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New farm standard hopes to tap demand for local

An Ontario non-profit called Local Food Plus (LFP) is creating a new standard for B.C. farmers who don't want to be labeled either 'organic' or 'conventional'.

LFP developed a "local sustainable" label for farmers in southern Ontario. It's based on integrated pest management practices, which allows the use of certain pesticides under certain conditions, unlike organic standards.

Like organic certification, farms are inspected by a third-party agency. The label local sustainable also includes standards on the treatment of animals, working conditions, biodiversity and native habitat protection, and on-farm energy consumption.

"Organic isn't always sustainable, and sustainable isn't always organic," said LFP founder and president Lori Stahlbrand, at last night's Food and Beers panel discussion on building a local food economy.

"I think there are a lot of consumers out there who want to support farmers and want to support their local economy and their local culture. There are a lot of pluses to it," said Stahlbrand. "But it's very hard to know how to identify it. So we said, let's create a way to identify it. And the certified local sustainable label is a way to do that."

In Ontario, Stahlbrand has used the label as a way to market local food to large public institutions. The University of Toronto partnered with LFP five years ago to bring local food into its food services procurement policies. Now, one residence on campus spends 22 per cent of its budget on local food.

LFP writes the language that goes into requests for proposals for food service contracts, and also helps connect food service departments with its certified growers.

"These institutions are spending millions of dollars on food every year," said Stahlbrand. "It helps to scale up the whole system, it helps to educate the public through these institutions, it's a part of how these institutions can meet their climate change requirements."

Stahlbrand added that there is a perception within these public institutions -- hospitals, schools, municipal buildings -- that international trade agreements like NAFTA prevent this kind of procurement. But those fears are unfounded, she says.

"It's not an issue," Stahlbrand insisted. "The food in most institutions is provided by food services companies. The food service companies themselves are not covered by trade agreements. We've come up against this so many times, and for every argument that you get, there's an answer to it."

Stahlbrand said LFP received funding from the McConnell Foundation to replicate the sustainable local model in B.C., and is partnering with Farm Folk/City Folk to get it off the ground.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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