Guest blog written by Emily Potter, Executive Director, NOFIA
With the current COVID-19 situation changing daily, challenges that farmers were facing prior to the outbreak have escalated, and new challenges are being presented week by week. While the general public are expressing concerns about the food supply, farmers want the public to know that they will not stop producing safe and healthy food for them to consume. Despite mounting challenges, Ontario’s agriculture and agri-food industry is resilient and innovative.
Industry organizations everywhere have been working hard to provide up-to-date information and create tools to ensure farmers and producers can continue to meet the country’s demand. Whether this be releasing practical tools and information, developing support programs, or working with the government to ensure the supply chain is maintained.
What are some alternative ways I can let people know about the products I have for sale?
Many farmers are looking into transitioning to direct farm sales as other market avenues are no longer accessible due to COVID-19. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture recently released a guide to direct sales to consumers to help farmers navigate the process. Other organizations, such as the Local Food & Farm Co-op, are also assisting farmers by providing support with local branding and marketing. Others are making use of social media to market their products. A few examples include the Facebook groups, “Farm to Table – Northern Ontario” and “Rainy River District Buy Fresh Buy Local”, to name a few, which allow farmers to share their local products with members.
How can I stay connected to my industry during this time?
With the cancellation of workshops, meetings and conferences scheduled over the past month, organizations have been hosting virtual meetings alternatively to provide learning opportunities for farmers. The Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance recently held a virtual “Northern Ag Chat”, bringing farmers together from across the north to chat and catch up with what is happening in each district. This helped to bridge some of the distance and remind farmers that they are not in this alone.
Where can I access funding or loan programs?
Many funders are currently looking into options that they can offer to provide assistance to the agri-food industry during this time. One such funder, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, is accepting applications for their regular funding programs until the end of June. Other agencies are creating new loan programs with lower or interest-free rates. In particular, many Community Futures Development Corporations are offering new loan programs. Farm Credit Canada and other lending agencies are also creating assistance programs to help farmers get through these times. Connect with your local CFDC or loan agency to find out what they can offer you.
OMAFRA’s Agriculture Development Advisors are your first point of contact. They will know what information different industry organizations have and which of these organizations are hosting virtual meetings, or are offering funding or loan programs.
You can also contact the Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance for more information.