Small-scale producers are welcoming the formation of a new working group headed by the province’s former chief veterinarian to help develop local food-marketing chains.
“This is the venue that we hoped for,” said Leanne Anderson, a Cypress River-area farmer and chair of the Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative, which last month ran into a snag over its online marketing and pooled delivery of ungraded eggs and uninspected chicken. “The main thing is we just want to have people like us to just have a voice.”
Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Minister Ron Kostyshyn said the working group will review regulations and programs that affect the province’s burgeoning and diverse number of smaller-scale food producers.
The group is also expected to make recommendations on how to better support the sector’s growth.
‘Many Manitobans are seeking out food grown and processed closer to home and this growing market is important to farmers, processors and the provincial economy,” Kostyshyn said in a news release.
Variety of issues
The group will try to address a variety of issues related to food safety as well as online sales, training, production and marketing needs and ways to enhance the operating environment for the small farm and processor, the release said.
Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Doug Chorney, whose family operates a vegetable stand on their Selkirk-area farm, called the formation of this group good news for farmers.
“As a farmer involved in direct marketing myself, I strongly support provincial efforts that encourage producers to offer their commodities locally and encourage Manitobans to access the top-quality food produced here at home,” Chorney said in a news release.
MAFRD’s retired chief veterinary officer Dr. Wayne Lees agreed to take the helm because there is a need to recognize the role and value of smaller-scale production. These producers need a forum through which to raise issues affecting them.
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“I think that there’s a common misconception that agriculture is just simply big agriculture,” said Lees. “But there’s a lot of small- to medium-size producers and food processors, and I think they play a very important role in terms of providing opportunities for startup business, especially for young folks to get into agriculture or processing.
Lees said small-scale agriculture is also an opportunity for consumers to connect with their food supply. “If they’re buying from a local producer I think they feel much more connected to the food they’re eating and I think that leads to respecting their food and where food comes from more.”
Other participants in the working group include Farmers Market Association of Manitoba, KAP, Food Matters Manitoba, the Manitoba Meat Processors Association and the Canadian Culinary Association.
“It won’t just focus on the regulations,” Lees said. “It goes beyond just food safety issues. It will look at things that might impact them like, for instance, production issues or technical issues, and what supports do they need, like training or marketing needs.”
Lees said he expects this to be a very diverse group and forming it will help to better define the size and scope of the small-farm sector for Manitoba. “The same solutions won’t apply to all.”
While a separate entity, the new working group will be able to contribute to a broader consultation announced this spring on Manitoba’s pending food safety regulations.
The consultations organized by MAFRD and the Manitoba Food Processors Association relate to proposed food safety regulations for food-processing plants, abattoirs, warehouses and dairy farms in Manitoba.
They will be of primary interest to those who hold an operating permit to the 489 food-processing plants in Manitoba, said Dr. Glen Duizer, a spokesperson for MAFRD who works in the department’s Food Safety Knowledge Centre.
Food safety regulations
The province passed a new food safety act in 2009 and has since been developing the regulation which is now up for public comment. Online comments are being received until June 11. There are two public consultations planned for Winnipeg (May 27) and Brandon (28) where changes in food safety regulations and how they affect food-processing plants will be discussed.
All operators in Manitoba have received a document explaining the new regulation and a survey asking for feedback, and have also been invited to attend one of two sessions, he said.
“There are others who are interested in direct farm marketing and those types of things, and they’re welcome to attend,” he added. “But they’re not going to gain a lot out of those consultations because we’re really hoping to get into the nitty-gritty and what impacts a facility.”
The consultation documents and meeting details are posted at www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture under ‘Surveys and Consultations.’