or relocated. (Talia Ricci/CBC News)

"It's part of our community — it's part of our past, it's going be part of our future, and we're just really fortunate to have it right here," Hogarth said.  

'It would just create too much unrest' 

The review, consisting of an advisory group with members of the agri-food industry as well as the writing of an independent third-party report, was launched amid cuts to education and health care announced in the April budget. 

"When we started the review, it was to make sure the food terminal would keep up with the growth and changes in our agriculture sector," Hardeman said. 

He said one of the biggest issues was concern from nearby residents that the food trucks caused too much noise at night, but added that, "when you actually put it to people, everyone realized this is a great place for the food terminal."

 

Had the government decided to relocate or close down the facility, Bamford says many families would have been forced into a difficult position. 

"The hours are early morning hours here," he said.

"If you do move it, it's not just single households, there's families that have to look at how they would get to work ... it would just create too much unrest." 

With files from Talia Ricci

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