Food network a vital initiative

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

On December 4, 80 people representing all kinds of links along our local food chain gathered mid-Island at Vancouver Island University to discuss the possibility of creating a Vancouver Island food systems network. By the end of the day, there was so much enthusiasm for this concept that the VIFSN was launched then and there. To my mind, this is an initiative vital to bringing people together to work for greater food security, an issue uppermost in many people’s minds these days. We now have a valuable tool for putting the “culture” back into “agriculture” where it belongs!

Please consider the following facts that came out of our day together. You may perhaps have something to contribute to the VIFSN or the BCFSN as these networks gather momentum in the new year.

Farming on Vancouver Island

  • Population: 726, 367.
  • The largest crop on Vancouver Island today is hay.
  • We grow four percent of the food we consume (and export some too).
  • We have three days of emergency food supply before supermarket shelves are bare.
  • We have lost the infrastructure for local food distribution and processing.
  • Island farmers are, on average, 55-years-old.
  • New farmers have trouble finding affordable land.
  • The price of food in Canada is the lowest in the world.
  • There is a chronic farm income crisis, according to the National Farmers Union.
  • If food prices rise, it means food poverty for people on income assistance.

Statistics for Vancouver Island show we are:

  • 35% sufficient in dairy
  • 18% sufficient in chicken
  • 68% sufficient in eggs
  • 8% sufficient in fruit
  • 7% sufficient in veggies

On Vancouver Island, farming viewed as gross sales looks like this:

  • Farmers earning $100,000 or more: 261
  • Farmers earning less than $100,000: 2,594
  • 1,834 (64%) of these farms have sales less than $10,000
  • 9% of farmers generate 80% of gross farm receipts
  • 91% of farmers generate 20% of gross farm receipts

According to indigenous coastal elders, in the past, our food and medicine were found all around us. “When the tide is out, the table is set” and “The forests are our pharmacies” were mantras of the day. Today, this traditional knowledge is rapidly disappearing and there is a sense of urgency in preserving it for future generations. Revitalization of traditional practices is being viewed as a survival issue among indigenous people.

Modern food systems have been highly altered by processed foods, high in fat and sugar. The incidence of diabetes and obesity in youth is now of major concern to health authorities, who consider the economic impact on our future healthcare system.

How do we create a Vancouver Island Diet?

  • By pooling resources and working together.
  • By re-investing in farming.
  • By providing education for farmers and ongoing support for them.
  • By creating a Food System Network.
  • By returning profits to farmers so they can succeed financially.
  • By farming with value-added.
  • By connecting people from diverse cultures.
  • By revitalizing food systems: community gardens, school gardens, etc.
  • By investing in youth leadership.

A network shares common attributes, makes diverse connections for maximum innovation, identifies leadership, facilitates connections and collaborations, shares available resources and creates re-engagement between elders and youth.

The Vancouver Island Food Systems Network was launched during the first week of December. It will begin the work of making the changes we urgently need to create a more secure agricultural future. The population of Vancouver Island is set to increase 30 percent by 2050 so we need a plan for how we are going to feed all these people. The time to plan is now.

Eat happily over the holidays.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows Seeds of Victoria at the Garden Path Centre where she teaches The Zero Mile Diet – Twelve Steps to Sustainable Homegrown Food Production and Growing an Edible Plant

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