Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon. As the least-pedigreed witness on this panel, I thank you for the opportunity to address the committee.
My name is Kim Hatcher, and I live in Canning, Nova Scotia, which is located in the Annapolis Valley, the main agricultural sector of our province.
My husband Steve and I own Canning Sauce Company, which produces hot sauces, barbecue sauces and pasta sauces. We grow the majority of the ingredients that we use, and those that we don't are sourced from other local farms as the sauces that we make use 100% local Nova Scotia-grown products.
We also have recently expanded and have obtained registered farm status, operating as Coywolf Farms, from which we grow and sell primarily greens and also a few select heirloom vegetables. Our farm expansion plans were already under way shortly before COVID-19 hit, and with a few alterations and a shuffling of priorities, we've been fortunate enough to be able to follow through with our desire to grow local food to provide to our surrounding communities.
How the virus will affect our ability to secure funding assistance to install greenhouses for year-round greens production still remains to be seen.
Overall, the impact that COVID-19 has had on our business and new farm has mostly been neutral or positive. Our sales have remained decent, with a few pantry items seeing a massive increase in popularity. We've also benefited greatly from the forethought of our local Wolfville Farmers' Market that's managed by Kelly Redcliffe, as this market has had online sales available since 2017. The online platform, WFM2Go, has a separate manager in Lindsay Clowes, and she reports that these sales have gone from 50 to 60 regular customers to well over 500 weekly orders since our pre-COVID days. This increase has required the addition of a second weekly delivery date, and those sales show no signs of slowing down.
People want to buy fresh local food. We, as a country, just need to stop making it so cheap and easy to choose not to.
While I feel like Nova Scotia, in general, has always put a fairly high value on local food and food products, the pandemic, I believe, has highlighted the problems in our food system throughout Canada. It's forced people to really consider where their food comes from, how it's grown and how it physically makes its way to them. Small and medium farms, regardless of the commodity produced, have largely struggled. This is, in part, from our products' being undervalued or prices' being undercut by megascale products that are cheaper but unsustainable in practice, quality and the stewardship of our agricultural lands.
I believe that this pandemic is providing us with a very unique opportunity to fix our broken food system and to capitalize on the momentum surrounding small and medium-sized locally based food producers. We have a chance to strengthen local food producers, which in turn strengthens the communities they're based in. It's a health and economic win-win scenario for communities all over Canada.
Creating programs that reward buying locally—like the ingredients found in the cafeteria of your local hospital, or locally sourced offerings from a school lunch program—will be instrumental. Jenny Osburn, locally, and a team of dedicated people have started such a lunch program. Pre-COVID, there were four Annapolis Valley schools on board, as well as one on the south shore. With a government subsidy to make school lunches affordable, and even with only 80% participation of the roughly 123,000 kids in the province at a buck a day, that's $100,000 worth of local food purchased per day.
While I feel that more funding is necessary for small-scale and market-sized businesses, more importantly, I see this as a massive opportunity to re-evaluate the importance that farms, particularly those using sustainable farming practices, have in our society, and to create programs that will give real life incentives to farmers, enabling them to provide their products in a long-term and sustainable way.
Six minutes from my home is TapRoot Farms. It's a family-run, medium-sized, certified organic farm that has been running a CSA, community supported agriculture, program for more than a decade. Since March, it has seen a 30% increase in membership and online sales. Again, I believe that Canadians want to buy local food, particularly when we make it the better option and support its growth rather than the cheap and easy imported option that does nothing to serve our Canadian farming communities or our Canadian consumers. Unfortunately, TapRoot Farms, like many other farms in our area, is struggling. While we are grateful for the increase in sales and awareness, the loss of such a large portion of our province's foreign workforce makes it an uncertainty as to whether this COVID-inspired increase in demand can even be met.
The Canada emergency relief benefit that I was eligible for once recipients could still be earning some small portion of their previous income will, of course, end. My husband, besides working our farm, also works full time at another local farm, and it's one of the many that are sorely understaffed due to the cut in foreign workers. Based on our expansion plans, he will need to stop that outside work once we are in full greens production.
I have thus far been unable to find a current program to assist us in bridging the gap created by fewer of our expected venues selling our products, as we are too small, or too new, or are voluntarily leaving a position in order to allow us the labour time needed to grow and sell local food in a volume that's financially sustainable for us. This is a terrifying position to be in, but one that is necessary. I'm hopeful that more funding for market-size businesses will become available. While there may be very few positives that come out of a global pandemic, I hope that support for a local and sustainable food system will be one of them.
In closing, I'd like to state that given the enormity of the pandemic and the speed at which these programs and funding opportunities need to be released, I'm very pleased with our government's response. I also greatly appreciate the daily briefings that have been clear, calm and concise, relayed to the general public without unnecessary sensationalism or dramatics.
With that in mind, I would also like to note something that may become a missed opportunity but is a much-needed confirmation of our current political landscape. My local MP is Kody Blois, Kings—Hants, and he is part of the Liberal Party of Canada. I happen to be a supporter of that party. Therefore, I am in the very fortunate position of feeling like I have a voice in Parliament and my concerns are being appropriately represented. Many Canadians have an MP who does not belong to their party of choice, and therefore, do not feel like they have a voice in Parliament. Since April I haven't stopped imagining a PSA of all the political leaders, with Zoom clips of leaders talking to each other individually in a candid and casual fashion, not pandering but complimentary: “I saw that tweet yesterday; that's great” or “I can't agree with that initiative as it is,” with the response being, “Okay, let's work on it.”
The political climate south of the border is divisive to the point of being malicious. That fear and uncertainty are making their way here. I think we would be missing an opportunity to show our country that we are a unified force against a global threat and to show the world that we are an example of how this can be done.
Thank you very much for your time.