February 18, 2008
FUTURE OF FOOD
How Canadian communities are taking food issues into their own hands.
'Food Security' has become a rather ambiguous term. For most Canadians, a supermarket stocked with food could suggest being 'food secure'. However, for those attending the November 2007 Future of Food in the Kootenays conference (FOF) held in Nelson, B.C., such an interpretation of Food Security would not have sat well.
Organized by a coalition of concerned residents in B.C.'s West Kootenay region, the conference was an example of a growing trend throughout North America whereby communities are beginning to rethink our globally-dependent food system. Instead, communities have begun exploring alternative means through which a safer, more reliable, and more environmentally responsible food system can exist.
Launching the conference to a sold-out audience of 250 was a select group of keynote speakers.
Justin Roller of the National Research Council Canada based in Vancouver, addressed current global supplies of oil. Most shocking was Roller's reference to the speed at which the world is running out of cheap oil. Since oil was first extracted for industrial purposes, we have consumed 1.11 trillion barrels. Today, it is estimated that 1.25 trillion barrels remain. At current rates of demand, it is predicted that such supply will only last another 42 years.
Compounding supply concerns is accessibility. The Alberta Tar Sands are a prime example of the environmentally devastating methods of extraction now required to maintain our way of life.
To address the many concerns facing the future of food, the second day of the conference was turned over to the 170 delegates who participated in two of four workshops.
It became quite clear during the first round of delegate introductions, that hiding in the recesses of North American communities exists a wealth of skills and knowledge that such a conference can help unearth.
In attendance were farmers, ex-farmers, farmers' market organizers, land conservation advocates, community college instructors, home gardeners, bee keepers, and oh yes, muffin makers!
The Technical Aspects of Farming workshop was facilitated by conference co-organizer Russell Precious who is the co-founder of the highly successful chain of Capers Community Market grocery stores located in the Vancouver area.
Sitting on the panel were regional farmers who helped stimulate a truly inspiring dialogue. The exchange of ideas carried with them an air of revolution: Here was a community looking to achieve greater self-determination in the face of a food system seen to be breeding the opposite.
Jeremy Lack of Mad Dog Farm in Castlegar was one of four workshop panelists. Lack listed "access to equipment" as one obstacle needing to be overcome among small-scale farmers. "There is no real agricultural base of equipment in this area," said Lack in front of workshop delegates. "One of the ideas [farmers] have been toying with is to set up a tool-lending library - potato diggers, root diggers, etc.: [equipment] that you don't use all year and that can be shared adequately among farmers."
Lack's comments evoked images of how Canada's rural communities once operated; when farms were too small to justify the ownership of such expensive machinery.
"We need to be planning for a no-oil farming system," announced one delegate following Lack's suggestion.
But while systems of farming themselves are in certain need of scrutinizing, Lack stresses the important role that the retail sector can play in encouraging healthy local food systems. "I think one of the keys to increasing agriculture in this area is to increase the market. If we can persuade the [chain grocers] to at least put a portion of their stuff into what's produced locally, [that] would be huge step up," added Lack. "When you go and talk to [chain grocers] as a farmer trying to get your stuff onto their shelves, they're interested, but you'd have to ship it to Calgary or Edmonton or Toronto and then they'll ship it back. There's not much point in that."
The absurdity of such a scenario sparked a community-centred suggestion from conference delegate Gaia Morasky. "We could hand in a card to chain grocers that would say 'I today did not buy [and a blank], because it was not local', and then we could fill it in," suggested Morasky. "So every single day these stores are going to hear from this community why we're not buying these products, and eventually it's going to have to change, because as long as we keep buying [these imports] and saying 'that's too badí, then it's not going to change and our farmers are not going to be part of this market."
Through an ongoing series of radio recordings on Deconstructing Dinner, the Future of Food conference has already begun inspiring other North American communities to consider hosting similar events. Included among them is talk of a statewide version in Vermont! Could the Nelson conference slowly be launching a community food revolution? Only time will tell.
Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada and is available as a Podcast. More information on today's topic can be found at (www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner/fof.htm).
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