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Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, B.C. Canada

 

January 8, 2009

 

Title: Food System Retrospective and Outlook with Brent Warner

 

Producer/Host: Jon Steinman

Transcript: Jennie Monuik

 

Jon Steinman: And welcome to the first episode of 2009 and our 4th year of programming here at Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated radio show and podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman.

 

I certainly want to extend a big thank-you to all of our supporters and participating radio stations over the past 3 years that have helped bring this show into its 4th year and to today's 121st episode produced since January 2006.

 

On today's broadcast we'll revisit with a familiar voice here on the show Brett Warner, a former Industry Specialist in Agritourism and Direct Marketing for the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture & Lands. Today Brent has moved on to become the Interim Executive Director of Farmers' Markets Canada - a newly formed group supported by Agriculture and Agri-food Canada to help connect Canadian consumers to their local farmers and to address the needs of farmer's markets across the country. We last heard from Brent in 2007 here on the show and in October 2008 he shared a similar but updated presentation to delegates at the 2008 conference of the Canadian Farm Writers Federation. The Conference was held in Courtenay, British Columbia and Deconstructing Dinner was on hand to record his keynote talk. As we enter into 2009, Brent's presentation is a nicely condensed retrospective of some of the most pressing issues of food and agriculture in years past. He shared what direction he believes our food system is now heading.

 

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JS: A few things before we listen in on Brent Warner's talk, there have been a few updates to our website at deconstructingdinner.ca where you can now find our weekly column that is authored for publication in a number of Canadian periodicals and online news magazines. The column has been published since February of 2008, and all columns authored up until mid-December are now posted there. Also posted on our weekly column page is the rss feed that we've also set up to allow both individuals and like-minded websites to sign-up, free-of-charge, to receive this weekly column through the Internet. And more information on how to sign up for that is posted there on our site. And if you would like to encourage the presence of our weekly column in your local newspapers or newsletters, you can encourage your local media to contact us and arrange to get Deconstructing Dinner into the hands of people within your communities.

 

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JS: Also on the main page of our site is a link to the University of Alberta's 2009 International Week event being hosted in Edmonton between February 2nd and 6th. This year's theme is titled Hungry for Change: Transcending Feast, Famine and Frenzy. I'll be there at the event to not only record some of the sessions but to also conduct lectures on February 4th, and to sit on a panel on the topic of biofuels on February 5th. The first of the two lectures will be an introduction to the Deconstructing Dinner project and will be focused on deconstructing an actual plate of the food, only to reveal that one rather unknown company has likely had a hand in producing everything on the plate. In the session shortly after that, I'll spend about 45-minutes presenting the work of the Creston Grain Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA) project that we've been covering here on the show since early 2008. I'll be sharing my thoughts on what important lessons the CSA can share both locally and globally.

 

The week-long event will be opened up with a keynote address by Francis Moore-Lappé - author of the pivotal book Diet for a Small Planet and the more recent book Hope's Edge.

 

Also presenting at the conference will be Palagummi Sainath, an Indian journalist who spends the majority of his year with the village people of India's rural interior. Sainath is an editor with The Hindu and the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought, a book that explores the impacts of globalization on India's rural poor.

 

And also worth noting as part of the line-up of speakers is George Monbiot, the well-known UK journalist who writes a weekly column for The Guardian and who is also the author of the book Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning. Monbiot will join the event live via video-conferencing from Wales.

 

Again, that's the University of Alberta's International Week, February 2nd-6th in Edmonton Alberta, and more information can be linked to from the main page of the Deconstructing Dinner website at deconstructingdinner.ca

 

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JS: To give you an idea of what stories you can expect in the coming months... of course we will share recordings from the University of Alberta event when I return from there. And next week you can expect what will likely be the first of a number of episodes on the current issues facing the controversial salmon farming industry on the coast of British Columbia. In October 2008, I sat down outside a Vancouver courthouse with one of the most vocal opponents of salmon farms, Alexandra Morton. I also had the opportunity to visit one of these salmon farms just off of East Thurlow Island in a remote area of the Strait of Georgia.

 

Also coming up will be the long anticipated part 7 of our Local Grain Revolution series when we'll explore recordings from what was likely Canada's first inland distribution of grain via sailboat.

 

You can also look forward to recordings from my visit to Linnaea Farm on Cortes Island where I spent some quality time with 11 students who had been residing there for 9 months to acquire the important skills necessary to farm organically.

 

And also coming up soon will be part 2 of our Primer on Pesiticide Propaganda series that first aired back in early 2008 and you can be sure to expect many more installments of our popular Backyard Chickens series, our Farming in the City series and our GE-Free Zones series among others.

 

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JS: Back in October 2008, I attended the annual conference of the Canadian Farm Writers Federation held in Courtenay, British Columbia. Some recordings from the conference have already appeared here on the show, but we haven't yet heard from the event's keynote speaker, and while we have heard a similar presentation from Brent Warner before back in October 2007, the one we're about to hear is an updated version and a perfect start to the new year.

 

Brent's presentation was accompanied by an amazing visual presentation that we've made available on our website, and if you're near a computer or mobile device with internet access, you can access the file on our website at deconstructingdinner.ca and posted under the January 8th, 2009 episode.

 

And to introduce Brent, here's Conference Chair Peter Van Dongen.

 

Peter Van Dongen: It's now my pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker for this morning, giving our keynote address, Growing Beyond the Ordinary, tying into the theme of our conference. Brent Warner's career spans over 30 years of working with farm families across North America. He was responsible for starting B.C.'s Direct Farm Marketing Organizations, the B.C. Association of Farmer's Markets, and the B.C. Agritourism Alliance. Brent is in high demand as a speaker, sharing his insights on the survival of the family farm and new opportunities in agriculture. Brent Warner is the Executive Director of Farmer's Markets Canada - a new organization trying to stimulate and move forward with farmer's markets across the country. He also runs his own agriculture, production and marketing company, White Loaf Ridge Management, here in Vancouver Island in Sidney, where he works with individual farmers and governments to assist the farming industry across North America. I can tell you from having seen Brent speak a couple of times already in the last few years, that my advice to you is to buckle up, hold onto your seats and enjoy the ride because it's going to be a great presentation this morning. Please welcome, Brent Warner. (applause)

 

Brent Warner: Thanks Peter. And as Peter said, I usually have two hours worth of presentation in an hour, except today it's only 45 minutes, so it's actually going to be faster than normal. Peter gave me the topic and what I'm going to try to do is set the stage for you as to what's going on in agriculture right now. Why there is such huge opportunity, I believe. Why it's the most positive time for small family farms that we've ever seen in my lifetime and point out a few of the issues and new directions that I'm seeing. And as Peter said, I've been in this industry essentially, all my life. I've been on the coast since 1980 and I have worked for the Ministry of Agriculture for over 27 years and I've done a few over things, working in the United States, which we can talk about later, but currently I'm working for Farmer's Markets Canada, which is a new organization you don't know anything about, I'm certain. We have not yet got a website, we should have it up by the end of the month and newsletters will be coming off that website so hopefully you'll all have information a lot more later on. I don't want to spend a lot of time on that right now, so let's get into the presentation right away.

 

I want to go back because you can't know what's going on today if you don't know what happened to us over the last 50 years. This slide only goes up to the year 2000 and actually it's probably a lot worse now than it was even with this graph. The farm communities I have worked with all my life is in that little red circle at the bottom. As food prices have gone up the farm community has been left behind. We have not benefitted from this increased value going into food production and it's potentially the commodity of agriculture has stayed flat-lined. In fact, you'll see as some of the slides go by, it's even worse than that. So over the years we have seen a lot of changes, we've seen disappearing farms, disappearing farmers. The average age of our farmers in North America is very concerning as it's over 55. We're having a real trouble in our industry. This happened only since the second World War. This is not a traditional agriculture which people like to throw around and say that the system we are actually using today is traditional. That is incorrect, traditional agriculture doesn't look anything like what we see out there today.

 

How did we get here? How did we end up in this situation? If you look at how fast we've urbanized North America. In the 1900s, our farm population was over almost 40% of the population. Today, our farm population in Canada, anybody even remotely connected to the farm is less than 2%. So that's a huge change, 98% of the people, 98 out of 100 people you walk into on the street don't know a thing about the agricultural industry. They have no concept of it. They have more experience with either their IPod or their computer and more knowledge of both of those than the food system. How did that happen? We moved into the cities. When we did that we made food faceless and that is the single problem we have with the food system today.

 

This is probably one of my all-time favourite quotes. I went to the University of Guelph to study agriculture back in the '70s and this is exactly what we were told as potential new agribusiness people, "You have to specialize. You have to get better and better at what you do. Be the best potato grower, be a monoculture specialist." What were the big companies doing at that time? They were diversifying. And Bill Heparin said, "Folks without us noticing it, they wiped us out." And that's exactly what happened.

So let's look at agriculture today and how things are moving very, very quickly to change what we have as an agriculture system. And I didn't capture everything here, because we don't have the time to capture everything. I'm just going to highlight a few of the things that I see intersecting with our traditional agriculture industry that are changing things so quickly. Things like buy local, food safety, the healthcare system, the economic impact that local food systems can have in a community. This whole movement in culinary tourism and of course the buzz word around food security. So let's just take apart each one of these and see what's going on in relation to our food system. We have suddenly realized in the last five or so years that there is some connection between what you eat and how healthy you are. It's almost rocket science, but we've almost got there.

 

Where did we get this information? How do we get our food and our healthcare information? Well, it's very impressive in 2002 the government spent 48 million dollars trying to promote nutrition and healthcare to kids. The food industry, in that same period of time, spent 2.7 billion dollars or 56 times that telling them that they should eat Hostess Twinkies, or any other food product. McDonald's alone spent 1.3 billion dollars on advertising so obviously the messages that are going out there...our little, tiny healthcare message about food was buried in all that. Where do we get our food? Even today, where do we get our food from? Increasingly, where do we get our food from? Number one food retailer in the world is Wal-mart. Wal-mart is popping up all over Canada, all over the United States. This slide is a little out-of-date showing Cosco at the top; Wal-mart's the top. Number 1 organic food retailer in the world? Wal-mart. This is a very good graphic representation of what went on in the United States. I do have some Canadian slides as well, their just not as pretty so I thought I'd let you see these. They do mirror. The border doesn't separate us in health. It doesn't separate us. The Prairies look exactly the same as the Prairies in the United States, in relation to our problems with obesity.

 

So here we are in 1985. If you look across the bottom you'll see the red square is the one you want to watch. That's greater than 30% of the population with obesity problems. So in 1985, there was hardly any, there was no real problem there. We, in fact, didn't have a lot of data. And I didn't do every year because it gets dramatic enough. Skip up to 1997, all of a sudden we've got data everywhere and we're starting to see some states already showing over 20% of their population obese. By 2004 we're starting to see states dropping and provinces we're starting to see some serious issues and on the east coast, 30% population obesity. The really concerning population for everybody should be this one, 2006. By 2010, if this trend continues, most of the continent is going to look fairly red. That should be a huge concern to you. This was a National Geographic front page, two years ago: "Why are Americans so fat?" Don't be so complacent. It actually says: "Why are North Americans so fat?" There is no border there, as I just said. If you look at this, we're doing exactly what they are trying to do. 19% of Canadians are on a diet, actually, that's closer to 25%. Obesity, itself, is not an issue. I mean that is not what we're talking about as a problem. What the problem is, is all the related diseases that follow when people are overweight. These are B.C. numbers, 204 from the Vancouver Sun: "Diabetes Epidemic in our Children". Time Magazine: "Diabetes: Are you at risk?"

This is our children in British Columbia. Every 1 out of 3 of them after 2003 is at risk for Type II Diabetes. Type II Diabetes is also called Late Onset Diabetes. In our generation, it did not affect people under the age of 40. Now it affects children at 10. Diabetes is the most expensive, single disease that you can treat in the healthcare system because it follows you for your entire lifetime. 80% of Type II Diabetes is directly related to obesity, which is directly related to what we eat and what we do.

 

This is the U.S. healthcare system. You think they've got financial problems down there right now? This is what their healthcare budget looks like. Do you think that they can afford this? Can any country afford a graph that looks like this? Let's go to B.C. for all of you who think we're immune from this type of thing. These are our own stats compiled by the Treasury Board analysts in the B.C. Government to show the government they've got some serious issues. By 2017, which all of you in this room will see, not very far away and if you look at the current spending and revenue which is in the upper left hand corner, revenue growth at 3%, education growth 3%, healthcare only being allowed to grow 8%. All other spending for the B.C. Government goes to zero by 2017. That means there's no other departments in the government. They don't do roads. They don't do any of that stuff because there's no money. It's a fairly significant number for us to think about. And the more distressing thing is that does not include the costs associated with the last slide where a third of our children are going to develop Type II Diabetes. So there are some huge issues out there.

 

What about the farm economy in that period of time? Between 1981 and 2002, farmer's income went up 42%, unfortunately, their costs at the same time went almost 80%, so they actually are losing money on everything they do. So this only goes up to 2002. Can you imagine with this year's fuel costs, fertilizer costs, pesticides costs, these numbers are out of control. So how do we change that? Well, my version of how you change that, and it's been my version since the early '80s when I was labeled a lunatic, was that you actually start taking out the middle man and start dealing directly as a farmer and start setting the price yourself and actually setting a price based on what it cost you. So, you have to get in front of the food system. We must reconnect the food system where the profit is the greatest for the farmer and that's at the direct contact point. My favourite grower in the Okanagan, Big Al Yatzke, has a farmer's market at the side of the road and he has put this slide together and he's allowing me to use it. What you can do with an apple, which is worth nothing these days, by the way, and will soon be worth less because China will control the entire world market in apples within five years. They already control the entire world apple juice market. So if any of you drink apply juice, you are drinking Chinese juice, by the way. Even though you don't think you are, you are. Every single juice, unless you are buying it from a farmer, probably has some Chinese juice in it. All the big companies blend with Chinese juice. So as long as they put a bit of Canadian or American juice in it, all of a sudden, it becomes theirs. But if you take an apple and you juice it and you vinegar it into ice cider, and you sell it, this is how a farm family makes a living and on the other side they take the public out there and they show them how this is all being done and they start to make this extra value, which we call agritourism. But the whole apple here of the whole farm is about adding extra value. Does this work for farmers? Yes, it does and we do have significant data. After 2005, we did this huge survey across North America, talking to farmers that had diversified - 1,200 of them, over 100 of them in B.C., and these are the numbers they gave us. If they had their own farm store, if they went to farmer's markets, if they did both: Would they go down that road again? We're at 95+% that said, "Yes, it's the way we saved the family farm." There's no other stats out there with these type of percentages from farmers saying this is how we are surviving, or actually doing well.

 

JS: And this is Deconstructing Dinner, and our first episode of 2009 featuring Brent Warner - the Interim Executive Director of Farmers' Markets Canada - a newly formed national group launched to help connect Canadian consumers to their local farmers and to address the needs of farmers' markets across the country.

 

Prior to his post with Farmers' Markets Canada, Brent spent 27 years with British Columbia's Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. We recorded Brent speaking in October 2008 in Courtenay, British Columbia.

 

If you are just tuning in and have nearby access to the Internet, you can download Brent's visual presentation on our website at deconstructingdinner.ca and linked to from the January 8th, 2009 episode.

 

Brent Warner: Food safety, I'm sure many of you have heard the word with all the issues we've had. We're getting huge media coverage almost on a daily basis; the latest one being the Chinese on milk products. Everyday is a new product being named. What is that doing to the average consumer who doesn't know anything about their food system? It's terrifying them. They are beginning to wonder what they should eat. This one started for me back in the early '80s when Odwalla had the first incident of E.Coli in apple juice. It changed an entire continent's food system in a day because that one incident meant that apple juice on Vancouver Island was immediately considered to be a dangerous product and CFIA moved to make us pasteurize apple juice. Now, we never got to the point where we actually legally have to pasteurize it, but here's what they did in the United States. So backhandedly, they essentially made growers pasteurize because this is the warning label. I blew it up so you could read it really easily. That labeling in the United States has to be on every single jug of unpasteurized apple juice. It also has to be on the cooler door that you are reaching in to buy the apple juice. So I can just see Peter reaching into that cooler to buy a jug of this juice for his daughter when it basically says he's gonna kill her with it. So it flattened the sale of apple juice and it continues to flatten it. So what it has meant is that all our producers now pasteurize. They've had to move to pasteurization or get out of the business. And there was really no reason for that, for a small family farm.

 

What's happened to our leafy green industry in the last couple years, organic or otherwise? In fact, organic got nailed with a really big one because of the manure contamination. So consumers are really concerned about their food. They don't really know what to eat, what's going to be safe, where do I find safe food? Meat has been a disaster for the last ten years in North America. And it's not meat from your local farmer, it's the big meat operations. We have had the biggest meat recall ever and then yet six months later again the biggest meat ever. This was the biggest one up until Maple Leaf. This was Topps down in the United States, that company disappeared. That one recall bankrupted the company. Whether Maple Leaf will survive in the form they are now, with what they've had happen, who knows? I just made this slide this morning, just to show you that this trend is getting stronger. This is October. CFIA, like right now, these are the recalls in the last four days. If you think that's significant, look at the recall notices for September on our own Canadian CFIA website. How do consumers decide what they're gonna eat when everyday there's another recall? How do you even find those things by the time they recall them? Does this significantly impact your bottom line if you're a producer? You betcha, 300 million dollars worth of lawsuits this one company has handled in the United States. You know the children that were affected by the Odwalla apple juice in the '80s are still being looked after and the court cases are still going on 20 years later for one child.

 

So what are we going to do with that as a producer? As an Ag-community? Consumers have re-focused and they're re-focusing in larger numbers and they're saying I can't trust what I get in those big, unnamed packages. I've got to go and see a farmer. I've got to meet a farmer. I've got to somehow find out how that product is getting to the store and they're asking questions and this is exciting they are starting to ask what's going on. That has invigorated this whole "Buy Local" movement like nothing I've ever seen before. They want to get to the bottom of the food chain. They want to somehow see what that was. Even if it's a branded product at least they can follow it through to where it came from and that is very, very good news for local food. And I'm not talking about organic here and I want to make that abundantly clear to all of you. Organic is moving away from being able to be supplied by local producers if we go down that same trend of cheaper, cheaper, cheaper. We can't do it. We cannot provide organic food and cheap food in North America at the same time. If people want good, local food and they want it organically, great. They've got to realize they've got to pay for that. If they simple want to buy the cheapest organic product at Wal-mart, which is what Wal-mart bases its entire sales structure on, they will buy product from a third-world country. So we have to get in front of that and make sure they realize what this organic thing means.

 

Oregon, which is one of the most amazing states for local food issues and food security, the number of small farms there has grown exponentially in the last few years. And they are not necessarily organic because organic costs in Oregon, they're just like us, they're a lot higher than they are in Mexico or Chile or China, but they are local. Look offshore, you'll see the same thing is happening in the UK. The British cannot produce organic food as cheaply as they can import it so as long as their consumers are strictly looking for organic they are gonna have a problem. They're losing organic acreages; they're losing organic producers because there's no money in competing head-to-head in simple price. This is where I've seen the most amazing this happen in the last five years, is the whole farmers' market movement across this continent is growing so fast, there's so much demand for consumers, the number one impediment to growing our farmers' market industry is the lack of farmers. We can't get enough markets and farmers fast enough in front of this tidal wave of consumers. But in B.C. we have a very exciting industry and in some cities were still facing that. Vancouver cannot get enough farmers into their farmers' markets. Up until this study was done two years ago by David Connell at UNBC, we had no idea what the economic impact of these markets in our own province was and it's 65.3 million. Currently, there's a study being done across the entire country by Farmers' Markets Canada which will be out in November which will estimate the economic impact of those markets in this entire country and I can tell you it's going to be over a billion dollars. At that point, I'm hoping that governments will get the message that there is something here they should be paying attention to. Up until now, there has been very little money by any government agency put into farmers' markets. There's a few we'll see, that have bucked that trend.

 

This is my favorite slide of a farmers' market, it happens to be in Saskatoon. What are these people doing? They're lining up at an ATM to get more money to spend at the farmers' market because they've run out of money. One farmers' market, the biggest one on the Prairies, they can go through $200,000 out of their cash machines on a Saturday in four hours. This is not some little rinky-dink, backyard business, folks. This is big, big-time agriculture. These are two of the biggest farmers' markets we have in the country. Ironically, to me it's very funny, they are both indoor, year-round markets and where are they? Calgary and Saskatoon. If you were to pick the two cities in this country you would think would have year-round farmers' markets I'm sure they wouldn't be on the top five of your list, and yet, these two cities have made these markets very, very economically profitable for everybody including the city. Obviously, this city takes it seriously. This is a new redevelopment building downtown with a farmers' market at the centre of the entire complex and it's funded by three levels of government. So, when people tell me that there is no infrastructure dollar program out there for farmers' markets and economic incentives...there are, you just have to look for them.

 

Saskatchewan's figured out how to do it. To give you an idea of how these things work I took a few shots here. I was in Saskatoon last week. Seven forty-five A.M. on a Saturday, this is a farm family that brought 700 loaves of bread to the market. Let's back this up two years. They were a farm family that had a kitchen and decided to bake a bit of bread one weekend and take it with them to the farmers' market and they sold, like ten loaves, so fast they didn't know what to do with. Rapid that fast forward; now they've got their own commercial kitchen fully certified on the farm. They're three hours out of Saskatoon. All they can bake is 700 loaves of bread, that is working 24/7 before they go to the market. So just before 8:00 they're setting up; by 9:45 they're all gone. Five dollars a loaf. The line-up is right out the door for these people, and so now they're talking about expanding the bakery. They've got to build a bigger bakery because the market goes 'til 2 o'clock; they're done at quarter to ten. They can't bring anymore at this point. It's not just bread. This is one of the most dynamic markets. Remember, the city of Saskatoon has 200,000 people. Ten thousand people go through there on a Saturday in less than four hours.

 

This is the Angus beef farmer there at the Saskatoon market. Four years ago, this is how he started. This was his marketing entrance into the Saskatoon market. He had a box and in that box was a cooler with about 10 lbs. of beef in it. He wanted to see if this market was going to do anything for him. Four years later, they now have an indoor building, same farmer, 8 freezers. He processes 10 Angus cattle a month to sell at that farmers' market. From one box of 10 pounds. So there is something going on here. People want to look him in the eye. You what he said to me? The best thing that ever happened to his business was BSE. So BSE, to him, shot his sales right through the roof. People wanted to come there and ask him: 'How do you grow these? How do you raise this beef? OK, I want to buy this beef.' Here's a fellow in Winnipeg who was in a Hutterite colony, Danny. He's got an amazing business...got out of the Hutterite colony because he had this drive to market barbequed Pork. His friends told him he was the best cook in the whole city. He went from one barbeque/one hog to over a hundred hogs a weekend in the city of Winnipeg because he does custom barbeques. This is his whole line of barbeques. He'll do one for this conference or he'll do one for a wedding of six people. He will bring his chefs in and cook it all for you or he'll come in and tell you how to cook it and then disappear and you can pretend you knew all along. So, either way, it's a way that people are reconnecting with their food.

 

Big news is happening in government. It's not so much in this province yet, just this huge announcement in Ontario. I'm sure Ontario folks know this already, but the Ontario Government, $56 million is going into "Buy Local" in Ontario, of which, for the first time ever, $4 million of that is going directly into farmers' markets and your farm roadside stand operators to give them the ability to get into this new and rapidly growing industry. Ontario's farmers' market industry is not the same as British Columbia. Theirs is much older and, unfortunately, when they started years and years ago they allowed re-selling. And by that I mean some of the vendors there, they go to the wholesale terminal in Toronto, they buy product, they bring it back and they sell it as theirs at a farmers' market. So essentially they are selling the same product that you could get at Loblaw's down the street and that's a problem because that defeats the whole process of putting the farmer's face back on the food. So they've come back and they are trying to re-brand the Ontario Farmers' Market system by creating this 'My Market' program underneath their program. So that 'My Market' certification on Ontario Farmers' Market means it's 100% grown or produced by the people in the market. So that's the only way they can clean their system up. Conversely, Alberta and British Columbia started in the late '90s and in year 2000, we started systems that from day one were make it, bake it, grow it. There's no re-selling allowed. So when you see a Certified B.C. Farmers' Market, of which there's over 65, it means that your looking at the family that produced that, or their employees, not somebody who picked it up at the wholesale food terminal. So Farmers' Markets Ontario, there's the breakdown on the numbers. I don't have to go through these they're gonna get huge amounts of money to elevate that industry, to work with it, to address food safety concerns, all the type things that people want to see and get them out to the market place. They're not the only one. This is the new proposed development which has now been funded and approved for Nova Scotia. This will be the most environmentally-friendly farmers' market on the continent. It's gonna have wind-turbines on the roof. It's gonna have solar panels and it's part of a whole economic re-jigging of the waterfront in Halifax.

 

So, we've got Halifax, we've got Calgary, we've got Saskatoon now with permanent structures funded in part, by local, provincial and federal governments; so there is something going on here folks. And some of us and some of our provinces haven't caught up yet, but it's gonna happen very quickly. This is now doing something different to what we call the CSA movement, Community Supported Agriculture or your box programs are getting very, very big and they are now starting to move in with the farmers' markets industry and make these partnerships where they're serving both customers and the restaurant industry. So we're seeing more and more interest in community-supported agriculture right across the country and in the United States, as well, to the point where there's some massive ones starting to develop. This is Full Circle Farm, just south of us in Washington; over 3,000 subscribers; full-box program. It's one of the biggest ones on the continent. Half of their membership is in Alaska. They actually charter a plane once a week and ship their boxes into Alaska, so they get fresh food out there and this one happens to be organic. They're not all necessarily organic.

 

There are other ways that we're getting food to consumers now. Oklahoma Food Co-op which was...there's more and more interest in co-ops...the Prairies, the East Coast, B.C. has not had that energy in co-ops but I think it's coming. This is a little tiny State of Oklahoma that started with a little co-op in 2003; ran sales of $3,200. Today they're selling $62,000-65,000 per month through that co-op in the State of Oklahoma. So if Oklahoma can do it, a lot of the rest of us can do it. So there are many, many different ways to get this local food movement back.

 

listener support

 

JS: And this is Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly one-hour radio show and podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia. More information about our work can be found at deconstructingdinner.ca where you can also sign up for our weekly podcast feed and our newly launched weekly column.

 

On today's broadcast we're launching our 2009 programming with a presentation by Brent Warner - the Interim Executive Director of Farmers' Markets Canada. Brent spoke to an audience at the 2008 conference of the Canadian Farm Writers Federation held in Courtenay, B.C.

 

Now before we listen to the final 11 minutes of Brent's presentation, I do want to share with you some more information on the important topic of food safety that Brent raised in that last segment. Of course concerns over the safety of our food system have risen dramatically in the past couple of years and especially since a Listeriosis outbreak claimed the lives of 20 people who ate products produced by Maple Leaf Foods.

 

Now this particular incident received quite a lot of media attention due to the popularity of the brand and the heavy death toll. But while food safety concerns are an everyday occurrence within Canada's industrial food system, it's often only the major recalls that receive media attention. And so with the scope and damage of some of the more recent concerns over the past couple of years, it seems safe to predict that many of the less 'serious' food recalls will now go unnoticed by the Canadian public (unless of course many people get sick and/or die).

 

So we thought it would be important to share with you a list of all Canadian food recalls issued just throughout the month of December 2008. Now remember, these are only recalls issued from known risks and do not illustrate the possible contaminations that go unnoticed.

 

And so on December 31, at the end of the month, an announcement was made that undeclared milk may be found in St-Hubert brand bar-b-q sauce sold in ON, QC, NB, NS, PEI, NL. This announcement came after one reported allergic reaction to the product.

 

On December 24 - an advisory was issued to not consume Three Fish brand Bidric coconut/fruit jellies as they pose a choking hazard. The product was imported from Vietnam and sold in Alberta and British Columbia.

 

On December 20 - a warning was issued to not consume Nostrana brand Genoa Mild Sausage because of possible Listeria contamination. Those products were sold in Quebec.

 

On December 18 - a warning to not consume Old Style brand meat products prepared by Mariposa Meats because of possible Listeria contamination Those products were sold in Ontario.

 

On December 12 - a warning to not consume CamBrooke Foods imitation cream cheese and peanut butter spread because of possible Listeria contamination. Those products were sold nationally.

 

On December 10 - an illness led to a warning to not consume Cropwell Bishop Creamery's Finest Blue Stilton Cheese - a product of England that may contain Listeria. These products were sold nationally; primarily at Costco food stores and through food service companies.

 

Also on December 10 - a warning issued to those with allergies to milk to not consume DMR Food Corporation's brands of SunRidge Farms Organic Dark Chocolate Raisins and Organic Dark Chocolate Peanuts as they may contain milk which is not declared on the label. Those products were sold nationally.

 

On December 6 - another warning to those with allergies to milk to not consume Shoppers Drug Mart Corporation's Life Brand Dark Chocolate Bars, as they may contain milk which is not declared on the label. Those products were sold at Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmaprix.

 

And before that on December 5 - and again another warning to those with allergies to milk to not consume Verger Duhaime Inc.'s Duhaime Chocolaté brand spreads as they too may contain undeclared milk. Those products sold in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

 

Also on December 5 - another warning to not consume SunRidge Farms Organic Dark Chocolate Almonds. Those products distributed nationally.

 

And on December 4 - a warning to not consume International Cheese Co. Ltd's Santa Lucia brand Ricotta cheese because of possible Listeria contamination. Those products were sold in Ontario and Quebec.

 

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JS: So those are most of the food recalls issued in Canada for the month of December. While these are the reported cases of possible food safety concerns, people across the country fall ill from unreported food-borne illnesses every day, but regardless, one can be quite certain that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada would assure Canadians that the extensive nature of these recalls are a sign that the country's food inspection system is working. That indeed was the response from the Minister of Health following the Maple Leaf Foods recall back in the summer of 2008. But also coming out of our Conservative-led Government was Prime Minister Stephen Harper's announcement in September that someone would be put in charge of an investigation into the tragedy to ensure such incidents wouldn't happen again. As of today, January 8th, 2009, no investigation has been conducted, and no one has been placed in charge of an investigation.

 

It kind of makes one wonder what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does when food safety concerns or violations of Canada's Food and Drugs Act are linked to specific companies.

 

Seasoned listeners of Deconstructing Dinner likely recall our investigative look into a Kraft Foods ad that used false and misleading claims during a marketing campaign for Kraft Singles Processed Cheese Slices. Following our complaint to the CFIA, a letter was sent by the CFIA to Kraft asking them to not do it again. Of course Deconstructing Dinner pulled up an almost identical instance of the company having done the same thing back in the 1980s. So clearly, slaps on the wrist do not work.

 

Now when the CFIA does take action against a company for endangering or misleading the Canadian public, it does post the penalties it issues for such offences on its website. Upon checking out the offences and the penalties issued, it was rather disturbing to discover that the seemingly slap-on-the-wrist policies used by the CFIA was not isolated to the Kraft Singles issue that we covered here on the show in 2007.

 

Here are just a few examples...

 

On December 10th, 2008, the CFIA announced a penalty issued to Hanif's International Foods - a company based in Delta, British Columbia.

 

It appears that in June 2008, the company pleaded guilty to importing almond oil and then adding canola oil to it, to only then package the product as "pure almond oil."

 

Now this of course violates sections of Canada's Food and Drugs Act, but even though the company supplies companies like Gordon Food Service (one of the largest foodservice companies in the country), Hanif's basically received a slap on the wrist and was fined $15,000.

 

Now I think it's safe to assume that adding inexpensive canola oil to almond oil would likely save a company more than $15,000. Why else would they justify breaking the law? One can only be left to question whether Hanif's is, once again, adding canola oil to its almond oil to, cover the cost of the fine.

 

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JS: Now this next penalty will likely shock you as this one relates to a more serious instance of a food that was possibly contaminated with salmonella. According to the CFIA itself, salmonella can sometimes lead to hospitalization, so even the CFIA recognizes salmonella as a serious issue.

 

And so this one dates back to November 2006 when as you may remember, Hershey Canada issued a recall of various chocolate products due to possible salmonella contamination. Not long after in June 2007, the CFIA found some of these recalled products on the shelf of various retailers. It's said that the products were stolen from a disposal company and this led to the case on October 2nd, 2008, when a conviction was registered against The Mega Imports Limited, a Toronto-based company. The company pleaded guilty to three counts of offences under the Food and Drugs Act for selling the stolen and possibly salmonella-contaminated foods.

 

The total fine, a measly $10,000

 

And this last one to share with you dates back to July 2008, when a conviction was registered against AMCO Produce Inc. - a company based in Leamington, Ontario. The company pleaded guilty to violating the Canada Agricultural Products Act. The conviction dates all the way back to November 2004, when CFIA inspectors visited the company's facilities on a routine inspection. Upon entering the building, the CFIA inspectors discovered employees of AMCO removing cucumbers out of cartons that were marked "Product of USA" and re-packing them into cartons marked "Product of Canada".

 

And that penalty, almost four years later, $7,000.

 

Amco's produce is distributed to retailers in Canada and the United States including popular grocery store chains No Frills, Zehrs and the Real Canadian Superstore all owned by Loblaw Companies Limited.

 

soundbite

 

JS: And this is Deconstructing Dinner. Today's broadcast has been sharing an October 2008 presentation by Brent Warner - the Interim Executive Director of Farmers' Markets Canada. Brent spoke at the 2008 conference of the Canadian Farm Writers Federation. A link to his visual presentation is available on the Deconstructing Dinner website at deconstructingdinner.ca and posted under the January 8th, 2009 broadcast.

 

And to close out his presentation titled, "Growing Beyond the Ordinary" here again is Brent Warner.

 

Brent Warner: I want to talk a bit about what's happened in the restaurant industry because I think those guys are really educating the consumer for us in agriculture. And these high-priced movie star chefs are amazing at selling things.

 

This happens to be my first real acquaintance in this industry, over ten years ago, this is Peter Merriman from Hawaii. He is a pioneer in the culinary food industry so much so that he was branded a bit of a nutbar when he tried to actually make, he has three restaurants in Hawaii, make them Hawaiian food. And the Ag-community even thought: What is that? I mean, we bring everything in from the United States. All the lettuce comes in from California on airplanes. So he started very slowly. He started linking up with growers, but the interesting thing about his restaurants is that they're all linked directly to producers. So he has pictures on the wall, of his producers, and he actually talks about them on the menu. Remember, this is ten years ago. This wasn't happening in North America, at all. There might have been one or two restaurants around. Now it's everywhere you go you think people are doing this, but he would actually...he did this cool thing with a cattle and sheep farmer that was on the island. He wanted to get Hawaiian lamb on the menu and so he met with Monty Richards, who happens to be one of the biggest ranchers in North America, Kahua Ranch, and said, 'Monty do you want to get your lamb in here? I'm thinking I need X number of rack a week.' And Monty said, 'Well wait a minute. That's not gonna work for me, I mean racks don't just walk in here by themselves. What do I do with the rest of the animal? I mean if you take the racks there's no market for anything else.' So this was how progressive Peter Merriman was. He said, 'Well, oh yeah, I get that, I get that, so bring the whole carcass in and I'll just tell my chefs they've got to do something different with it every night.' And so on the menu, you see it says Kahua Ranch naturally-raised lamb. It does not say what the dish of the day is. So he actually made a partnership with the farmer so that the farmer could participate in this. So very progressive, both of them.

 

B.C. chefs have moved very quickly in the last two years. We actually have a Culinary Tourism Association in this province. Never heard of that 5 years ago. We have chefs out in front of an organization called Eat B.C. and we have a company in Vancouver, Biovia, which is actually one woman's dream to set up this to supply restaurants with local, organic food. Individual farmers can't do that. You know, I can't go to a restaurant as a farmer, one restaurant, and give them the little bit that they want in downtown Vancouver. This woman's made a business of collecting from all her growers and putting that into the restaurant industry in Vancouver. So we are seeing big changes very quickly.

 

For those of you that know Vancouver, you probably know these restaurants. These are some of our best restaurants in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island and they're all talking just like Peter Merriman did - right on their menus as to who is there. This restaurant, actually Bishop's last year featured a grower and her name and her product and had her come in and talk about her product at one of their weekend dinners. Rain City Grill, another one that's very big in Vancouver on local product. And probably the premier one in this province is David at Camille's. He's been doing this along time and he's gone so far down the road that he actually, his restaurant group loans money to young farmers to produce the crop that he wants the following year. And he will actually sign a physical contract with a farmer that this is what I want, this is what I'll pay for it. That does not happen in retail.

 

In B.C, we just created this wonderful document for the Ministry of Agriculture, Moving Forward. You just saw it there. It has all the right words in it. It talks about everything that we should be doing. Every one of these is very important to the B.C. Agriculture Industry. The downside is there is almost no money attached to it. The Ministry of Agriculture's budget in this province is so small that is wouldn't even make it onto the radar of any of the other ministries. We joke that the Ministry of Health would use it at a coffee break. These are great words and I think the words are really important, that we've actually got to this point. We now actually have to start funding this. So support for farmers' markets, community food action...words are cheap. I want to start seeing the money here. A million dollars to promote local agriculture products? Ontario put $56 million in. There's a bit of a difference there, but it's a start. It's the first start. We're supporting local community, like the pocket market movement in Victoria. We have a wine and culinary centre supposedly happening. And the big one for me is the B.C. Farmers' Market Nutrition Coupon Program. And many of you may not be familiar with that, but what that is, is in the B.C. Farmers' Market Industry the government puts $750,000 on the table to allow low income people that work with community development agencies to go to farmers' markets. They get $15 a week to buy B.C. products but they have to go with their community group so they're actually trained in how to cook this product. That's another issue out there folks, is de-skilling of the population. Most kids think that cooking is a microwave, if they're lucky. And there's products out there that I talk about, like the microwaveable potato, that actually prove that. Who knew there was such a thing? It actually comes all packaged with plastic and holes on it and everything and it cost you a dollar and a half to buy one of these things.

 

We're also looking at reviewing the whole farm assessment in this province to make it more friendly to small farmers and I'm on that panel, as of last week, which is rather entertaining. And we are going to look at the whole Agricultural Land Reserve to figure out other ways to make it viable for farmers.

 

This is one of the best things the B.C. Government has ever done. It's one of the best programs ever been created in North America, where we actually put fresh B.C. fruits and vegetables into children's hands in the school system and tell them about it and they get to taste something. And the government has agreed to fund this program until 2010 so every single school in this province, elementary school, will have the opportunity to participate in this program. It's a multi-million dollar program. That money came out of the Ministry of Health. Unbelievable, a linkage finally between health and agriculture. And when we were developing that program we actually got to go to the Ministry of Health building. For the first time in 30 years, Ag-people went into the health building.

 

So in order to move forward, I put a few of the points here that I think we need to do, some of which we're doing. I still don't think we've gotten far enough down the road with what is an agriculture system and we have to start talking more as an industry - the Ag-industry; as a community; and as a healthcare system, that agriculture is about local food. And that's got nothing to do about any export business we've got, that's a whole different ballgame, but on Vancouver Island you realize we produce less than 10% of the food we eat. Probably more like about 5%. And in this province the number that we throw around is 50%, but I'm thinking in some areas of the province that's a long stretch for them.

 

We have to redesign and implement regulations. We are having serious issues with food safety at small farm development time. All those incidents you saw happening, I rolled through there earlier on. Did any of those look like they're related to a farmers' market? Did any of those look like they related to some guy's roadside stand? No, they don't. Not one of those recalls, not one person has died in this province, that I'm aware of, from eating at a farmers' market or roadside stand. In fact, I don't even know of one being sick. Now there might be one somewhere out there. So if, indeed, we're going to redesign the system we have to make the regulations work so that small family farms can afford to put these healthcare controls in the food system. And currently, we're not doing that. We're designing the systems so that they're bigger and bigger and bigger and the only people that can afford them are the big, huge, multi-million dollar plants. And guess what? They like that because it's crushing all the little guys out of the business. So we have to have a different look at that. We've got to have food safety regulations and fit community development. We have to organize the Ag-industry internally, which is a problem for you, some of you are in the industry. We're having real problems in keeping our industries, our Ag-industry and our commodity boards, our local associations organized because the people are getting old and they're burning out and they're not seeing any future. Now we need to put some money, some serious money into agriculture, to keep this food system moving forward. We somehow in this province, have to figure out how to make farmland available to young farmers. That is a huge issue. We have this wonderful thing called the Ag Land Reserve, which I can't even begin to go into because it would take too long, but how does somebody get into farming on Vancouver Island when land costs $100,000 an acre and your net return on a lot of the crops were talking about might be $1,500 or $2,000 an acre? It doesn't happen. We have to figure out how to make that land available through a leasing system that's a lot more flexible than the current system we have. We have to re-invigorate an Ag-extension system. By that I mean we have to be able to teach these kids how to farm. We've got new people coming into farming now. All kind of young kids out of business school and with lots of energy and they haven't got a clue about farming and we don't have anybody in this province or most of the other provinces or most of the states anymore that can actually hands-on guide them through that system. So we need to think seriously about doing that if we're gonna produce our own food. And we actually have to start putting money into infrastructure for farm development and local food production. And I don't care if that's community kitchens or farmers' markets or whatever you want to talk about, we have to as a society, start putting money in there. You see lots of media everywhere all the time about all these people getting so excited about saving farmland. 'We're gonna save this farmland. God help us the farmland's all disappearing.' And that's very important. I understand that, but I never hear this: that without farmers on that farmland all we're protecting is green space and green space doesn't feed us. So we need to figure out, as I said a couple slides ago, how to get young people into that farmland and producing food. And that's a different animal than saving farmland. We saved farmland in this province, and yes, there's been some in's and out's and we've got a few issues every now and then with the Ag Land Reserve, but by and large, we have the best agricultural land protection on the continent in this province, but we haven't saved any of these guys. So we're gonna have a great park system here in ten years but were not going to have any farming.

 

So my last slide is just to sum up what I believe the solution to this whole thing is. It's happening. It's happening driven by the industry and the consumers. We didn't do it in government. The general populus is rising up and saying we're not happy with the food system we've got, we need some answers here. The answer is to put that farmer's face back on the food. And the consuming public is driving this and they're driving it very, very quickly. It's almost up to us to catch-up now. Thank-you. (applause)

 

JS: Brent Warner speaking in October 2008. Brent is the Interim Executive Director of Farmers' Markets Canada and prior to his post there spent 27 years with British Columbia's Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. Deconstructing Dinner recorded Brent at the 2008 Conference of the Canadian Farm Writers' Federation.

 

ending theme

 

JS: And that was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant John Ryan.

 

The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident Adham Shaikh.

 

This radio program is provided free of charge to campus/community radio stations across the country, and relies on the financial support of you the listener. Financial support can be donated through our website at cjly.net/deconstructingdinner or by dialing 250-352-9600.


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