The Ontario provincial government, through programs like Foodland Ontario, has promoted the use of Ontario-grown products at home for nearly 35 years.

Restaurants have responded to the call, according to some produce growers and shippers in the province. Others in Ontario’s produce industry say more could be done on that front.

Some say the foodservice sector has been more responsive to the call for purchasing locally grown goods than retailers have.

“Restaurants are picking it up quickly,” said Mark Wales, owner of Mark Wales Farm Fresh Produce, Guelph, Ontario. “They’re more in tune with their consumers. They talk to their consumers. The chef comes out to talk with the people. I supply a local restaurant here, and they only source locally. I supply them with garlic, strawberries, eggplant and so on. Those kinds of restaurants that really cater to their customers are picking it up.”

Steve Chary, president of Oakland, Ontario-based Chary Produce Ltd., said the demand for Ontario produce is growing among restaurants, although sometimes the calls are for specific items.

“Actually, that’s working very well,” he said. “That window is picking up more so than retail, but they’re demanding, some of the higher-end restaurants, organic stuff.”

Paul Otter, president of Woodville Farms, Woodville, Ontario, agreed.

“Some of the high-end deals are talking about having organics and homegrown items,” he said. “They sure talk it up.”

There seem to be exceptions to the trend. For example, Scott Siemon, president of rutabaga grower-shipper Stovel-Siemon Ltd., Mitchell, Ontario, said he hasn’t had any more calls than normal from the foodservice sector.

“For my product, no, but they do it with other products,” he said. “We grow rutabagas, and a lot of people don’t eat them.”

Peter VanBerlo, president of P. & S. VanBerlo Ltd., Simcoe, Ontario, said he hasn’t seen a notable increase in calls for local product.

“They have all these meetings with all these chefs, but when it comes down to it, they could do a lot better with local,” he said.

Some local restaurant operations put local produce on their menus, but not all of them do, said Eric Chanyi, operations manager of Shabatura Produce in Windham Centre, Ontario.
“For the most part, you don’t really see the restaurants making a big push,” he said.

Where Chanyi has seen increased interest in the foodservice category is in the school systems.

“I think schools are really getting behind it,” he said. “I find it more in rural Ontario, because we’re mostly farms, they’re taking the initiative.”

Peter Jennen, owner of Jennen Family Farm Market in Thamesville, Ontario, said his company is looking in that general area.

“We haven’t gone that far yet,” he said, referring to school business. “We’re getting quite a few inquiries about church functions. We haven’t really pushed the schools because they’re out in the summer. You get the fresh berries on the market, and they’re going to go for it.”