Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Buying local food by Sean Peterson

Local: Buying local food to fight climate change
Sean Peterson, The Martlet (University of Victoria)
VICTORIA (CUP) — Buying locally produced food can help to fight climate change, say experts, but little is being done to move in that direction.
Tom Henry, a farmer on Vancouver Island and the editor of Small Farm Canada magazine, is concerned that consumers and the government are not taking action while agricultural infrastructure in Canada slowly declines.
Henry was one of four panelists at an open forum that examined the impact of global warming on British Columbia’s food supply, held at the University of Victoria, on June 1.
“There are conferences like this taking place all over the world, yet there isn’t a parallel rise in local food production. I see the local food movement as a glorious cathedral, and the producer as a lone hippy underneath, squatting on the floor, banging two pieces of wilted rhubarb together,” Henry said.
One of the key concerns presented was the amount of green- house gas produced by current food systems.
“We cannot deal with global warming without radical changes to our food system,” said panelist Cliff Stainsby, who is a board member with both Food Secure Canada and the BC Food Systems Network.
While food might be inexpensive at the cash register, Stainsby said, the environmental costs of current food practices are too high.
To yield 30 kilograms of corn, he said, more than two litres of oil are used to produce the fertiliser, power the farm machinery, irrigate the fields, and create and distribute the pesticides needed for the crop.
Localising farms could be a solution to this problem. Stainsby argued that giving agricultural markets a local focus could reduce the problem of “food miles” — the distance food is transported prior to consumption.
He cited a Canadian study which found that the average food import in Canada travels 4,500 kilometres before it is consumed.
But Henry doesn’t believe that local farms can supply the quick fix in the current environment. He stressed the importance of bolstering local farm infrastructure before any solution can move forward.
In order for this to happen, Henry said that drastic changes to consumers’ spending habits are required. Stainsby agrees.
“The biggest problem that global food efforts face is that we’ve become used to paying so little for food,” said Stainsby.
“There’s a notion floating around that if we buy local, we can reduce the environmental impact of [global warming],” Henry said. “But some changes are going to have to take place before local food can be a viable response.”
Henry said that his farm would be hard-pressed to supply everyone in the room with locally produced meat in addition to his existing customers.
According to Henry, there just isn’t enough local food in B.C. to go around, and that needs to change.
“Farm numbers continue to decline in Canada and around Victoria. Farmers still can’t find a way to make a living,” said Henry.
“Consumers need to adjust their buying habits to support local food,” said Henry.
Richard Hebda, a UVic biology professor specialising in climate change, also sat on the panel. Hebda used maps to predict drastic changes to B.C.’s agricultural landscape and the danger to its food supply as the climate warms.
But Hebda was optimistic that society can benefit through adaptation and an understanding of the challenges facing both farmers and city-dwellers. Secure, quality food production requires keeping agricultural land as well as diversifying food products and practices, Hebda said.
Stainsby also emphasised that farm size is also an important factor in reducing environmental consequences of production. While larger farms employ fewer people per acre, he said, “smaller farms produce far more food per acre . . . whether you measure that in tons, calories, or dollars, [small farms] always win.”
Canadian University Press

Local food by Katherine Dedyna

Buying only local food is harder than it looks

Katherine Dedyna
Victoria Times Colonist
Saturday, December 08, 2007
The 100-Mile Diet has chomped its way into 21st-century vocabulary. Popularized by B.C. bestselling authors Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon, the phrase has attracted nearly two million Google hits so far. That's a lot of interest in eating locally. In fact, "locavore" is the New Oxford American Dictionary's 2007 word of the year.
So what is the 100-Mile Diet? It's a response to the fact that most ingredients in the average North American meal have travelled at least 1,500 miles to get to the table. In contrast, Smith and MacKinnon decided to consume only food and drink from within 100 miles of their apartment in Vancouver.
That was in 2005. Their plan resulted in a best-selling book and a website that has had more than 13,000 people worldwide sign up, including many Vancouverites and Vancouver Islanders.
"B.C. and the Island are hotbeds for the 100-Mile Diet mainly because there was so much coverage of it here," MacKinnon said in an e-mail. There's another reason: "Dozens of people have been laying the groundwork of a solid and deep-rooted local foods movement in this part of the world for years."
Über-environmentalist David Suzuki says local eating "may be one of the most important ways we save ourselves and our planet."
That's because of the cost in fuel, global warming and imperilled food security inherent in shipping dinner from the other side of the world.
So how about a Vancouver Island Diet? Consider a few facts:
"The biggest thing we raise on this Island - the No. 1 crop on usable farmland - is hay," said Dr. Bill Code, president of the 200-member Island Farmers Alliance. That 25,000 hectares of forage takes up far more arable land than any form of food meant for people, here in the the mildest climate in Canada.
"I think that's a tremendous waste of the tremendous land and opportunity we have here," Code added.
He and his wife eat about 90 per cent locally. But they're not the norm. And even dedicated local food enthusiasts acknowledge that global economies and an appetite for international foods have translated into the ultimate irony: It takes more time, money, effort and commitment to find and eat what farmers a few kilometres away have raised.
"We need to look at a 'Buy on the Island' campaign because of the crisis," Code said.
What crisis?
B.C. raises about 48 per cent of its food but the Island is down to just six per cent, he says. Some of that is due to population growth: the Island population has tripled in the last 50 years to nearly 800,000.
"Vancouver Island used to grow everything," laments Tom Henry, editor of Small Farm Canada and a Metchosin farmer. "What happened is almost every foodstuff began to be produced by larger and larger farms and smaller producers went out of business."
But there is hope. "Thanks in large part to the local food movement, there's a rising interest in accessing local foods. There's enough of a niche," he says.
That three per cent niche isn't much, he says, but it's enough to sustain farming and, in turn, some food security - the ability to feed ourselves without depending on ferries or air freight.
There is no way Island farmers could feed us now: "If everybody within the CRD decided to go with a 100-Mile Diet, there would not be enough food," said Sushil Saini, a Saanich resident working on a PhD at the University of Victoria's school of environmental studies.
© Victoria Times Colonist 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

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