March 2021 – How Secure Is Our Food On Vancouver Island?

Living on an island within an earthquake zone, amidst the accumulating effects of climate change, I have always known that our food supply could face interruption at any given point. With the pandemic seeing many store shelves bare last year, our communities recognized just how fragile our food security actually is. Being prepared no longer meant “stocking up” on canned and dry goods, it resulted in many planting gardens for the first time and raising chickens for eggs. With very little warning, we have all had to adjust our lifestyles, and more importantly, recognize where our food comes from.

According to the 2016 Census of Agriculture, 762 hectares of land on Vancouver Island were designated for vegetable crops, which totaled a shocking 2% of all of BC’s farms. The Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable (CR-FAIR) reported that in the 1950s, up to 85% of our food was produced on Vancouver Island, but by 2004 that number reduced significantly to only 5-10%. We are now actually importing 90% of our food!

More alarming, is that most communities on the island have an estimated 3 days’ worth of food for the population at any given time, should there be a disruption in transport, fuel shortage or natural disaster.

“It’s a wake-up call. Something that we said could happen, is happening. The potential for a crisis like climate change and COVID-19 has been anticipated for a long time. It just came sooner than we expected.” Harold Steves, Long-time BC Advocate for Local Food Production states in April 2020. “Today, B.C. imports 84 per cent of its broccoli and cauliflower, 76 per cent of its strawberries and 69 per cent of its lettuce and root crops from California.”

Recently we have learned how dependent we are of our neighbours to the south, and of the world, to supply us with one of our most basic needs – Food. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the “US imports account for approximately 80% of all imported fresh, and 85% of processed, field vegetable imports.”

Several contributing factors have led to the decline in farming on Vancouver Island. According to a report on Food Security by the Vancouver Island Community Research Alliance, “High land values, increasing labour and input costs, and loss of processing and distribution infrastructure, coupled with a shrinking farming population has threatened the viability of the local food system on the Island and consequently threatens food security of the local people.”

In the late 80s, large vegetable processing companies began closing their doors in BC, as the volume of production was not enough to support multiple large facilities. “Of all the major field vegetable production areas in Canada, BC producers have the highest costs for land, labour, chemical and fertilizer inputs and fuel.”  Review of the Field Vegetable Industry, Ference Weicker and Co. April, 1998.

The struggles of Island Farmers and the decrease in food production has resulted in a huge disconnect with our food – where it comes from, how it is made and how it gets to our dinner tables. Without addressing the problems, we found a band-aid solution by getting our food from other sources. Over the past year more than ever, many have had the opportunity to slow down and appreciate growing food for the first time, or accessing local farms for fresh produce, and learning about where their food comes from.

To help to improve our food security on Vancouver Island, we can all do our part. Support local farms and growers, research where the products on the store shelves are made or imported from and make certain that the next generations have an appreciation for where food comes from. Most importantly, GROW FOOD! When you are able, whether you have patio containers, garden beds or a community garden, planting food contributes to the diversity of our ecosystem, less strain on availability for vulnerable populations and increased security of our food supply.

The connection with our food needs to be reestablished, farm to table for the sake of our environment, our health, our local economy and for food security on the island.

Angela Hicke – Van Isle Wild

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