Transcript: Feeding Ontario in a Pandemic | Apr 17, 2020

Steve sits in a room with white walls, a low slanted ceiling and several framed pictures on the walls including one of George Drew and one of Walter Kronkite. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a gray suit and a white shirt.

A caption on screen reads "Feeding Ontario in a pandemic. @spaikin, @theagenda."

Steve says THE DAYS ARE GETTING LONGER. THE GROUND IS THAWING. IT'S GO TIME ON FARMS ACROSS ONTARIO. BUT AS COVID-19 LOCKS DOWN THE PROVINCE, CAN THE AG SECTOR STILL KICK INTO HIGH GEAR FOR PLANTING SEASON? LET'S FIND OUT WITH: IN LANGTON, ONTARIO, THAT'S IN NORFOLK COUNTY: DUSTY ZAMECNIK, FOURTH GENERATION FARMER AT EZ GROW FARMS...

Dusty is in his thirties, with short wavy brown hair and a trimmed beard. He's wearing a gray shirt and a black undershirt.

Steve continues IN COLLINGWOOD, ONTARIO: KEITH CURRIE, PRESIDENT OF THE ONTARIO FEDERATION OF AGRICULTURE...

Keith is in his sixties, bald, with a mustache. He's wearing a blue shirt.

Steve continues AND IN GUELPH, ONTARIO: CRYSTAL MACKAY, CEO OF LOFT 32, WHICH SPECIALIZES IN COMMUNICATIONS FOR THE AGRICULTURAL SECTOR...

Crystal is in her forties, with long blond hair. She's wearing a gray sweater.

Steve continues GOOD TO HAVE ALL THREE OF YOU ON TVO TONIGHT. IT'S NICE TO HAVE YOU SORT OF VIRTUALLY HERE IN THE ATTIC WITH ME IN MIDTOWN TORONTO. LET'S GET INTO THIS. DUSTY, WHAT'S YOUR BIGGEST CONCERN ABOUT KEEPING FOOD FLOWING IN ONTARIO DURING A PANDEMIC?

The caption changes to "Dusty Zamecnik. EZ Grow Farms."

Dusty says OUR BIGGEST CONCERN IS RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT ENSURING OUR LABOUR WE HAVE HERE AND THAT WE'RE HIRING LOCAL ARE SAFE AND SECURE FOR BOTH US AND AS WELL THE PUBLIC, AND MAKING SURE THAT PRODUCT THAT WILL BE ON THE SHELF IN JULY IS ABLE TO BE HARVESTED AND GROWN CORRECTLY STARTING NOW.

Steve says AND WHAT DO YOU GROW ON THE FARM?

Dusty says WE GROW 33 ACRES OF HIGH BUSH BLUEBERRIES, BOTH AVAILABLE AT THE FOOD TERMINAL IN TORONTO, AT THE ETHNIC STORES AS WELL AS NATIONAL GROCERS, AND AS WELL WE'RE SORT OF THE BORING STRAWBERRY FARMER WHERE WE GROW THE COMMERCIAL STRAWBERRY PLANTS FOR COMMERCIAL PRODUCERS AROUND THE WORLD. SO WE GROW THE PLANTS AND THEN FROM THERE THE GROWER THEN GROWS THE STRAWBERRIES FROM LEAMINGTON HERE IN ONTARIO FROM GREENHOUSE ALL THE WAY DOWN TO BERMUDA AND FLORIDA.

Steve says DUSTY, IN A NORMAL YEAR, HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL YOU NEED TO DO ALL THAT?

Dusty says WE HIRE A CREW OF 75 TO 85 MIGRANT WORKERS FROM VARIOUS COUNTRIES IN THE CARIBBEAN AND MEXICO, AS WELL AS A CREW OF ABOUT 150 TO 200 LOCAL LABOUR TO GET THE JOBS DONE.

Steve says WE KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THE BORDERS THESE DAYS, SO HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO SECURE SO FAR?

Dusty says CURRENTLY WE HAVE SIX MEN FROM JAMAICA THAT HAVE DONE THEIR 14-DAY QUARANTINE MANDATED BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. THEY'RE NOW WORKING. WE HAVE NINE MORE MEN THAT ARE CURRENTLY IN QUARANTINE AND FINISH SUNDAY NIGHT AND WILL BEGIN WORKING ON MONDAY. IF THEY COMPLETE HEALTHY. WE'RE STILL WAITING ON A LOT OF MEN FROM TRINIDAD AND FROM OTHER COUNTRIES AS WELL. THE LOCAL LABOUR, THEY HAVE COME TO THE FARM, BROUGHT RESUMES. WE'VE TALKED TO THEM AND GIVEN THEM THE SAME PROGRAM AND PROTOCOLS AS WE GIVE A MAN FLYING IN FROM JAMAICA, WHAT IS EXPECTED, WHAT WE EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE NOT ON THE FARM, TO ENSURE THAT THERE IS HEALTH STANDARDS BEING UPHELD, AND IT'S A MIXED FABRIC OF PEOPLE ON THE FARM. THE FARM LOOKS A LOT DIFFERENT THIS SPRING.

Steve says I WAS GOING TO SAY, YOU'RE WAY DOWN IN TERMS OF NUMBERS, SO WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO?

Dusty says WELL, WE'RE ACTIVELY WORKING OBVIOUSLY WITH LOCAL LABOUR TO SEE. THERE IS LONGER HOURS, WITHOUT A DOUBT. YOU KNOW, FARMING WEEKENDS ARE ALWAYS INTERESTING ON A FARM REGARDLESS OF THE YEAR, AND NOW THIS YEAR IT'S NO DIFFERENT. SO IT'S DEFINITELY LONGER HOURS FOR ALL OF US, BUT WE ARE GOING TO SOMEHOW MAKE IT WORK BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT FARMERS DO BEST. WE HAVE TO MAKE IT WORK.

Steve says CRYSTAL, FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE BOTH IN TERMS OF YOUR CLIENTS AND YOUR OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, WHAT'S THE TOUGHEST THING ABOUT TRYING TO FARM IN A PANDEMIC RIGHT NOW?

The caption changes to "Crystal Mackay. Loft32."

Crystal says I THINK THE UNCERTAINTY ABOUT MOVING FORWARD, WHETHER THERE'S LABOUR, SUPPLIES, ABILITY TO PLANT, ABILITY TO HARVEST, AND ABILITY TO PROCESS. I FEEL OUR ABILITY TO PROCESS FOOD, WHETHER IT'S, YOU KNOW, 52 WEEKS A YEAR WITH MEAT, MILK, EGGS, AND POULTRY, OR, YOU KNOW, THE SEASONAL THINGS LIKE DUSTY GROWS, OR CROPS THAT SHOULD BE PLANTED SOON, THE QUESTION MARK AROUND, DO I PLANT A CROP IF I DON'T KNOW I'M GOING TO HAVE A MARKET AND-OR AN ABILITY TO HARVEST OR PROCESS IT IN THE FALL.

Steve says HMM. AND WHAT, AS YOU TALK TO FARMERS, WHAT KINDS OF CONCLUSIONS ARE THEY COMING TO GIVEN WHAT A UNIQUE TIME WE'RE IN?

Crystal says YEAH. FARMERS ARE OPTIMISTS AND SPRING IS THE ULTIMATE TIME TO THINK ABOUT... MAKE THESE DECISIONS. A FEW OF MY FARM FRIENDS HAVE TALKED ABOUT CHANGING CROPS THAT REQUIRE LESS LABOUR, FOR EXAMPLE. NOT PLANTING CROPS AT ALL. ON THE ANIMAL SIDE, WE SEE NUMBERS BEING REDUCED. SO PUTTING LESS CHICKENS IN A BARN, FOR EXAMPLE. YOU KNOW, PEOPLE ARE HOLDING ANIMALS BACK THAT THERE'S JUST NO PROCESSING SPACE, SO WE'RE ALREADY SEEING THOSE THINGS HAPPENING ON THE LIVESTOCK SIDE. BUT THE BIG WILD CARD NOW IS SPRING AND PLANTS AND WHAT DECISIONS WILL BE MADE AND OUR BIGGEST FEAR IS NOT PLANTING A CROP AND-OR CHOOSING A DIFFERENT CROP BECAUSE OF CONCERNS.

Steve says HMM. KEITH, HOW DOES IT LOOK FROM COLLINGWOOD FROM YOUR END OF THINGS?

The caption changes to "Keith Currie. Ontario Federation of Agriculture."

Keith says SIMILAR TO WHAT CRYSTAL JUST SAID AND WHAT DUSTY WAS TALKING ABOUT. EVERYBODY IS MAKING A DECISION ON WHAT THEY'RE GOING TO DO. I AM A GRAIN FARMER BUT GROW SWEET CORN AND CUT FLOWERS. WE'VE ALREADY MADE A DECISION TO PULL THE PLUG ON THE GLADIOLA FLOWERS. WE'RE JUST NOT GOING TO BE IN AN ECONOMIC PLACE WHERE PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE SPENDING MONEY ON THOSE TYPES OF THINGS. WE'RE NOT GOING TO GROW THE FLOWERS AND DEBATING WHAT WE'RE GOING TO DO WITH THE CORN. WE'RE LIKE EVERY FARMER IN THE COUNTRY WHO IS HAVING TO MAKE A DECISION ON WHAT THEIR PERSONAL BUSINESS PLANS ARE GOING TO BE, AND IT'S CERTAINLY CONCERNING.

Steve says IF YOU'RE NOT GOING FORWARD WITH A COUPLE OF THINGS THAT YOU NORMALLY DO, WHAT'S THAT GOING TO DO TO YOUR BOTTOM LINE?

Keith says WELL, IT'S CERTAINLY GOING TO AFFECT US GREATLY. WE HAVE TO FIGURE OUT HOW WE'RE GOING TO MAKE THAT LOSS OF INCOME UP. THE REALITY IS WE'RE ALL GOING TO SEE A LITTLE BIT OF HURT COMING OUT OF COVID-19 BUT WE'RE TRYING TO MINIMIZE THAT IMPACT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. THAT'S WHY WE'RE CALLING ON THE GOVERNMENT, IN PARTICULAR THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, TO START GIVING US THE TOOLS THAT WE NEED TO MAKE SURE THAT WE SUSTAIN THIS FOOD PRODUCT SYSTEM IN CANADA, WHICH IS A VERY ROBUST SYSTEM, BUT WE NEED THOSE TOOLS TO MAKE SURE WE GET THROUGH IT SO THAT COMING OUT OF THIS WE STILL HAVE THAT ROBUST SYSTEM IN PLACE AND THAT PEOPLE CAN FEEL CONFIDENT IN GOING AND BUYING THE TYPES OF FOOD THAT THEY'RE USED TO BUYING NOW.

Steve says TOOLS. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THE APPROPRIATE TOOLS?

Keith says WELL, LIKE THE DIRECT CASH INJECTION RIGHT NOW. WE'RE SUFFERING, AS CRYSTAL MENTIONED, THE CAPACITY ON THE PROCESSING SIDE AND GREATLY REDUCED FOR A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT REASONS. LIVESTOCK STARTING TO BACK UP ON FARMS. EVEN HORTICULTURAL PRODUCTS ARE BACKING UP A LITTLE BIT. SO WE'RE NOT GETTING THOSE PRODUCTS PROCESSED, WHICH MEANS THEY'RE NOT GETTING SOLD BY THE FARMER. WE'RE IN A CASH FLOW BUSINESS. IF WE DON'T HAVE THAT CASH FLOW IT'S HARD TO KEEP OUR HEADS ABOVE WATER. THE REASON IT'S IMPORTANT IS NOT SO MUCH TODAY SPECIFICALLY, BUT AS WE GO FORWARD, IF WE ALL CUT BACK ON OUR PRODUCTION, IT'S NOT LIKE A LIGHT SWITCH WE CAN TURN ON AND START PRODUCING AGAIN, IT'S MONTHS, YEARS TO GET THE PRODUCTION AGAIN. SO WE WANT TO MAKE SURE WE MAINTAIN THAT FOOD PRODUCTION GOING FORWARD INTO THE FALL, NEXT WINTER, AND THE NEXT YEARS.

Steve says DUSTY, LET ME FOLLOW UP WITH YOU. YOU TOLD US ABOUT THE BLUEBERRIES AND THE STRAWBERRIES YOU DO. DO I HAVE THIS RIGHT, THAT YOU ALSO EXPORT SMALL PLANTS FOR OTHER FARMS AS WELL?

Dusty says YEAH, THAT'S THE PREDOMINANT MAJORITY OF OUR BUSINESS, SUPPLYING MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF STRAWBERRY GROWN PLANTS FOR PRODUCERS IN FLORIDA IN THE WINTERTIME THAT US CANADIAN CONSUMERS GET TO ENJOY WHEN YOU EAT A PRODUCT OF FLORIDA, GEORGIA, ET CETERA, STRAWBERRIES IN THE WINTERTIME, THAT IS PART OF THE FOOD CYCLE THAT WE'RE A PART OF, AND A LOT OF MILES GO INTO THOSE STRAWBERRIES TO GO FROM HERE IN NORFOLK, DOWN TO FLORIDA, BACK UP HERE IN THE WINTERTIME SO WE CAN ENJOY FRESH, NUTRITIOUS STRAWBERRIES GROWN IN TIMES WHEN OBVIOUSLY THERE'S A LOT OF SNOW ON THE GROUND. BUT TO... ON THAT NOTE AS WELL, THERE'S A LOT OF INNOVATION BEING DONE, AT FOODLAND ONTARIO HAS WORKED VERY HARD AND WE APPRECIATE ALL OF THE WORK THAT THEY'RE DOING AND ALL THE GROUPS WITH BUY LOCAL, SUPPORT LOCAL, AND ONE OF THOSE TECHNOLOGIES THAT EXIST IS ADDING TO OUR GREENHOUSE SECTOR A FRUIT COMMODITY, AND STRAWBERRIES ARE ACTIVELY BEING GROWN IN GREENHOUSES HERE IN ONTARIO AND CANADA TO SUPPLY STRAWBERRIES GROWN TWO HOURS AWAY FROM WHERE I AM TO HELP THAT DEMAND SO THE BERRIES HAVE BEEN COMING ALL THE WAY FROM FLORIDA AND GEORGIA BUT AS WELL FROM LEAMINGTON AND ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

Steve says CRYSTAL, SINCE DUSTY HAVE RAISED THE QUESTION HOW INTERCONNECTED THE WHOLE CONTINENT IS IN TERMS OF AGRICULTURE, LET ME FOLLOW UP WITH THIS. MAPLE LEAF FARMS HAS CLOSED A MEAT PROCESSING PLANT HERE. THE COVID OUTBREAKS IN THE UNITED STATES HAVE APPARENTLY FORCED CLOSURES, ONE OF THE LARGEST PORK PRODUCERS, SMITHFIELD FOODS, THEY'VE CLOSED. HOW DO THE CLOSURES SOUTH OF THE BORDER HAVE A RIPPLE EFFECT ON FARMERS HERE IN ONTARIO?

Crystal says GREAT QUESTION, STEVE. SO THE PROCESSING CAPACITY, 40 percent OF OUR FOOD IS PROCESSED, FIRST OF ALL, SO THAT'S A HUGE PERCENTAGE. AND THEN WHEN WE START THINKING ABOUT THESE SPECIFICALLY MEAT AND POULTRY PLANTS THAT ARE EXPERIENCING CLOSURES HERE IN CANADA AND SOUTH OF THE BORDER, IT ABSOLUTELY HAS A HUGE IMPACT. SO THESE ARE NOT... THIS ISN'T TOILET PAPER ROLLS, WHICH AS WE LEARNED, WE DIDN'T DO THAT WELL WITH ON KEEPING THE STORES FULL. THIS IS LIFE ANIMALS AND NATURE AND THERE'S A SYSTEM AND A REGULAR CHAIN OF PRODUCTION. SO ONCE YOU BACK UP, IF WE THINK ABOUT, THERE'S A BEEF PLANT IN ALBERTA THAT'S REDUCED SHIFTS FROM 4500 ANIMALS A DAY TO 1500 ANIMALS A DAY. SO THAT'S 3,000 ANIMALS A DAY. DO THE MATH. THAT HAVE TO BE FED, YOU KNOW, HOUSED, LOOKED AFTER, AND THEY'RE NOT GOLDFISH, THEY'RE EXPENSIVE TO KEEP. AND SO WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT THINGS LIKE POULTRY, PORK, BEEF, ET CETERA, THOSE ANIMALS KEEP GROWING, THE EGGS KEEP ROLLING, THE MILK KEEPS COMING DAY AFTER DAY. SO THE BOTTLENECK IN FOOD PROCESSING... SOUTH OF THE BORDER WE EXPORT SOME TO BUT WE DON'T HAVE ENOUGH CAPACITY HERE IN CANADA IN GENERAL AND AS SOON AS ONE OF THE BIG PLANTS DECIDE TO CLOSE AND-OR REDUCE, IT HAS A HUGE IMPACT ON OUR WHOLE FOOD SYSTEM.

Steve says KEITH, I CAN IMAGINE FARMERS LOOKING AT THE PRICE OF GAS TODAY AND SAYING, LOOK, THIS IS FANTASTIC. I HAVEN'T SEEN THESE PRICES THIS LOW IN 30 YEARS. ON THE OTHER HAND, IS IT MY IMAGINATION OR IS THE PRICE OF FOOD RISING?

Keith says CERTAINLY YOU'VE SEEN A SLIGHT INCREASE WITH RESPECT TO FOOD. YOUR COMMENT ON GAS, THAT'S HAVING A RIPPLE EFFECT ON AGRICULTURE AS WELL BECAUSE WE BLEND ETHANOL. NOW THE PRICE OF ETHANOL IS MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE THAN GASOLINE. SO THAT ETHANOL BLENDING IS HAPPENING, THAT MEANS CORN ISN'T BEING PRODUCED. FOR PEOPLE WHO FEED LIVESTOCK, THEY RELY ON THE GRAIN THAT IS A RESULT OF THE ETHANOL... PROCESSING OF ETHANOL, SO THAT PRODUCT IS NOT BEING AVAILABLE SO IT HAS A RIPPLE EFFECT, EVEN THE FACT THAT GAS PRICES ARE LOW. YOU KNOW, THERE'S A LOT OF THINGS GOING ON WITH COVID-19 WITH RESPECT TO WHAT'S HAPPENING ON THE FARM, AND CRYSTAL HIGHLIGHTED SOME OF THE PROCESSING SIDE OF IT. WE DO SEND LIVESTOCK SOUTH OF THE BORDER, BUT SINCE THOSE PLANTS ARE CLOSED, THE REDISTRIBUTION OF ANIMALS IN THE U.S. HAS MEAN CANADIAN CATTLE ISN'T GOING SOUTH. THERE'S THAT ANIMAL WELFARE ASPECT AS WELL, YOU CAN'T GROW PAST MARKET WEIGHT AND SO WE RUN INTO REAL PROBLEMS. WE NEED TO FIND SOLUTIONS QUICKLY. WE NEED TO RAMP UP THE CAPACITY IN CANADA IN PROCESSING PLANTS. THERE'S A LOT OF ABSENTEEISM. PART OF IT FEAR. OUR WORKERS ARE ESSENTIAL WORKERS, BUT NOBODY IS PROMOTING THEM THE SAME WAY HEALTH CARE WORKERS TO GO TO WORK. AND WE NEED THE GOVERNMENT AND THE PUBLIC TO UNDERSTAND THAT WE HAVE KEY WORKERS TO KEEP THAT GOING. AND WE NEED THE UNIONS TO DO A BETTER JOB OF NOT TELLING THEIR WORKERS TO SAY AT HOME.

Steve says FOLLOW UP ON THAT. WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

Keith says WELL, WE'RE AWARE OF A FEW PLACES WHERE UNIONS OF PLANTS ARE TELLING THE WORKERS STAY AWAY. YOU NEED TO BE SAFE. AND IT'S A LITTLE CONCERNING BECAUSE IT IS PUTTING FEAR INTO PEOPLE. AND OUR PROCESSING PLANTS ARE DOING AN UNBELIEVABLE JOB OF DISINFECTING AND SANITIZING AND CREATING SAFE WORK SPACES AND PUTTING UP BARRIERS AND THEY'RE EDUCATING THEIR WORKERS AND WE NEED EVERYBODY TO ENCOURAGE THESE WORKERS TO KEEP GOING, TO MAINTAIN THAT CAPACITY OF OUR PROCESSORS AS I JUST REFERRED TO BECAUSE IF WE DON'T KEEP PROCESSING, THERE'S GOING TO BE LESS FOOD AVAILABLE ON THE SHELVES.

Steve says I HEAR YOU, BUT, CRYSTAL, LET ME GET YOU TO FOLLOW UP ON THAT. YOU KNOW, FOOD PROCESSING SEEMS TO BE ONE OF THOSE KIND OF BUSINESSES WHERE PEOPLE DO WORK IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO ONE ANOTHER, AND IS IT UNREASONABLE FOR PEOPLE WHO WORK IN THAT BUSINESS TODAY TO THINK, THIS MAY NOT BE THE SAFEST WORKPLACE FOR ME RIGHT NOW GIVEN THE PANDEMIC?

Crystal says OBVIOUSLY, YOU KNOW, EVERY PLANT IS DIFFERENT. I WOULD SAY... I KNOW THERE'S SOME AMAZING MINDS WITHIN ALL THE PROCESSING SECTOR WORKING ON THIS. SO THINGS LIKE SLOWING THE LINE SPEED DOWN, REDUCING THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE SO YOU CAN MAINTAIN SOCIAL DISTANCING WITHIN THE PLANT, IS ONE EXAMPLE. AND A LOT OF THE PLANTS DO HAVE ROBOTICS, ET CETERA. SO IT'S NOT NECESSARILY, DEPENDING ON THE PART OF THE LINE, NOT AS CROWDED AS YOU THINK IT MIGHT BE. SO I FEEL THERE'S A LOT OF MEASURES BEING PUT IN PLACE. THERE'S A LOT OF ENGINEERS, QUALITY ASSURANCE, FOOD SAFETY EXPERTS THAT HAVE SHIFTED THEIR FOCUS TO HUMAN HEALTH AND SAFETY AWAY FROM WHERE THEY NORMALLY SPEND THEIR TIME, AND I THINK THEY ARE COMING UP WITH SOME PRETTY INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS TO KEEP PEOPLE SAFE.

Steve says WHAT ABOUT THE NOTION THAT THERE'S NOT ENOUGH FOOD PROCESSING GOING ON IN THIS COUNTRY TO BEGIN WITH AND THAT PUTS IN A PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE SPOT WHEN SOMETHING LIKE A PANDEMIC HITS; IS THAT FAIR TO SAY?

Crystal says IT ABSOLUTELY IS. SO PROCESSING HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED... THE NEED TO HAVE ENOUGH PROCESSING CAPACITY IN OUR COUNTRY HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED BY PEOPLE WITHIN THAT SECTOR FOR A LONG TIME THAT IT NEEDS TO BE A PRIORITY. SO AS WE THINK ABOUT OUR WHOLE FOOD SYSTEM BEING A WEB WHERE EVERYTHING GETS PROCESSED IS ABSOLUTELY A BOTTLENECK. SO THIS CONCEPT OF... WE DON'T BECOME AWARE OF IT WHEN WE'RE NET EXPORTERS, AND WE EXPORT A LOT OF RAW PRODUCTS TO OTHER COUNTRIES. AND SO THEN A SITUATION LIKE THIS, WE HAVEN'T SEEN, IT'S OBVIOUSLY UNPRECEDENTED TIMES. AND I THINK ABOUT QUOTES THAT WE SAW THINGS LIKE AFTER WORLD WAR II AND WHERE PEOPLE IN GREAT BRITAIN SAID NO SELF-RESPECTING NATION DOESN'T RESPOND AND FEED ITS OWN... FEED ITSELF, BASICALLY. SO THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I'VE SEEN THAT SENTIMENT. IT'S BASICALLY SHONE A LIGHT ON THE NEED TO FEED OURSELVES, FOOD SOVEREIGNTY, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF PROCESSING CAPACITY, FOOD GROWING IN CANADA, PROCESSED IN CANADA, MAKE SURE WE NEED OURSELVES.

Steve says CRYSTAL, AS WE KNOW, LOTS OF PEOPLE ARE EATING AT HOME RIGHT NOW AND VIRTUALLY NOBODY IS GOING TO RESTAURANTS ANYMORE. YES, A BIT OF TAKEOUT. BUT ESSENTIALLY ALL THAT FOOD THAT WAS DESTINED TO GO TO RESTAURANTS ISN'T GOING THERE RIGHT NOW. WHERE IS IT ALL GOING?

Crystal says GREAT QUESTION. SO PEOPLE ARE EATING MORE AT HOME. I KNOW WE ABSOLUTELY ARE. WE ARE STILL DOING TAKE-AWAY, BUT THE RESTAURANT SECTOR IS ABOUT TWO-THIRDS OF PEOPLE IN RESTAURANTS IN ONTARIO ARE LAID OFF RIGHT NOW. YOU KNOW, IF YOU DID THE MATH, IF YOU SAY TWO-THIRD OF THAT RESTAURANT FOOD ISN'T HAPPENING. BUT THE SAME NUMBER OF PEOPLE ARE STILL EATING. SO, FOR EXAMPLE, THEY'RE EATING SHELLED EGGS INSTEAD OF THE PROCESSED BAGS OF EGGS THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN GOING IN BIGGER QUANTITIES TO HOSPITALITY AND FOOD SERVICE. SO WE'RE SEEING THINGS LIKE FARMERS STEP UP AND MAKING BIGGER DONATIONS TO GROUPS LIKE FEED ONTARIO, OUR FOOD BANK SYSTEMS. FOR EXAMPLE, EATING EGGS, SO THAT'S A VISUAL. TYPICALLY FOR EGG FARMERS GIVE 11,000 DOZEN EGGS A MONTH ALREADY, THEY HAVE BEEN FOR YEARS. THIS YEAR THEY STEPPED UP AND ADDED ANOTHER 18,000 DOZEN EGGS TO SAY, YOU KNOW WHAT? THAT WOULD HAVE WENT TO RESTAURANTS BUT WE'RE GOING TO GIVE IT TO PEOPLE WHO NEED IT THE MOST, WHICH IS ABOUT 180,000 MEALS. THERE'S DEFINITELY A SHIFT AWAY FROM FOOD SERVICE INTO RETAIL. THE OTHER THING WE'RE SEEING IN THE GROCERY STORES IS PEOPLE ARE BUYING WHAT I WOULD SAY IS COMFORT FOODS, YES, THAT WOULD INCLUDE CHIPS, BUT ALSO JUST THE BASICS, THE MEAT, MILK, EGGS, DAIRY. YOU KNOW, WE'RE SEEING SOME OF THE FOODS WITH MORE ADJECTIVES, THE SOCIAL ISSUES THAT WE SOMETIMES DISCUSS ON THIS SHOW, WE'RE SEEING PEOPLE GOING BACK TO BASICS AND HOME COOKING LIKE WE'VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE, WHICH I LOVE.

Steve says I DON'T WANT TO GET TOO PERSONAL WITH EVERYBODY, BUT, DUSTY, DO YOU FIND... GIVEN THAT WE'RE SPENDING A LOT MORE TIME AT HOME THESE DAYS, DO YOU FIND IT'S IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO SNACK AND GET INTO THAT JUNK FOOD LATE AT NIGHT WHEN WE WERE SO DISCIPLINED NOT TO DO IT BEFORE THIS?

Dusty says WELL, I AM FORTUNATE HERE ON THE FARM THAT I CAN SOCIAL DISTANCE ON THE FARM AND I'VE TAKEN UP A HOBBY OF OUTDOOR COOKING. YOU KNOW, I'M OUTSIDE AND WHATNOT. BUT, NO, DEFINITELY, IT'S A REALITY OF WHAT IS YOUR DIET SHIFT, WHAT DOES THAT LOOK LIKE? YOU KNOW, WHEN WE'RE TALKING ABOUT COOKING AND PURCHASING GROCERIES AND WHATNOT, ONE THING I DO WANT TO HIGHLIGHT, ARE THINGS THAT FARMERS ACROSS THE PROVINCE AND WHAT I'M HEARING AND OURSELVES AT EZ GROW ARE DOING TO HELP RELIEVE THE STRESS AT GROCERY STORES, KEEPING PEOPLE OUT OF STORES AND MAYBE DOING BULK PURCHASING. AND ONE THING WE'RE DOING AT EZ GROW FOR PURCHASING GROCERIES FOR OUR MIGRANT WORKERS AND SMALLER FARMERS IS WORKING WITH GORDON FOOD SERVICE AND LARGE FOOD RETAILERS AND DOING LARGE DROPS TO THE FARM. SO EVEN OUR QUARANTINED MEN OR OUR NON-QUARANTINED MEN WHO HAVE BEEN THROUGH OR OURSELVES AREN'T GOING TO THE GROCERY STORES. WE'RE ORDERING LARGE ITEMS OF QUANTITIES RIGHT TO OUR CFIA-APPROVED BARN AND COOLERS, AND WE ACTUALLY HAVE CREATED A STORE. AND A LOT OF CREDIT TO MY MOM AND THE TEAM THAT ADMINISTERED THAT HERE GETTING THAT ON. IT'S FRIDAY AND DOWN HERE IN NORFOLK COUNTY, TILLSONBURG, SIMCOE, DELHI, THAT'S NORMALLY WHEN THE MIGRANT MEN WERE GOING INTO THE TOWNS AND PURCHASING GROCERIES AND WHATNOT. WE'RE BRINGING THOSE STORES TO THEM NOW AND WORKING WITH RETAILERS TO MAKE SURE GRACE FOODS, THE CARIBBEAN FOODS AND ETHNIC FOODS ARE THERE AS WELL AS THE STAPLES THAT CRYSTAL WAS SAYING ARE THERE FOR NOT ONLY US BUT ALSO THE MEN LIVING ON THE FARMS RIGHT NOW THAT ARE EXPERIENCING IT ALONG WITH US.

Steve says DUSTY, YOU'VE GIVEN US AN IDEA, I THINK. WE NEED TO GET YOU BACK IN THE FUTURE TO DO A SEGMENT ON OUTDOOR COOKING AT A TIME LIKE THIS. THAT'S ANOTHER FOR ANOTHER TIME.

Crystal says GOOD IDEA.

Steve says ONE OF YOU, CRYSTAL, I GUESS IT WAS YOU, DROPPED AN EXPRESSION A SECOND AGO. KEITH, I WANT TO GET YOU TO FOLLOW UP ON THAT AND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS EXPRESSION, FOOD SOVEREIGNTY. WE'RE IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC, AND HOW MUCH DOES THAT FOCUS THE MIND ON THE NEED TO HAVE FOOD SOVEREIGNTY AND WHETHER WE ACTUALLY HAVE IT RIGHT NOW?

Keith says I SAID THIS MANY TIMES IN THE PAST. OUR AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY, AGRIFOOD INDUSTRY IN CANADA IS THE BEST KEPT SECRET WE HAVE. WE HAVE A VERY ROBUST SYSTEM HERE. AND REALLY WE ARE IN A POSITION TO EXPRESS FOOD SOVEREIGNTY. WE CAN GROW IT. WE CAN PRODUCE IT, PROCESS IT. SO WE CAN RETAIL IT. BUT WE NEED TO MAKE SURE THAT THAT WHOLE SYSTEM IS SECURE, AND IT STARTS WITH BEHIND THE FARM GATE ON THE FARM, MAKING SURE THAT THAT SECTOR IS VIABLE AND THEN MAKE SURE THE PROCESSING SECTOR IS VIABLE TOO SO IT GETS TO THE RETAIL STORE. I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE, ONCE WE GET THROUGH THIS, ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO RESPECT THAT A LOT MORE AND JUST HAVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF OUR ENTIRE SYSTEM AND HOW VITAL IT IS TO EVERYDAY LIFE AND IT'S WHY WE'VE BEEN PUSHING FOR [indiscernible] FOR THE ENTIRE INDUSTRY SO THAT PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THAT WE NEED TO KEEP IT GOING BECAUSE WHAT AGRICULTURE IS IN CANADA IS THE ECONOMIC FLOOR OF OUR ENTIRE COUNTRY'S ECONOMY, AND IF WE DON'T PRESERVE THAT, WE DON'T HAVE IT COMING OUT OF THIS PANDEMIC TO GET OUR COUNTRY BACK UP AND RUNNING AGAIN.

Steve says CRYSTAL, DO YOU WANT TO FOLLOW UP ON THAT? IF WE NEED TO DO MORE TO ACHIEVE FOOD SOVEREIGNTY, PARTICULARLY AT A TIME LIKE THIS, WHAT SHOULD WE BE DOING?

Crystal says WELL, FIRST OF ALL, EVERYBODY SHOULD BE BUYING CANADIAN AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. I LIKE BANANAS, SO I BUY THINGS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES SOMETIMES TOO, BUT IF YOU HAVE THE CHOICE AND ASK FOR IT TO START BY BUYING CANADIAN, ABSOLUTELY. THE SECOND THING I THINK IS OUR POLITICAL, OUR GEOPOLITICAL LEADERS NEED TO JUST TAKE A LESSON FROM THE CONSUMERS THAT ARE SAYING, FOOD IS IMPORTANT. WE NEED ACCESS TO HEALTHY, AFFORDABLE FOOD GROWN CLOSE TO HOME. SO INVESTING IN OUR FOOD SYSTEM. YOU KNOW, IT'S ONE IN EIGHT JOBS IN THIS COUNTRY ARE RELATED TO THE FOOD SYSTEM, AND THIS CONCEPT OF NO SELF-RESPECTING NATION WILL DO ITSELF ANY FAVOURS BY NOT INVESTING IN ITS OWN FOOD SYSTEM AND THAT STARTS AT THE FARM WITH KEITH AND DUSTY AND OUR FRIENDS ON THE FARM AND GOES RIGHT THROUGH TO THAT PIECE I SAID, PROCESSING, TRANSPORT, AGRIFOOD IMPORTS... PUTS, RATHER... INPUTS, RATHER. THERE'S A WHOLE FOOD SYSTEM THAT'S BEEN WORKING HARD 365 DAYS A YEAR TO KEEP THE GROCERY STORES FULL AND WE'VE NEVER NOTICED BECAUSE WE'VE NEVER HAD AN EMPTY STORE BEFORE. SO I FEEL THE MAIN MESSAGE I WOULD SAY IS WE DON'T WANT TO GO BACK TO NORMAL AFTER THIS. WE NEED TO REALLY LOOK AT OUR OWN CAPACITY TO FEED OURSELVES IN-HOUSE FIRST AND THEN EXPORT SECOND.

Steve says DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS... I MEAN, WE JOKED EARLIER ABOUT THE FACT THAT WITH THE EXCEPTION OF TOILET PAPER, THE STORE SHELVES HAVE REALLY BEEN WELL-STOCKED AND THERE HASN'T BEEN NOT A PARTICULAR RUN ON ANY KIND OF FOOD. DO YOU GET CONCERNED ABOUT THAT, THOUGH, GOING FORWARD, THE LONGER THIS PANDEMIC HOLDS?

Crystal says I THINK... WELL, THE CONCERN WILL BE AROUND... THE NEXT PIECE WILL BE THIS PROCESSING CAPACITY. AT THE BEGINNING, IT WAS MORE ABOUT STOCKPILING AND PEOPLE, YOU KNOW, THE STORES WERE PUTTING LIMITS ON EGGS AND MILK AND MEAT, ET CETERA, BREAD, YOU KNOW, WAS OFTEN SOLD OUT. SO I FEEL THE FOOD SYSTEM HAS RESPONDED IN AN AMAZING WAY AT GETTING THOSE STORES STOCKED AGAIN AND EVEN, YOU KNOW, DESPITE PEOPLE BUYING LARGER QUANTITIES. MY NEXT LEVEL OF CONCERN WOULD BE AROUND PROCESSING. SO IF SOME OF THESE PROCESSING PLANTS, IF EMPLOYEES ARE GETTING SICK OR BOYCOTTING OR THEY JUST CAN'T GET THE LABOUR, I'M CONCERNED THAT THAT WILL START TO SHOW UP AT THE RETAIL LEVEL.

Steve says DUSTY, YOU TOLD US EARLIER YOU'RE FOURTH GENERATION FARMING ON YOUR FARM IN CANADA, BUT YOUR FAMILY IS FROM EUROPE, SO I PRESUME YOU WERE FARMING IN EUROPE AS WELL BEFORE THAT?

Dusty says YEAH, MY BLOODLINE WAS FOR SURE, OVER IN EUROPE, ABSOLUTELY, DOING STILL IN HORTICULTURE ACTIVELY AND THEN THEY MOVED OVER HERE, MADE THE HOMAGE THROUGH HALIFAX, THROUGH PIER 21 BACK IN THE '30s AND '40S.

Steve says SO FOR ALL YOU KNOW, YOU ARE FIFTH OR SIXTH OR SEVENTH GENERATION IN YOUR FAMILY FARMING; IS THAT FAIR TO SAY?

Dusty says IT'S IN MY BLOOD, WITHOUT A DOUBT. MY HANDS WERE, WHEN I CAME OUT, I'M SURE I HAD DIRT ON THEM.
[LAUGHTER]
MIND YOU, I WAS BORN... I WAS BORN IN JULY, SO IT WAS THE HEIGHT OF BLUEBERRY HARVEST. THEY WERE PROBABLY BLUE.
[LAUGHTER]
YEAH. SO IT'S ENGRAINED. AS AN ONLY CHILD HERE ON THE FARM, THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT, I LEFT THE FARM, THAT WAS PER THE AGREEMENT OF MY FAMILY. MY PARENTS WERE FORCED TO COME BACK TO THE FARM WHEN TIMES WERE SLIGHTLY TOUGH BACK IN THE '80s, SO IT WAS UP TO ME TO MAKE THE CONSCIOUS DECISION TO RETURN TO THE FARM AFTER SCHOOL AND WORKING OUT TO MAKE SURE IT WAS MY INDEPENDENT DECISION AND IT WAS THE BEST DECISION I COULD HAVE MADE.

Steve says THAT'S WHAT I WANT TO GET TO. TOUGH TIMES. YOUR PARENTS CLEARLY MADE IT THROUGH TOUGH TIMES ON THE FARM. AND THIS MAY BE THE TOUGHEST OF ALL. WHO KNOWS WHERE THIS THING IS GOING TO END UP. HOW MUCH PRESSURE ARE YOU FEELING RIGHT NOW TO KEEP THIS BUSINESS, WHICH HAS BEEN IN YOUR FAMILY FOR SO LONG, ALIVE AND HEALTHY THROUGH THE COURSE OF THIS AND DO YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE DIFFICULTY DOING IT?

Dusty says IT'S DEFINITELY REALITY, STEVE. IT'S SOMETHING THAT... I MEAN, IT'S THE HEIGHT OF EVERY CONVERSATION, WHETHER YOU'RE TALKING WITH YOUR FRIENDS OR IF YOU'RE TALKING WITH YOUR FAMILY ABOUT THE PROGRAM AND WHAT IS THE VIABILITY OF THE FARM. THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT THERE'S FEELINGS FARMS ACROSS THE PROVINCES AND CANADA AND AROUND THE WORLD ARE FEELING STRESSED. SO WHAT IS THE PLAN GOING TO BE? HOW AM I GOING TO STEER THIS SHIP? THE INTERESTING PART, AS CRYSTAL WAS TALKING ABOUT, AND KEITH AS WELL, IS THAT BUILDING... LIKE, HERE ON THE FARM, WE CAN'T JUST UNFORTUNATELY PUT PRODUCT X WITH PRODUCT Y AND, BOOM, WE HAVE A PRODUCT. THE PROCUREMENT OF GETTING THAT FRUIT, VEGETABLE, MEAT PRODUCT IS SO LONG THAT STEERING THIS SHIP IS INTERESTING. SO TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION, WE WILL FIND WAYS, AND I THINK THIS PANDEMIC, THIS COVID PANDEMIC, HAS HIGHLIGHTED JUST HOW THIN AND... THE CRITICAL WEAKNESS IS THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT HAVE ON BOTH OUR HEALTH CARE, ESPECIALLY FOR THE AGED AND ELDERLY, AND AS WELL AS OUR DYNAMIC FOOD SYSTEM AND OUR FOOD SECURITY AND JUST HOW FRAGILE IT IS, THAT THIS COULD AFFECT IT SO GREATLY. BUT WE'RE THINKING OF WAYS, AND WHETHER IT'S LOCAL LABOUR, WHETHER IT'S PUTTING IN MORE HOURS, WHETHER, YOU NAME IT, A VARIETY OF THINGS TO MAKE SURE THAT WE CAN BE FARMING NEXT YEAR AND WE GROW PERENNIAL CROPS, SO MAKING SURE THE BLUEBERRY CROP THIS YEAR LOOKS AS GOOD AS IT DOES NEXT YEAR AND THE YEARS AFTER.

Steve says NOW, THAT'S FROM AN AGRICULTURAL POINT OF VIEW. LET ME JUST ASK YOU ABOUT SORT OF THE SOCIAL ASPECTS OF FARMING. DO I HAVE THIS RIGHT, THAT YOU'VE HAD MIGRANT WORKERS ON YOUR FARM THERE FOR SO MANY YEARS, SOME OF THEM ACTUALLY BABY SATURDAY YOU BACK IN THE DAY?

Dusty says YEAH, EVERY NOW AND THEN MOM AND DAD NEED TO GO OUT TO DINNER AND HAVE A DATE. EVEN AT HARVEST TIME, YOU'VE GOT TO GET OFF THE FARM. SO OUR MEN FROM TRINIDAD, WHO ARE... YOU KNOW, I MEAN, THEY'RE NOW 70 OR 80 YEARS OLD AND THEY STILL TALK TO US AND I'M... ROGER AND ARNIE AND THE BOYS WERE MY BABYSITTERS AND EATING Ro TI BEFORE I EVEN KNEW WHAT ROTI WAS, YOU KNOW? AND IT WAS THEIR BUNKHOUSE BACK IN THE OLD FARM WAS RIGHT BESIDE THE HOUSE. I CAN'T EXPRESS ENOUGH THAT THESE MEN AND WOMEN ARE PART OF CANADIAN AGRICULTURE BUT ALSO OUR FAMILY FABRICS, BOTH IN URBAN CENTRES AND HERE, FROM LOCAL FESTIVALS, LIKE SOCCER TOURNAMENTS, TO CARIBANA, DOWNTOWN TORONTO, THESE PEOPLE ARE CELEBRATED AND THEY SHOULD BE BECAUSE WE RELY ON THEM HEAVILY AND THEY'RE PART OF OUR FAMILY AND PART OF OUR COUNTRY, AND THEY SUPPORT BOTH US HERE IN CANADA WITH RELIABLE FOOD SYSTEM AND ACROSS THE WORLD, BUT AS WELL AS THE MONEY THEY CREATE HERE GOES DIRECTLY BACK TO THEIR HOME COUNTRIES TO SUPPORT THOSE COMMUNITIES, THEIR FAMILIES, SO THAT THEY CAN ALSO LIVE A GREAT LIFE AS WELL. AND IT'S ALL PART OF THE FABRIC AND WE'RE SEEING ALL THESE AVENUES BECOME EXPOSED THAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED WHEN WE'RE NOT DEALING WITH COVID AND WE'RE NOT DEALING WITH WHERE IS THE FOOD... WHAT'S THE FOOD, WHERE ARE THEY GOING TO BE COMING FROM. AND I WILL FOREVER BE A STEWARD FOR THESE MEN AND WOMEN AND WHAT THEY MEAN TO BOTH MYSELF PERSONALLY, MY BUSINESS, AND CONSUMERS.

Steve says NICE. KEITH, IN OUR LAST MINUTE HERE, WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ENDURING LESSON THE SECTOR WILL TAKE FROM THIS PANDEMIC WILL BE?

Keith says WELL, IF YOU LISTEN TO DUSTY'S STORY, IT'S LIKE FARMERS RIGHT ACROSS THE COUNTRY, THEY'RE BEING IMAGINATIVE AND INVENTIVE ON HOW THEY'RE GETTING THROUGH THIS, WE'RE BEING CREATIVE IN HOW WE CREATE ISOLATION OR QUARANTINE. WE'RE GOING TO MAKE SURE WE CONTINUE TO PRODUCE FOOD FOR CANADIANS AND HOPEFULLY CANADIANS HAVE A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ONG WE TALKED ABOUT IT EARLIER WITH PEOPLE LEARNING HOW TO COOK [indiscernible] AND PEOPLE GET BACK TO COOKING AT HOME AND UNDERSTANDING THE VALUE AND HOW GREAT OUR FOOD PRODUCTS ARE HERE IN CANADA AND ONTARIO IN PARTICULAR. SO THERE'S SOME GOOD THINGS TO COME OUT OF THIS. WE JUST NEED TO MAKE SURE THAT WE'RE THERE FOR THEM AS WE GO THROUGH THIS PANDEMIC.

Steve says CRYSTAL, LAST WORD TO YOU. ARE YOU LEARNING LESSONS FROM THIS PANDEMIC?

Crystal says I THINK THE CONCEPT OF A NATION THAT FEEDS ITSELF IS THE FOUNDATION FOR SUCCESS. SO LET'S USE WHAT WE'VE BEEN EXPERIENCING, BE INNOVATIVE, INVEST IN OUR FOOD SYSTEM AND IT'S CRITICAL TO THE SUCCESS OF THIS COUNTRY.

Steve says I'VE GOT TWO SHORT QUESTIONS LEFT FOR DUSTY. DUSTY, WHAT'S YOUR REAL FIRST NAME?

Dusty says MY REAL NAME IS DUSTIN BUT NOBODY CALLS ME THAT UNLESS IT'S MY MOM AND I'M IN SOME DEEP TROUBLE.

Steve says YOU'RE NOT IN ANY TROUBLE HERE SO WE'LL CALL YOU DUSTY. AND YOUR FARM, EZ GROW FARMS, IT'S THE LETTER "E." AND THE LETTER "Z," AND OF COURSE IT MEANS EASY AS IN SIMPLE, BUT I GUESS THAT WAS SOMEBODY'S INITIALS IN YOUR FAMILY AS WELL ONCE UPON A TIME, RIGHT?

Dusty says YEAH, THAT WAS MY GRANDFATHER, ED, WHO CAME ACROSS FROM SLOVAKIA AND, YEAH, WE KEEP HIM WITH US, GOD REST HIS SOUL, AND HE WOULD BE BOTH AMAZED TO SEE WHAT THE FARM AND WHAT AGRICULTURE LOOKS LIKE NOW, AND, YEAH, IT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO SEE WHAT HIS TAKE ON ALL THIS WOULD BE.

The caption changes to "Producer: Liane Kotler, @LianeKotler."

Steve says INDEED IT WOULD. DUSTY ZAMECNIK FROM EZ FARMS, EZ GROW FARMS, EXCUSE ME, KEITH CURRIE THE PRESIDENT OF THE ONTARIO FEDERATION OF AGRICULTURE, CRYSTAL MACKAY CEO OF LOFT 32. IT'S SO GOOD OF ALL OF YOU TO SPEND SOME TIME WITH US ON TVO TONIGHT AND GOOD LUCK TO ALL OF YOU GETTING THROUGH THIS PANDEMIC.

All the guests say THANKS STEVE.

Watch: Feeding Ontario in a Pandemic