From the Editor: April 2010

April 16, 2010
Written by
Friday, Feb. 12 was a day of special significance for Canadians, and it passed without much fanfare.

However, there is, as we’ll explain later, a dark cloud hovering over the celebration.
Feb. 12 was Food Freedom Day, the day the average Canadian earned enough to cover his or her grocery bill for the entire year. Yes, it took just 43 days to earn enough to pay your annual food expenses. (Those of us losing hope of ever converting our “kegs” into “six packs” probably had to work through the next week at least to top up our food bill with binge items.)

The calculation is a simple comparison of Canadians’ disposable income and the amount they spend on food.

Not only is food a great bargain, but the cost as a percentage of overall household spending isn’t growing. Food Freedom Day fell on the same day last year.
Food Freedom Day comes much earlier in Canada than it does in most countries. That’s a reflection of the efficiency of the farm sector, among Canada’s top five industries and one that accounts for more than eight per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

Agriculture involves nearly 2.1 million Canadians (one out of every eight jobs), and includes farmers, suppliers, processors, transporters, grocers and restaurant workers.

The average farm in Canada produces enough food to feed 120 people every day. Just two or three generations ago, that same farm produced enough food for 10 people each day.

Horticulturally speaking, over 120 fruit and vegetable crops are grown in Canada, providing more than enough homegrown options to satisfy any healthy diet with five to 10 daily servings of fruit and vegetables. Canadian greenhouses can provide four of the key vegetables – tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and lettuce – almost year-round.

Food safety has rarely been an issue, as Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Bette Jean Crews notes. “As farmers in Ontario and across the country celebrate the vital role they play in feeding a growing population, they remain proud of their role in providing food under the highest food safety and environmental standards, and yet Canadian consumers still enjoy one of the most affordable food supplies in the world.”

Yet, while farmers take great pride in Food Freedom Day, they’re very much aware of that “dark cloud” we hinted at earlier. Commodity prices are not keeping pace with costs, so the benefit for consumers is somewhat at the expense of producers.
A study by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture reviewed food prices over the past 30 years at both the farmgate and retail levels. The statistics continue to show an increasing gap between retail prices and what farmers receive. The Farmers’ Share, a study by Prairie CFA members, showed that on average, only 27 per cent of the cost of an entire week’s worth of groceries for a family of four goes back to the farms where the food is produced.

An early Food Freedom Day is great for consumers, but unfortunately it’s poignantly reflective of the plight of far too many farmers. Two things should happen: governments must be more supportive of the industry, and commodity prices have to rise. ■

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