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Planting Seeds to Grow a Local Economy

December 2, 2011

Food has an amazing ability to bring people together.  Indeed it is good food that has built strong families, great communities and resilient local economies for centuries.  It is a sad fact that we have become so disconnected with our food systems at present.  A majority of our food dollars are spent in a large grocery store, our money disappearing from our communities – gone to some other nameless place, sucked from our local economy.  Our communities have become a leaky bucket, our money seeping out from under us without much thought to the contrary.

When money leaves our community it has a devastating effect on our residents, and our businesses.  Money as we know it cannot be created at a community level, so once it’s gone, it’s gone.  In a way this creates a vacuum, first goes our money, then goes our local businesses soon followed by an exodus of our skilled citizens, all gone to greener pastures.

Furthermore, when we spend our food dollars outside of our community we start to lose our farmers, and farms vanish.  The problem runs much deeper.  The average age of farmers in BC is 57 and as farmers start to reach the age of retirement, they look to pass their farms on to the next generation.  But with land prices continuing to rise it is near impossible for a young farmer to purchase farmland, and thus difficult for a retiring farmer to keep their land in food production.  All too often land is sold to a developer so an aging farmer can retire, and up sprouts a crop of homes where our vegetables used to grow.

But all hope is not lost.  We must be buoyed by the amazing number of projects growing in our communities. Farmers Markets are popping up in most every community.  These markets have evolved from small-scale economic projects to large drops in the bucket of our local economy.  Locally the Vancouver Farmers Market saw $4.6 million in sales in 2010 – not a small chunk of change for an important part of our local food economy.

And new innovative projects are coming online constantly.  In Vancouver we have seen amazing growth in Urban Farms, small-scale intensive gardens in backyards, laneways and even vacant lots.  Urban farms eliminate the cost barriers associated with traditional farm projects, farmers can transform yards to farms with very little upfront cost, allowing an urban farm to be more profitable per acre than the traditional farm.  Urban farming also has the advantage of lowering the carbon footprint of food production.  Many farmers are using human power to go between farms, and even to bring their goods to market – creating what is essentially a ‘zero mile diet’.

The onus is on us to help build strong food economies.  We must shift our behaviors, as it is our dollars that will make change.  It is important that we refuse to simply be consumers in our economy. We must stop sending our money outside of the community.  We must instead become citizens in the food economy, using our dollars to vote for a more resilient economy, and a stronger community.

We must also demand more from our elected officials.  Ask them to implement farm to plate programs that would see local food being sold to local schools, hospitals, and community centres.  Ask the same of your local grocery store – demand that they provide local options, tell them of the value to the local economy, and how it can grow their business, they will listen.

This is all part of becoming a citizen in our food economy.  Purchase from your local farmer, start a community kitchen, lobby your local businesses, and grow your own food – every little bit helps.  Good food is worth fighting for, so join.

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