BY MARJORIE STEWART
Almost 125 years ago Samuel Robins, manager of the Vancouver Island Coal Mining and Land Company, bought property between Mount Benson and Nanaimo, subdivided it into five-acre lots and made it available to miners, enabling them to feed their families.
On July 16, the première showing of the documentary Five Acres at the Port Theatre examines the last of those lots which has remained agricultural and ponders its future.
Coal mining created communities up the Island’s east coast such as Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Wellington, Lantzville and further north. Coal and other fossil fuels built a global economy which is becoming increasingly unsustainable since fossil fuels are both non-renewable and produce greenhouse gases. How the future will treat our species cannot be accurately predicted but it does not look good if we do not adapt to coming changes.
Today, about half the world’s population lives in cities and 15-20 per cent of world food production comes from urban agriculture. The other 80-85 per cent comes from industrial food systems which are failing. That’s actually quite hopeful, since urban agriculture has been found to be remarkably successful in feeding city folk and is not geared to the over-processed junk foods which are harming us and polluting soils and oceans.
Which brings me back to Five Acres, from which I hope to learn about the potential for urban agriculture right here where we live.
The première is a fundraiser for Nanaimo Foodshare’s plan to establish an urban agriculture centre demonstrating effective and nutritious local food production methods. Skills training for production, distribution and marketing are planned, as well as community events.
Foodshare has a track record for bringing charitable grants to support programs and has been an integral partner in the farming permitted at the five-acre site by its owners for several years. As well as unique heritage value, the five-acre property has wetlands to be protected and non-industrial agricultural use will contribute to reduced climate impact.
A portion of the land could be used for truly affordable housing, perhaps geared towards participants in the training programs. An urban agricultural centre would train more farmers to meet expanding demand.
The more I think about the possibilities for an urban agriculture centre, the more opportunities come to mind. Indigenous food systems could be revived in partnership with local First Nations. There’s a famous Italian program with a 75 per cent success rate in its rehabilitation of drug addicts by focusing not on addictions but on work and trades trading. An urban agriculture centre could partner with addiction services by providing therapeutic training opportunities for clients. People who have fallen into homelessness could benefit from such training, which would raise self-esteem while providing skills to be self-sufficient and employable.
Our MP, who happens to be a co-director of Five Acres, will be at the première. A short video about Loaves and Fishes will be screened. It should be an interesting evening.
Five Acres, directed by Paul Manly and Laurie MacMillian, will be premiered July 16 at 7 p.m. at the Port Theatre. Tickets are $22 in advance or $32 at the door and can be purchased at the box office or online at www.porttheatre.com.
Marjorie Stewart is past chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.