On Sept. 17 it was quite a night in the halls of decision making for local food and agriculture. Not only did the proposal for the transition of the Sandown Racetrack lands into a community farm go forward to the District of North Saanich Council, but the long awaited Agriculture and Food Security Plan was approved by the District of Saanich Mayor and Council. Wheels of change in motion, slow motion, but momentum none the less.
The election is right around the corner and you will go to the polls on Oct. 20 to select your new local government. Over the last 10 years in particular we have seen a steady uptake by local government in considering their role around food. Many have argued that food is, and must be, a planning issue. Just as water, housing, transportation, schools, health and recreation; our food system is also in need of coordination and guidance to ensure that the resources, lands and talents of the people of the region are best employed. Previously this realm was largely left up to the marketplace, and while that has worked out in some areas (lots of food in the grocery store), science is telling us that the global impacts of that type of food system are not going to be sustainable over time; too much use of fossil fuels and energy, degradation of soils and waters, loss of biodiversity, and an unstable changing climate.
Hopefully you have also heard that multinationals and countries and with large populations are buying up huge tracts of lands in order to secure a land base for food production for their populations? China, India, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea in Asia; Egypt and Libya in Africa; and Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East; and Japan in Brazil. A quick google search will give you the lowdown. Fish licences too, but that’s another depressing story. This is bound to have significant impacts on the global food supply in the future. In addition we know that diet and lifestyle are causing significant jumps in health issues and chronic disease rates, in kids too. I am hoping that folks reading this are already up on all that bad news?
The thing we do know is that if we want more control and self-reliance that we need to support our local food system. This goes beyond buying local. You don’t have to look far to see some real challenges that farmers and food producers are facing right now. Farmers who have been in the game a long time continue to face a sea of regulations and battery of wildlife damage and crop losses that beat down the strongest of the survivors; and the small growers, the future new entrants, well getting on farmland to establish your business is pretty prohibitive. So when there is good news to share, well I want to share it.
That takes us back to Sept. 17, as I said it was a special night. In Saanich at the District Council meeting, the first ever stand-alone Saanich-made, Agriculture and Food Security Plan was adopted. We have seen food and agriculture plans developed by local governments with increasing regularity which is good; however these plans often languish on a shelf. Something happened that we need to shine some light on. The Mayor and Council supported the staff recommendation to adopt the plan. What is noteworthy however, is that they put their money where their mouth is (so to speak) and committed staff time and resources towards its implementation. There are mountains to move here people and this might feel like a small nudge, but I am here to tell you that this is another signal in the wind that people are recognizing the value and benefit of taking action.
Dean Murdock, who was a long-time advocate of the plan posted that he was “So very pleased to see Council unanimously endorse the Agriculture and Food Security Plan, and provide funding for priority initiatives!” He went on to reaffirm his support for the plan, “This important document will help ensure everyone has quality, affordable, local food to put on the dinner table by protecting farmland and creating growing spaces for farmers and urban food producers”. As Dean leaves his work at Council and moves on to the next chapter, he can be proud that he was able to leave this legacy behind. In addition it must be said a tremendous amount of work was done by recently retired Saanich Planner Jane Evans. She worked alongside a committed and hardworking community advisory and consultant Ione Smith of Uplands Consulting. Cameron Scott and Sharon Hvozdanski of Saanich Planning also had a hand in bringing this forward. Thank you to everyone for a pretty comprehensive job!
It was summed up well by the members of the Peninsula and Area Agriculture Commission when they took a look at the plan at their September meeting: We need to focus, there is a lot in here, but we need to focus and get going. The election is coming Oct. 20, who will take this job seriously and lean into this work? You get to decide.
Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.