Formalizing the Informal: How COVID-19 has Strengthened the Connection between Local Producers and Consumers in Northern Ontario

Authors: Sara Epp*, University of Guelph
Topics: Food Systems, Agricultural Geography, Rural Geography
Keywords: Agriculture, Food, Northern Ontario, Local, Economic Growth, Food Security, COVID-19
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

As COVID-19 spread globally, our food system was governed by fear and panic. Within Ontario, Canada this fear resulted in unsustainable consumption and hoarding, with empty store shelves as evidence. Within northern Ontario, an area of the province significantly less urban, with fewer residents, greater geographic distance, and dependence on external food sources, the pandemic heightened concerns of food security and access to sustainable food supply chains among vulnerable populations. While agriculture in northern Ontario is uniquely diverse and includes a broad spectrum of horticulture, aquaculture, livestock, fruits and vegetables, much of this food is shipped south for processing and distribution. While these farms are highly productive, consumption of these products by northern consumers has been limited and many consumers are unaware of the vast amount of agricultural goods produced within their communities or that local procurement of these products is even a possibility. In response to COVID-19, northern residents sought opportunities to better secure local supply chains and provide opportunities for direct to consumer sales. These residents first created a Facebook group which grew exponentially, as farmers eagerly joined and promoted their products. The creation of a database and GIS map have subsequently enhanced the connections between northern producers and northern consumers within this social media group, altering consumption patterns and better securing local food supply chains. What began as an informal response to the pandemic’s threat of food insecurity has demonstrated the power of local citizens and importance of a strong agri-food system.

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