COLUMN: Why and how to support West Kootenay local agriculture

Columnist Kim Charlesworth discusses some local good news stories

The snow has arrived, another signal that our local food production is winding down. And, once again (unless you have your own cold room) the majority of your food will be sourced from a very long way away.

The bustling farmers markets we shop at in the summer and fall do not translate into sustainable livelihoods for today’s farmers here in the Kootenays, or an economically stable agriculture sector in B.C. For the last six years I’ve been working through a variety of channels to identify challenges and the opportunities to strengthen our local food system. The Kootenay and Boundary Food Producers Co-op is one such organization that is working to help support local producers.

Locally, the Central Kootenay Food Policy Council has put forward a project proposal to conduct a Regional Food System Assessment — to document what is now happening, identify gaps and opportunities for improvements, analyze local government policy that impacts our food system, and to assess how the region’s emergency food services fit into the picture. Bits and pieces of this work have been done, but having a comprehensive assessment will go a long way to help identify priorities for all stakeholders.

We also need to understand how climate disruption will affect both our food supply from elsewhere, and B.C.’s agricultural sector.

A recent good news story is the implementation of the Kootenay and Boundary Farm Advisors program, funded by our Regional Districts and the Columbia Basin Trust.

This program will provide much needed technical assistance to farmers, many of whom are young farmers trying to deal with both high land prices and a lack of provincial support.

Another good news story is Fields Forward in Creston, which has been making great strides engaging citizens to help decide how to support local agriculture. They’ve modeled their process on the highly successful Farm to Plate program created in Vermont.

Farm to Plate is a state government initiated effort to promote communication, co-ordination, and collaboration among food systems stakeholders. Its Strategic Plan provides a foundation for agri-food security and legislation and mandates the state to support the implementation of that plan.

Compare this to the current situation in British Columbia: B.C. has the lowest provincial spending on agriculture of any province in Canada (as a percent of agriculture GDP). And unless the current government stops the Site C dam, we will lose the largest area of prime agricultural land outside of the lower mainland.

Agriculture is critical to the long-term economic stability of rural B.C., by providing jobs both directly, in distribution, and through secondary processing. Our province, and this region, has huge potential to be a leader in food production. Write your local MLA and the new Agriculture Minister Lana Popham to voice support for increased funding for local agriculture in B.C.

Kim Charlesworth, a former Nelson city councillor, ran for the Green Party in the last provincial election and is the garden co-ordinator at the Nelson Food Cupboard. She has been involved in many of the nonprofit food-related organizations mentioned in this column.

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