Talk of Food is all over pR; and how to get that food seems to be the chief debate. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to talk with folks and analyze as to Powell River’s own potential to fulfill its stomach, fortunately supplemented by similar work here in Peterborough.
"Wait, hold on, why am “I” concerned about food exactly? I buy ‘organic,’ aren’t I doin’ my part?"
To the uninitiated, the question of food is one of too many pesticides and perhaps, of the growers (of say cocoa or coffee beans) not getting fairly paid. To which the response is rather quaint: the customer spends more money on organics and fair-trade. ‘Organic’ food in a grocery store is a bit of a joke because the nature of grocery chains doesn’t really permit Organic food in the first-place.
It is still plantation grown for the sake of bulk-shipping, cutting down swathes of forest and employing indentured workers (be it Indonesia or Good ole’ ‘merica.) It’s a nice mark-up for a food system that floods areas with cheap staple-foods in a domino process that then forces domestic farmers off the soil and on to the floors of sweat-shops. But hey! Less nasty stuff on your food, right? Maybe.* Unless you’re going straight to the source, be wary of the Organic food aisle.
Fair-trade is a bit better in this respect, there are multiple agencies and the money is handed directly to peasant-farmers who are more likely to own their land. There is the troublesome fact that the money goes to the husbands - who tend to spend it on luxuries rather than their families - but local organizations can work on that, especially if they have our capital to work with; some fair-trade institutions are ensuring the cash goes directly to mother’s instead. Read more »
by David Parkinson
One of the wonderful things about living in this little corner of the world is the number of people who are tuned in to the importance of increasing our local food supply. More and more, I am connecting with people moving here because they see it as a place to dig in, build community, and become more self-reliant. A lot of this activity revolves around farming, whether on the tiny scale of a container of herbs on the windowsill, or on the scale that involves livestock and commercial sales.Sometimes we get so focused on man-made crops that we forget about the perennial bounty that nature drops in front of us each year, namely, the fruits and berries that grow by themselves with little to no human attention. Powell River is full of fruit trees, many the remnants of once-huge orchards that fed people up and down the coast. And berries of all kinds are everywhere you look: huckleberries, salmonberries, and of course the emblematic blackberry, that most delicious of pests. For a few years now, a volunteer-driven community effort has harvested much of the fruit that would otherwise go to waste. This is the project formerly known as the Fruit Tree Project and now named Skookum Gleaners, as it has been taken on by Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative, a new non-profit aiming at regional food security and personal self-reliance through sharing and cooperating. Skookum Gleaners is looking for people who want to go out and pick fruit! And looking for people with too much fruit, who would like someone to come and clean their trees! The benefits are obvious: less food wasted, hungry people fed, fewer bears in trouble, and a sense of community accomplishment.
Good Food Boxes contain affordable, quality produce
By David Parkinson
Did you know that Powell River has a monthly-produce-buyers’ club? In operation for a few years now, this program is run out of the United Church with help from the local Overwaitea store and serves 100-150 households per month in and around Powell River and Sliammon. The Good Food Box is similar to programs in many other cities, where members of the community to pool their money in order to make a bulk order; then distribute the food to families and individuals in the community. Best of all, it’s a locally-run, self-sustaining project.
Tanya McDonald and Kimberley Murphy- Heggeler, the volunteer coordinators, spend many hours each month collecting people’s contributions, working with the produce manager at Overwaitea (which helps the Good Food Box program by generously offering a deep discount on the incoming produce, bringing the cost close to wholesale), arranging for volunteers, and making sure that everyone gets the food on the second Wednesday of each month. I’ve been participating for about a year now, by showing up in the morning on the second Wednesday at the United Church in Powell River to help unload the produce, weigh and bag portions, and then pack up all the boxes. There are usually ten to twenty volunteers, and not only is it a fun social occasion, but there’s even lunch served afterwards.
At the beginning of each month, participants pay $12 per box, which contains produce that you might pay $15 or $16 for at the store. Each produce box contains a good assortment of staples: carrots, onions, potatoes, apples, oranges, bananas, lettuce, and other healthy vegetables and fruits. Read more »
By Roger Doiron
You don’t have to be a peak oil news junkie to know that something’s up with the global oil supply. [Recently], prices went above $104 for the first time on the announcement from OPEC nations that they were quite satisfied with the amount of available supply (and the price that supply is fetching), rebuffing President Bush’s request to open the spigot a little wider.
Reasonable people can disagree on the causes and the implications of rising oil prices, but there seems to be a gathering consensus that the era of easy and cheap oil is over. If you don’t want to take my word on that, then take it from an oil executive.
What few people grasp is the connection between oil and the food supply. Put simply, the food and farm economies of industrialized countries run on the stuff. Oil and its derivatives are used to power farm equipment, to create synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, to run food processing equipment, and to transport food from field to fork, a journey of 1500 miles for the average forkful.
It has been estimated that our highly-industrialized food system in the US requires 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to create 1 calorie of food energy. Needless to say, that equation just doesn’t compute in the long run.
Meanwhile, as we’re depleting one natural resource, we’re busy creating an abundance of another: people. The UN estimates that the global population will approach 9 billion (up from the current 6.6 billion) by the year 2050. Last year, an article in the British paper The Guardian pointed out the enormity of the challenge we face in feeding 9 billion people. In order to do this, we will need to produce more food over the course of the next 50 years than we have produced in the past 10,000 years combined. Read more »
by David Parkinson
The fourth annual Powell River 50-mile eat-local challenge is over until next summer. We kicked off the 50-day event this year on August 9 with the first-ever Edible Garden Tour, showcasing thirteen local gardens, from Lund down to Lang Bay, thrown open so that the public could wander around, ask questions, and see firsthand how friends and neighbours are producing their own food in backyards, front yards, and community gardens, using a variety of techniques. This completely free tour even raised a bit of money for the Fruit Tree Project, which sends teams of volunteer pickers to people’s homes to pick otherwise unused fruit.I’ve been producing a weekly podcast series featuring conversations with local food champions who work hard to support the local food economy: Jeffrey Renn of Bemused Bistro, Nia Wegner of Loaves and Fishes Catering Company, Melissa Call of Sunshine Organics and Ecossentials, and Amy Sharp of Manzanita Restaurant. There’s one conversation for each week of the challenge. You can find the podcasts online at http://pr50.podomatic.com. Also take some time to visit the official blog of the Powell River 50-mile eat-local challenge at http://pr50.wordpress.com/.
by David Parkinson
What is a food policy charter? What will it do for us? How can we get one?
A food policy charter—food charter, for short—is a document which expresses the attitudes and hopes of a town, city, or region towards food and people’s relationships to it. Generally, a food charter starts from the recognition that even in a society like ours which prides itself on its fair treatment of its most vulnerable members, not everyone can afford to eat well or has access to the knowledge or skills needed to eat well. Alongside the honest accounting of the weaknesses of the current food system, there will be a more positive reckoning of the aspects of the region which already support food security: farming, gardening, food banks, community kitchens, low-cost community dinners, and so on.
Building from that recognition—both positive and negative—of where we’re at, the food charter will develop along lines familiar to anyone who has participated in the creation of Powell River’s regional Sustainability Charter: plenty of meetings, consultations, and probably a lot of lively conversation and maybe a bit of controversy along the way. These meetings and conversations are aimed at developing a regional vision which states where we would like to be in five, ten, or twenty years. From that grand vision, we can formulate more specific goals and objectives, and then work backwards to develop a set of policies and actions which, we hope, can accomplish those goals and objective, and eventually move us closer towards our vision. Some policies can be assigned to our local governments, and some can be assigned to community groups and associations of people who want to accomplish specific tasks.
by David Parkinson
The plant is the seed’s way of reproducing itself. And humans are the plant’s way of being kept safe and pest-free long enough to produce seeds? Hmm… so, when we cultivate plants for food, medicine, or their beauty, we are part of nature’s giant conspiracy to keep seeds around? Humans have been actively involved in shaping nature for thousands of years, and we still are, especially through efforts like saving seeds.
In Powell River, there’s an active community working to save seeds, share seeds, and make sure of a good supply of seeds for growing food. If you want to be more involved in these community efforts, here’s how:
I. Come out to the fourth annual Seedy Saturday (March 14 2009, from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, at the Community Living Place on Artaban)
Bring your seeds in dry, sealed envelopes and swap them for other seeds. Or you can buy seed packets for fifty cents. You can exchange bedding plants, perennials, roots/tubers, berries, shrubs, and trees. Community groups will be there to give out information on gardening, permaculture, composting, beekeeping, and seed saving. There will also be five free garden-related workshops during the day. Admission is one dollar and children under twelve get in free.
II. Come to a potluck dinner and seed packaging bee sponsored by Kale Force, a local growers’ support group (Wednesday February 11, 5-8 p.m. at the Community Resource Centre, 4752 Joyce Ave.)
After a potluck meal, we will be packaging donated seeds at the bee to fund Seedy Saturday; also, if you have seeds from your own garden to package for swapping, bring them, and we’ll help you get ready.
III. Come and ‘Dig-it’, on Sunday March 1st 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM in Wildwood. Read more »
by David Parkinson
It is starting to sink into the public consciousness that we are looking at some major changes in how we feed ourselves, especially as we address the need to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. The 50-mile diet may have started as a novelty, but it’s starting to look more and more like a foreshadowing of a future where we produce as much of our needs as close to home as possible. (Not just food, either!)
But how are we supposed to increase local food production? Our local farmers can tell you that they are struggling to meet the growing demand for locally-grown high-quality food. And if we are expecting to see an increase in local consumption over the next few years, how on earth do we get from here to there?
Farmers across Canada are aging, and not enough young people are coming along to take their places. This is partly because our modern technological society has downplayed the creativity, imagination, and hard work that goes into farming, and partly because the start-up costs of farming have skyrocketed along with real estate values in the last few years.
Everywhere I go, I talk with people who recognize our need to move towards regional self-sufficiency – but how are we supposed to start turning the situation around? Is this a job for grassroots organization? For our local elected officials? For PRREDS, our regional economic development society?
The answer is probably a little of everything. One place where we can all start is at home: starting a garden, increasing the size of our garden, helping others learn how to grow some of their own food. These may seem like insignificant steps, but they do add up. Soon, before we know it, we will have created a local culture of self-reliance, and a culture of community. Read more »
by David Parkinson
On Wednesday, February 13, the Powell River Food Growers’ Guild meets from 5:00 to 7:00 PM at the Community Resource Centre (4752 Joyce Avenue).
Bring some food to share if you can, and join us to talk about seeds, garden planning, and other activities and workshops having to do with food, gardens, cooking, preserving, and everything to do with self-reliance.
Contact me for more information: (604) 485-2004 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
by David Parkinson
Consider these facts: in the nineteen months between February 2006 and September 2007, the price of a bushel of wheat on the Kansas City exchange more than doubled. In the same time period, the price of soybeans on the Chicago exchange almost doubled. Global wheat stockpiles are at a 32-year low. 20% of the US corn crop is dedicated to the production of ethanol. The amount of land used for corn production in the US increased 18.5% in 2007. These numbers are echoed by similar trends in Canada. One of the factors leading to these unprecedented rises in staple food costs is the ethanol boom, which is rewarding farmers around the world for replacing food crops with fuel crops for vehicles.The recently released report by the Dietitians of Canada, “The Cost of Eating in BC in 2007” points to high levels of poverty in British Columbia and lays out shocking facts about the degree to which rising costs are affecting people’s ability to eat well: “Food insecurity is higher in the lowest income families (48.3%), off-reserve Aboriginal families (33.3%), female lone-parent families (24.9%) and in families with more than 3 children (15.0%) especially when one of them is under 6 years of age.” Worse than that, “More than 76,500 British Columbians used food banks in 2007; almost 28,000 of those were children.” Here’s what we can expect: food prices will continue to rise across the board, driven by the perverse nature of large-scale subsidized agribusiness and the ethanol craze, not to mention the increasing cost of fossil fuels, which are by now essential not only for the production of commercial fertilizers and the operation of farming equipment, but also for food processing and storage, packaging, refrigeration, and, obviously, transportation.