At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s hard to believe the end of 2020 – which, somehow, has been equally the longest and shortest of years in recent memory – is near.
Despite many attempts to change the subject, COVID-19 has found a way to insert itself into every aspect of our lives in 2020 – it is a global pandemic, after all. When news first broke of the novel coronavirus in late February, there was so much uncertainty surrounding it: unfounded claims, a lack of scientific research or evidence and “fake news” coming from so-called experts on the Internet.
As weeks progressed, the uncertainty spread to fear, evidenced by empty grocery store shelves across Canada, which shifted the way many people thought about food. Suddenly, things like eggs, flour and meat were hard to find. Food supply was the hot-button topic of the spring and summer, with more focus on local, sustainable food sources, as Canadians suddenly had a renewed interest in where their food comes from.
I recently attended a virtual event during which Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, noted the same observation. “What we’ve experienced as a community [over the last eight months] has profoundly changed our relationship with food,” he said, referencing a study that noted one in five Canadians started gardening in 2020. “Essentially, one in five Canadians became a farmer this year,” he said, noting the study excluded fine herbs and cannabis. “All of the sudden you’re seeing a marketplace that is more in tune with food systems . . . essentially people want to take ownership of their own food supply chain.”
While the empty shelves of the early days of the pandemic were concerning, the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI)’s 2020 Public Trust Research report says 87 per cent of those polled have faith that the country’s food supply chain will keep fresh food available for all Canadians. However, the report also states while Canada’s food system has weathered the storm brought by COVID-19, the cost of food is a top-of-mind concern for respondents of the survey – perhaps reflected by the increase of backyard gardens this year, as Charlebois alluded to. But by far, the standout stat in the CCFI’s November report is that consumers place the most overall trust in farmers when it comes to information about food and food safety.
As we welcome 2021, I encourage you to consider this New Year’s resolution: make a concerted effort to help educate those around you about the important role that Canadian farmers play in Canada’s food supply chain. We may still be living in uncertain times, but the pandemic has confirmed more than ever that Canadian farmers are essential.
Wishing you the best for the New Year.