“It’s definitely in the millions of dollars since we’ve started”
– LORI STAHLBRAND
Local Food Plus (LFP) has crossed the border. The Ontario-based, non-profit local food certifier has begun inspecting local farms and approaching food services outlets and retailers ahead of a planned expansion into Manitoba, according to LFP president Lori Stahlbrand, who founded the organization in 2005.
Stahlbrand, a former CBC TV reporter, said work in the province is in the very early stages, but she is optimistic that the award-winning model for developing a multimillion-dollar local food economy in Ontario could be duplicated on the Prairies.
“It takes a little while to get it going. We have farmers who are interested and have filled out the paperwork, got inspectors going out, but until the inspection reports are handed in and they’ve passed, we don’t have any product,” she said.
“So, until we have product, we can’t go to retailers, restaurants or institutions and ask them to pledge or make a commitment to buy sustainable food. We have to kind of grow supply and demand at the same time.”
For an introductory rate of $100 per year, LFP-certified farms are allowed to use the group’s logo on their packaging, a symbol that reassures consumers that the product was produced locally using sustainable practices.
LFP certification addresses not only production issues such as pesticide use, but also labour, native habitat preservation, animal welfare and on-farm energy use. By putting all of these issues under the LFP quality assurance tent, farmers can tap new, higher-value markets.
Society benefits through the creation of local, sustainable food systems that reduce reliance on fossil fuels, create meaningful jobs, and foster the preservation of farmland, said Stahlbrand.
In Ontario, LFP has certified 200 farmers and 45 retail and food services outlets, including the University of Toronto, the city’s largest independent food retailer, and restaurants all across southern Ontario.
“It’s definitely in the millions of dollars since we’ve started,” she said.
LFP serves only as a quality assurance body, much like organic certification bodies, and is not involved in day-to-day trade. That is handled by independent distributors which are listed on the group’s website.
“I would say that about one-third of all our farmers are also certified organic. But the certification that we do requires that they are all local farmers selling into local markets,” she said, adding that “local” is defined by provincial boundaries.
She noted that both the organic and humane society labels only cover certain aspects of food production, but LFP is able to cast a wider, more comprehensive net.
LFP certification is based on a points system for sustainable practices, and has a written standard for integrated pest management.
So, instead of a black/white, yes/no system, farmers who for whatever reason cannot totally abandon all pesticides may still be able to use the label if their practices in other areas, such as biodiversity, for example, balance out their overall average.
“We wanted to address the fact that no two farms are the same, and what works in one setting might not work or be the best ecological choice in another,” said Stahlbrand.
Paperwork load is less than for organic certification, she added, and LFP has a full-time staffer available to help farmers through the process. [email protected]