Column: Leadership needed on food sustainability

I’m looking for people who put food security high on their priorities list, says columnist

BY MARJORIE STEWART

There are eight months and about three weeks to Oct. 20, when municipal elections will be held in B.C. Just about enough time to recruit suitable people to run and to spread the word about the best candidates. I’m looking for people with a track record of community service who put food security high on their priorities list.

The most important issues are inter-connected in good and bad ways. For example, bad housing planning gets in the way of good farming and antiquated zoning laws affect both.

Every time I am faced with an election I try to come up with at least one good question that will tell me whether candidates are well-rounded people who understand a variety of issues and don’t just think they are in a popularity contest. In mid Vancouver Island my issue is urban farming because I think it’s fairly obvious we live urban and suburban lives here and it is generally conceded that urban farming is the way to ensure that we will have sufficient good quality food in the not-too-distant future.

I want to see urban and peri-urban agriculture recognized as a priority in planning in the Regional District of Nanaimo and its constituent towns, villages and areas, with elected representatives taking a proactive role in support of the new breed of farmers.

Too much of the cost of the kinds of services that should be paid for from our provincial and federal taxes are being dumped down to the municipal level. Under-funded non-governmental societies and civil society organizations are given small amounts of our tax money to deliver projects which at any time could lose their funding on a whim. This makes no sense. If a project is good, expand and replicate it. If an NGO or CSO has produced and piloted good projects, bring their representatives in as consultants and funnel money their way to accomplish more. I look around this region and see many excellent projects which should be serving far more people, but government and philanthropic funders are disinclined to concentrate resources on spreading good services further or longer.

I see people who want to produce local food who are not paid enough because we have got into the colonial habit of importing food which is cheap because the people doing the work are shockingly underpaid. Those days are coming to an end as rural populations flood into cities hoping to receive some of the benefits concentrated there.

The products of UPA are becoming desirable to more and more people and we need to find ways to help the new farmers scale up their production. We need soil preservation, enhancement and composting programs that plough fertility back into local soils. We need water sources and techniques to grow the plants. We need to ensure that farmers earn enough to make a full living.

Most of all, we need leadership from politicians to ramp up local agricultural production to meet the expressed needs of those who can afford local food and to find subsidies for those on low incomes.

Marjorie Stewart is past chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at marjorieandalstewart@gmail.com.

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