Local farmers wanted: increasing our food security

Vancouver Island could face serious food supply problems

A winter storm has struck Vancouver Island, damaging ferry docks in Swartz Bay and Departure Bay. All sailings have been cancelled to and from Vancouver, and it could be weeks before repairs will be done. With the ferries out of commission, there are only enough fresh fruits and vegetables to last us four to six days until there is no food left. Panic buying will ensue — people will consume everything in sight, resulting in a food crisis for the island. This is the scenario broadcasted in the Island on the Edge documentary, and while it may seem farfetched and over-dramatic to some, this may become a reality.

Vancouver Island could face serious food supply problems, and we need to take our local food security on the Island more seriously by producing more locally-grown food. In the midst of rapid climate change, we need to develop our local food industry and supply in order to combat global dependence, strengthen our local economy and avoid rising food prices.

California agriculture supplies 70 per cent of our imported fruits and vegetables every year. With rising global temperatures, poor growing conditions are decreasing the amount of food available for export, meaning higher food prices.  Most of our food on the Island comes from the global transport chain, dependent on oil for transport and fertilizers impacting our climate, soils and our water.

Developing the local economy is a benefit of eating locally. Only five per cent of the food produced on Vancouver Island is consumed by the local people; the rest is imported from elsewhere. Industrial agriculture and increased food import affects the success of small, local farms unable to keep up with growing food demands. These farms go out of business, increasing the need for imported food, fuelling the vicious cycle. With the increase in land prices, fuel, machinery and the monopoly the globalized food market has on food consumption, local farmers are unable to afford enough land to grow an adequate amount of food to make a living and feed neighbouring communities.  The average salary of farmers is $10,000 to $30,000, not nearly enough to sustain growth in the future or expand their farms. It is time we give the chance to these small farms to prosper and deliver healthy, local food to the Island.

Canadians spend 10 per cent of their income on food, favouring cheaper food rather than splurging on local produce. When local farmers have to sell their food for lower than the price of production just to stay in business, it is a rip off to the entire local food economy. Today, less than six per cent is produced locally; local food production is losing the race in the agricultural industry in Canada to the cheap, global food alternatives.

Producing food locally creates a connection to our food and farmers, feeds into our local economy, and essentially drives the prices of food lower by eliminating the transportation costs used in food import. Growing food in urban environments like community gardens, backyard vegetable plots and urban farms are great ways to contribute to developing our affordable, safe and most importantly, local food system on the island.

Organizations like Farm Folk/City Folk and the Land Conservancy of Canada are working to purchase land for farmers to increase the amount of agricultural land on the Island. The Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America is attempting to harmonize the food regulations with the U.S., which will greatly threaten our right to food sovereignty and local food security. Regulations need to be modified from large-scale agricultural standards to small-scale local farms often following a completely different protocol for operation. Government legislation needs to establish safe, secure and profitable local food rights for local farmers and consumers in order to protect our food security.

Without food in our bellies, we will have no need for the money in our pockets; we need to start feeding into our local food system to ensure a successful future.

Hayley Atkins is a third-year biology student at the University of Victoria. She wrote this for her Geography of Canada class.