Ont. tax credits urged for donated fresh produce

An Ontario produce grower donating 500,000 pounds of greenhouse bell peppers to a Hamilton food bank predicts there’d be more donors where he came from if tax credits were available to support the work involved.

Peter Quiring, president of Leamington-based Nature Fresh Farms, on Friday announced the donation of peppers to Hamilton Food Share and establishment of a regular produce donation program for the company.

“Once fully operational, the pepper donation initiative will be the largest giving program of fresh fruits and vegetables in the country,” the company said in a release Friday.

Quiring said he believes other Ontario growers would be willing to divert millions of pounds of produce to the province’s food banks if governments created tax credits to help offset the costs of managing such programs.

Currently, the company said, Ontario’s farmers and processors receive no benefit or compensation for food donations, unlike those in other jurisdictions such as Colorado, Oregon and North Carolina.

“There is the potential for redirecting up to 10 million pounds of fresh produce to the hungry, but there needs to be a tax credit to help cover some of our farm costs,” Quiring said.

Nature Fresh is a 67-acre hothouse operation that bills itself as the single largest producer of yellow, red and orange peppers in Ontario. The company said it would be making its donation as “a generous gift, without the benefit of any tax credit.”

“We are facing tough times in Ontario, and we all need to do more to help
each other,” said Quiring, who in 1996 founded the company, which now harvests peppers 10 months of the year.

Incentive

“Fresh produce is something that has been missing from the mix (of foods donated), but we are set up to handle it with cold storage,” Joanne Santucci, executive director of Hamilton Food Share, said in Nature Fresh’s release.

“This donation is more than we could absorb in the local communities we serve, so we are working with the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) to get product to people across the province.”

OAFB executive director Adam Spence said in the same release that such an initiative is much needed because fresh produce is in high demand in food programs that are feeling the pressure of the economic downturn.

“Our numbers have jumped 20 per cent since last year,” he said, noting food banks and families turning to food banks are seeking fresh fruit and vegetables.

“A provincial tax credit program would help us meet the growing need for more fresh food by providing an incentive for other farmers to donate,” Spence said.

The OAFB said it’s been working with farm groups including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture towards having a commitment to a donated tax credit program in place by the end of 2009, and has pressed both the provincial ag and finance departments to set up such a tax credit.

Other produce companies have made food donations part of their corporate giving plans. Winnipeg-based vegetable growers’ co-op Peak of the Market, for example, has operated a promotion in which it donates 50 pounds of vegetables to food bank Winnipeg Harvest for every new subscriber to the company’s free daily or weekly recipe e-mails.

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