Chicken Farmers Take Real Action on Hunger


Owen RobertsThe ongoing quest — or battle — to feed the planet is not solely a foreign affair. Nor is it a product of war or natural disaster.

Take Ontario, for example. In one of Canada’s most affluent provinces, more than 375,000 people use food banks every month.

The underlying causes of Ontarians’ hunger are different than those of unfortunate people abroad, but the bottom line is the same: hungry people need to be fed.

That’s where charity towards our fellow human beings comes in; in this case, in the form of food banks.

I think their efforts are noble and commendable. But I also know some people hiss at them, accusing them of being a Band-Aid that prevents society from addressing the true ills that compel people to use them.

Such high-level discussions have their place. But out on the street, and in the field, food must get from those who have it, to those who need it.

Farmers are key here. Farmers produce food every day. Now their jobs are intensifying and their role in feeding the current population, let alone the future population, is becoming more important than ever.

They’re embracing the importance of that role. Food banks and farmers intersect all the time, but seldom to the extent that they did Tuesday at the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto (which itself hosted 700,000 visits in 2014). There, representatives of Ontario’s 1,100 poultry farmers committed to supply 100,000 fresh chickens to Ontario food banks.

This campaign’s sponsor, the Chicken Farmers of Ontario, says that amount of chicken has a retail value of $1 million.

Chicken farmers deserve some profile for this kind of generosity. I doubt if they want it. They and other farm groups have given generously in the past to anti-hunger programs, with little fanfare, which is fine with them. We know farmers aren’t driven by the spotlight…and that often works against them when it comes to raising their profile, but showiness is simply not a part of their culture.

This particular donation, though, got an unusual amount of attention for several reasons. First, it’s huge. A million dollars worth of chicken is a whopper in anyone’s books. Second, the chicken farmers wisely chose to involve a very efficient and effective Toronto public relations agency, to enhance the announcement’s exposure.

And finally, this donation was noteworthy for its connection to the province’s new Food Donation Tax Credit for Farmers.

Through this program, part of the Local Food Act that was passed last September, farmers get a 25 per cent tax credit for the fresh food they donate to Ontario food banks.

That sounds like a pretty big incentive. But when you consider all the inputs that go into food production – fuel, fertilizer, crop protection, crop insurance, taxes, etc. – it’s not over the top whatsoever.

There’s more still. A key to the donation program is that it acknowledges the economic aspect of farmers’ contributions to food banks, while simultaneously giving food banks a steady, highly desirable protein supply.

Protein is one of food banks’ most needed food item groups. It’s a struggle to get enough of it, let alone fresh food, let alone local food.

To that end, the food donation tax credit program has “local” written all over it, as does the chicken farmers’ million–dollar campaign.

I like the upbeat image of Ontario and Canadian chicken. It’s taking a beating right now because it’s a supply managed sector, and some people – along with some decision  makers — think managing the supply results in higher prices.

To me, it also results in higher quality, decent prices for farmers so they can make a living…and, in this case, donation programs that help hungry people.

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