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Eating Local & Supporting Local Agriculture

Sustainable Agriculture: Increasing and Supporting Local Foods
 
                                                   By: Brenda Kelley, Bathurst Sustainable Development
 
 
With a population of 6.9 billion people, at our current rate of impact and consumption of natural resources we now need 3 planets to sustain us.
 
With all of the news today about rejected food shipments, tainted food supplies, toxic chemicals and lack of high level food regulations in many of the countries from which we import more and more of our food supplies we have to ask ourselves: “ What confidence do we have that our food supplies imported from other countries is safe to eat?” “Do we really know what it contains?”
 
The US Food and Drug Agency turned away 270 shipments of imported foods in April 2007 due to conditions of the product or its production that do not meet food safety standards. Some items rejected contained high levels of banned pesticides and parasites. Canned mushroom were a particular problem over the past few years.
 
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency reported to CBC radio during a broadcasted interview on June 10, 2007, that the fact that a frozen food box states that the contents are a “product of Canada” gives no assurance or guarantee to us that the food contents of the package are actually grown in Canada. In fact, they state that many of the ingredients, fillers and seasonings could be a mixture of shipments from as many as five different countries!
 
Tracking and confirming the country of origin of each of the foods we eat, their food safety and quality of product regulations is no simple matter. Currently, there are little to no regulations requiring that the labels on foods list all of the countries where all of the ingredients are grown. So when it says “Product of Canada” it may be that the food was imported from several countries, prepared and then packaged in a Canadian facility. 
 
So given that we know all of this we have to ask ourselves: “Is our food supply safe and is it secure?” “Can we depend on it supplying us with enough food into the future or are their global factors at play that risk food shortages in Canada?”  “Why are we not growing more of our own food and employing more of our own citizens in the Canadian food industry and farming”? Why do we let family farms go bankrupt in Canada?  How can we encourage more people to begin farming and to also grow more food in their own backyards and in urban centers?  How can we increase farming and make it more sustainable?”
 
Conventional agriculture is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and as the price of oil increases, so will the price of food. All of the soaring prices and costs associated with  energy, fuel and food security are being passed onto consumers. Some food items in some countries are beginning to triple and most food supplies will continue to increase in price in the coming years.
 
According to Michael Casey of the Associated Press in a report he wrote entitled: Expanding deserts hurts farmers in China, half a century after Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward" brought irrigation to the arid grasslands of a remote corner of northwest China, the government is now giving up on its attempt to make a breadbasket out of what has increasingly become a stretch of  sand dunes.

It’s a problem that's pervasive in much of China, over-farming has drawn down the water table so low that desert is overtaking farmland. Authorities have ordered farmers in Gansu province to vacate their properties over the next 3 1/2 years, and will replace 20 villages with newly planted grass in a final effort to halt the advance of the Tengger and Badain Jaran deserts. (18 June 2007)”
According to IPCC, some of the impacts of climate change on food production which are already visible and seem to be increasing are: Increased heat stress to crop and livestock, e.g. higher night temperatures which could adversely affect grain formation and other aspects of crop development, increased evapo-transpiration rate caused by higher temperatures and lower soil moisture levels, concentration of rainfall into a smaller number of rainy events with increases in the number of days with heavy rain, increasing erosion and flood risks, changes in seasonal distribution of rainfall, with less falling in the main crop growing season, sea level rise, leading to coastal degradation and salt water intrusion, food production and supply disruption through more frequent and severe extreme events, increased incidence of pests and diseases that will negatively affect crop production.
 
It is possible, that sometime in the Earth‘s,  near future, some areas of the world will be uninhabitable or unable to grow food. Emerging technologies and adaptation will be necessary such as desalinating sea water and grey water recycling to be used for irrigation, increase rain water collection and the use of cisterns, large scale greenhouse and biospheres for food production. Economic opportunities abound for communities, universities and colleges to engage in adaptation for future food production and supplies.
 
If we could be able to eat more foods that are grown locally in our region or at least in NB we would have fresher food options, encourage and support local farms and agricultural operations and help to increase local employment in the agricultural sector.
 
Eating locally grown and produced food drastically decreases transportation cost and greenhouse gas emissions.
 
If Canadian Farmer’s expand their operations to include greenhouse production they could extend their crop growing seasons by two months at each end of the growing season. This would greatly help us all to reduce our dependency on imported fruits and vegetables.
 
Cities and communities could start more community gardens and allow more large scale greenhouse production within the urban centres.

Here's a tough question: should food that travels unsustainable distances be certified as "organic"? The organics movement aims, at least in part, to reduce the environmental impact of food production. To earn the "organic" label, food can't be treated with industrial chemicals or be genetically engineered -- for now, though, it can guzzle jet fuel on its way across the world to your grocery store.

The Soil Association, one of the United Kingdom's most trusted and important organic standards agencies, is currently debating the question -- and asking for your opinion.

For now, the association is focusing on air freight, the most obvious culprit in long-distance food. While air freight accounts for just a fraction of food miles, there are good reasons to give it a close look: air freight is the fastest-growing form of food transport, and has the highest climate-change impact per mile.

Charles Clover, the environment editor for London's Daily Telegraph writes in his book, "The End of the Line: How Over fishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat," which was published in the United States last year, a compendium of how precisely we are eating our way through the seas. Scientists reported last year that fish would be gone from the oceans by 2048 if this behaviour goes unchecked -- though Clover points out that it's not as if the seas will be empty. In the absence of all the fish we've eaten, we'll also experience an increase of species like jellyfish because biodiversity has been undone.

In  Newfoundland it is now easy to visit fisherman who no longer have cod to catch; to Africa, where massive fleets roam the seas unchecked to feed the hungry in Madrid, Spain, and Tokyo; to Scotland, where successful boats fish illegally, because legal species are in short supply; to Denmark, where sand eels filled with dioxin and PCBs were sent to salmon farms and are now fished out; and to the Mediterranean, where bluefin tuna are being wiped out, while sky-high prices fall due to oversupply and several high-end restaurants still serve tasty morsels of "endangered species."
 
Bees have been dying in huge numbers in Canada and the United States since last fall, and the so-called die-back has spread to Europe. That's sad if you're a bee, but it's also sad if you produce crops that depend on bee pollination. Mr. Coxe calculates that $15-billion (U.S.) worth of American crops are at risk. Alfalfa is in particular trouble, and alfalfa is a main component of hay, which feeds livestock.

Already, dairy is feeling the squeeze from soaring grain prices, which are swinging upwards not just because of ethanol production but also because of rising demand from increasingly discerning Asian palates. And a shortage of hay could prompt dairy and meat prices to spike.
 
The quest for bio fuels is competing with food for humans and has driven corn for farmer's to feed their livestock up by 400%. This is unsustainable and will only lead to an increase in world hunger, greater poverty and a loss of thousands of family farms and local food production.

It all adds up to serious food inflation on the horizon, figures Mr. Coxe, global portfolio strategist for BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc.(9 June 2007)
 
Through better landuse planning, we must do everything we can to protect and maintain viable farmland and stop it from being consumed by urban sprawl and housing development.
 
We also must begin to participate more in growing and storing more our own food in our own backyards and in community gardens and we must permit more farming closer to urban centers.
 

 

© 2017 Bathurst Sustainable Development