Approximately 50 Sunshine Coast residents joined Member of Parliament Pamela Goldsmith-Jones at the Gibsons Public Market on August 2 to participate in “Democracy Talks: A Food Policy for Canada.” The event, which is part of a national consultation on the health, environmental, social, and economic goals related to food in Canada, brought together food experts, food growers, and politicians.
Five guest speakers kicked off the event.
SCRD Director Mark Lebbell spoke to the “gap between national policy and where land use hits the road on the Coast.” He noted the challenges of farming here, such as land costs, transportation costs and lack of local processing facilities, and outlined SCRD policies that he hopes will help make agriculture more feasible.
Barbara Seed, a dietician who has a PhD in food policy, welcomed the federal consultation because Canada has never had a national food policy before. “Our current food system is set up primarily for export and for profit,” she said, noting that farmers earn little compared to processors and distributors. She contends that the costs of our system in terms of public health and poor agricultural practices are picked up by the taxpayer.
“We need a food democracy,” said Seed. “We’re not just passive mouths, we’re food citizens.”
Shíshálh Nation elder Barb Higgins spoke to the urgent need to protect our entire ecosystem to support traditional foods such as mushrooms and salmon. “We need trees, we need water,” said Higgins. “In 2012 they threw me in jail [for demonstrating against logging in the drinking watershed]. I’m proud of that.”
Annette Clark, who operates an organic farm and Exotic Fruit Nursery in Roberts Creek, emphasized the importance of biodiversity. Large-scale industrial agriculture is built around chemicals, pesticides and the systemic mistreatment of livestock, said Clark. “We need something new.”
“I believe that small scale farms are one part of the solution.”
Finally, Brian Smith, CEO of Persephone Brewing and head of special projects for Community Futures Sunshine Coast, spoke to the challenging economics of agriculture. “If land’s too expensive, we can’t grow food or have a viable food business,” said Smith, using the example of Persephone’s “beer farm.”
“Value added processing of farm product can lead to viable small farm business models that don’t just survive but thrive.”
Smith is hopeful that the new provincial government is serious about revitalizing the Agricultural Land Reserve, whose policies, Smith feels, stifle the viability of small farms.
Following the guest speakers, participants broke into four groups to talk about food related topics and then reported their ideas back to the room. Feedback from forums held in this riding will be compiled in a report to be shared with the constituency and with Ottawa.
“I think we’re actually going to be saying some quite radical things,” said Goldsmith-Jones. “I think there’s definitely going to be some longstanding vested interests that will be challenged by Canadians in the feedback that comes back as a result of this consultation.”
Those who can’t attend a public forum can fill out the online survey at https://www.canada.ca/en/campaign/food-policy.html. The survey was launched on May 29, and closes on August 31. The full consultation wraps up on September 30.