The Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance is continuing our work on local food procurement in Ontario’s long-term care sector with the launch of the project Serving Up Local II: An Economic Analysis (SULEA).
The SULEA project is the second phase of GHFFA’s incredibly successful Serving Up Local Project (SUL), a partnership project with the Regions of Durham and Halton and the City of Hamilton. The ultimate goal of SUL was to increase the purchase of local Ontario foods in the municipally-run long term care (LTC) homes in these three regions by 5% from their baseline. By project end, the nine long-term care homes participating increased their local food purchases by over 23%! Homes collectively saw a 124% increase in fresh seasonal produce, a 494% increase in new Ontario entrees and a new engagement strategy for increased resident interest in food was illustrated by a 79% shift in the perspective of the quality of food for the better when local is offered, as heard from interviewed residents and families.
But how? How did this happen in long-term care homes that operate on a fixed and low raw food budget? How did this increase in local food purchasing happen without a negative impact to the budget? How did purchasing more local food affect the other categories of spending? How did it affect the homes’ Group Purchasing Organzation’s annual rebates? How did it impact staff time allocation in the kitchen? As the success stories of the SUL project spread, these questions arose.
The cost of local food is often the first concern to be voiced by public institutions when talking about increased purchasing of Ontario food. Demystifying this perceived barrier and identifying strategies to deal with any increase in cost we believed could be found by further investigation into the purchasing data we collected from our partner LTC homes, and their reported change management strategies.
To undertake this level of granular economic analysis, we enlisted the help of an esteemed research partner, Andreas Boecker from University of Guelph’s Department of Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics (FARE) as our Principal Investigator and our team was successful in receiving a 3-year grant from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) to explore this line of thinking.
This research project is an economic study on the impacts of increased local food purchasing in Ontario’s long term-care sector that will offer learning events and webinars on topics related to local food procurement to staff in long-term care, and culminate in an online tool that will aid Ontario’s LTC homes to achieve and surpass local procurement goals within their budgets. The nine homes from the first Serving Up Local project are working with the research team to help shape the online tool, while the 13 municipally-run homes in the Regions of Peel and Niagara have partnered as our second Cohort to increase their local food purchasing by 5% from the baseline and test the tool created for accuracy and comprehension.
The project’s research results are intended to assist the province in setting realistic goals for Broader Public Sector local food procurement under the third pillar of the Local Food Act. In March 2019, the province announced the third aspiration goal under the Local Food Act: to remove red tape barriers and open the door for local food in the broader public sector. To begin, the province has committed to a Champions Award, encouraging BPS institutions to track, record and set internal purchasing goals for local food procurement.
Stephanie Crocker and Soni Craik Christie from SCC Consulting who led the Serving Up Local Project are project leads in this new iteration, with the support of an Advisory Committee of representatives from the University of Guelph, OMAFRA, Halton Healthcare, MEALsource and GHFFA.
We are all very excited for the journey ahead. We believe the results will positively impact our Broader Public Sector partners in their intention to increase local food offerings in their facilities, will support our government’s goal of building ambitious goals and targets for local food purchasing in our public institutions, and benefit Ontario’s agricultural and agri-business sector by building a more receptive market with our BPS partners.