The Local Sustainable Food Procurement Pilot Program aims to help hospitals, schools and other institutions find ways to buy more local food
His department will work with Food Matters Manitoba to encourage institutions to buy more locally grown food, said Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Ron Kostyshyn.
“We want to see our local producers sell more of the great products they have to offer, while at the same time, making it easier for institutional customers to get their hands on those products,” Kostyshyn said at the Golden Carrot Awards ceremony last week.
“As a farmer myself, I know the benefits these types of programs can create and I’m happy to be a part of this.”
The first phase of the Local Sustainable Food Procurement Pilot Program will examine barriers to buying local foods, with the second phase aimed at linking farmers and purchasers. That phase will see farmers given information about Local Food Plus certification and purchasers guidance on how to source local foods.
“Basically, we call it the ultimate shopping list,” said Kostyshyn, adding it’s “a perfect partner” to the existing Buy Manitoba program, a three-year public awareness campaign funded jointly by the province and industry.
This isn’t the first attempt to explore local food sourcing for institutional buyers. In 2011 the federal government committed part of a $250,000 funding allocation to the ‘Farm to Cafeteria’ project.
There are many hurdles to overcome before local foods can be sold to places like hospitals or other institutions, said Stefan Epp-Koop, program director for Food Matters Manitoba.
The registered charity, which promotes food security, has surveyed farmers and found many aren’t ready to become this kind of supplier.
The other challenge also lies in understanding the market, he said.
“It’s very difficult to even find information about how much food institutions are buying,” he said.
The provincial grant will allow the organization to hire a co-ordinator to liaise with potential institutional buyers, distributors and farmers, he said. The funding will also help secure expertise including from representatives with Local Food Plus, a national certifier of local food,the Winnipeg-based Diversity Food Services, a company that shifted the University of Winnipeg over to local suppliers.
“They understand the local scene,” said Epp-Koop.
Only about a half-dozen farmers are currently certified as local suppliers, through Local Certified Plus, he added.
“This project will expand that number, I imagine,” he said.