Lisa Thompson has a quick, warm smile and a penchant for direct eye contact when engaging in conversation.
Her open nature can momentarily eclipse her razor-sharp observational skills and the wealth of knowledge she brings to the table as a farmer, businessperson and politician.
“I think the foundation to addressing any situation, whether it’s good news or a tough problem, (is) you need to take the time to do your homework,” said the newly appointed Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “And part of doing your homework is listening to the experts on the ground.”
Building on the work of former agriculture minister Ernie Hardeman, Thompson said she wants to support sustainable growth for the agriculture sector.
“He left big shoes to fill. I like to think that I brought my own pair of shoes, my own pair of ropers, to pick up where he left off,” said the Huron-Bruce MPP. “And I’m going to work very hard. I’m going to put everything I’ve got into this job.”
That statement packs a punch.
Thompson’s experience on her parent’s farm in Huron County, as a 4-H member and active volunteer in her riding, provided a background in agriculture advocacy and political foundation.
“You develop an eye, and you get to appreciate when people are truly bringing the best of the best forward,” she said. “Across the province, we have farmers and producers that are generating the best of the best, and it makes it very easy for me to be a champion on their behalf.”
Thompson’s vision for agriculture and agri-food growth includes increased access to markets, increased efficiencies and a push toward innovation and technology.
“I feel strongly we can demonstrate how our farmers have been early adopters to technology,” said Thompson, who has a degree in Public Administration and Consumer Economics from the University of Guelph.
She said there is an opportunity to embrace new technologies within Ontario agriculture to enhance food production and marketability on a North American and global platform.
But before making investments, Thompson said she wants to identify what provincial farm organizations and commodity boards have embraced.
“We don’t want any redundant initiatives,” she said. “We want to enable our farmers and our organizations to be forward-thinking, through research and through market research as well.”
Thompson said investing in technology that enhances and adds value to Ontario products and provides farmers with increased returns is essential and helps increase awareness of Ontario agriculture’s quality production.
“Then (we) help remove burdens and get the hurdles out of the way so Ontario farmers can access more markets and do what they do best — produce at home and add value to the chain, so ultimately, we’re helping drive the provincial economy, and that ripple effect in terms of the local economy is positively impacted as well.”
Thompson’s appointment may be fresh, but she knows her way around government ministries, having cultivated partnerships to help rural communities and agriculture businesses.
As for the challenges facing agricultural land retention in the face of urban expansion, Thompson said the Ford government has shown a commitment to attainable housing while creating initiatives for land protection.
“We need to work well together as a cabinet to understand the impacts (of land development) when we talk about growing Ontario,” she said.
“We’re replacing any acre that’s used in the Greenbelt with two dedicated acres, so we’re increasing the Greenbelt. We care about being good stewards of the land, and I think our actions to date are demonstrating that.”
Thompson’s social media platforms champion the agriculture sector and the importance of rural community health and economic growth. However, she is also familiar with the impact Mother Nature can have on the industry.
Within days of each other, Thompson announced marketing funds for tender fruit growers who are having a bumper crop year and another announcement to address the impact of drought and forest fires on Northern Ontario producers.
Thompson said the province moved quickly to support livestock farmers through the summer season and provide hope through the fall.
In the same breath, she said tender fruit growers are exporting their product to British Columbia, where fires are affecting production.
“Therein lies the collectiveness of our industry,” she said. “We need to be tuned in. We need to listen. We need to be dexterous enough to act and support in the manner that our growers and farmers need.”