COLUMN: Working together to preserve farmland

It is rare to be able to meet all one’s own food needs. Here in the Kootenays we import as much as 95 per cent of our food.

I grew up in the ‘70s, in a suburb full of split-level ranchers, and every backyard had a garden. My father grew peas and corn, radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots.

Oh the joy of a carrot pulled from the garden, cleaned under the hose and eaten on the spot, full of sunlight and crunchy with life! Dad canned tomatoes for the winter, but mostly we only lived off the garden during the growing season.

It is rare to be able to meet all one’s own food needs. Here in the Kootenays we import as much as 95 per cent of our food. Yet not so long ago, almost all the food consumed here was gathered, grown or raised here.

Those days are gone forever, but there is a lot we can do to re-localize our food system, positively impacting our environment, our economy, our health, the social resiliency of our communities, and even our climate.

That’s why the Nelson’s Official Community Plan includes the goal: “All Nelsonites have access to affordable, nutritious food that is produced in a socially just and environmentally sustainable manner. The local food system is robust, resilient and integrated with other sustainable regional and global food systems.”

A lot of great things are already happening. The West Kootenay EcoSociety runs farmers markets on Saturdays and Wednesdays, spring through fall.

Local food, often organic, is available at several stores and restaurants, and a number of organizations provide groceries, including local produce, to those in need. The SEEDS project in the Lakeside Park greenhouses is producing gorgeous salad greens, grown by volunteer seniors and youth and donated into the community.

What is the role of the City?

Our sustainability plans compel us to “explore ways to ensure availability and accessibility of nutritious whole foods.”

Community gardens are permitted everywhere, including in city parks. We are also committed to “supporting and encouraging food production, processing and storage within city limits at both the commercial and individual level.”

How do we best do that?

This year we plan to find out, through partnering with the Food Cupboard on a food systems assessment. The idea is to develop a comprehensive understanding of Nelson’s food system and food security issues through engagement with key community players.

The project will create an inventory of community assets that support food security, and will also identify gaps and priorities.

We will be well supported in this task by a terrific resource released this month by the North Kootenay Lake Community Services Society, located in Kaslo.

Groundswell: A Guide to Building Food Security in Rural Communities, written by Kaslo farmer Aimée Watson, is chock full of information, advice, tools and resources. Download your copy at

Another City policy is to “…support farmers’ access to the land and resources they need in order to maximize regional food production, processing and distribution.”

Threats to BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve will be the topic at Farmland and Farms for the Future, a town hall event coming up on February 7 at the United Church. Come out and learn how we can work together to protect and preserve farmland and agriculture for the 21st Century.

To succeed in our goals we must be able to envision the future we want. There are lots of great examples out there. Vancouver released an amazing food strategy last January, and in June the Vancouver and Toronto Food Policy Councils released Municipal Food Policy Entrepreneurs, a report that shows how communities across Canada are involved in food system change.

How will we ensure our kids and grandkids have access to affordable, nutritious and sustainably produced food? The same way anything gets done: by learning from each other, rolling up our sleeves, and working together to make it so.

Thanks for every seed you plant, in the garden and in the community.

— Candace Batycki is a councillor with the City of Nelson. She shares this editorial space with her fellow council members.