Monday, February 1, 2010

Local Food, Old Ways

Back to the Future: The 100 Mile Diet.
I had the pleasure recently of attending a tea for past and present residents of the Mount Ida area. This is the area that was the old school district around Mount Ida Hall on the Salmon River Road. It starts at the first bridge south of Gort’s Gouda farm and continues south and west to Blanchflower road. I am a resident of the area so I hoped to learn more of the areas history and any snippets about our farm.
Many of the folks there were past retirement and could tell tales of the 1920s and 30s. Those with good memories could also recall tales of their parent’s younger days in the valley during the turn of the last century. It was interesting to see how close knit the community was. This changed after the Second World War, as people moved away and travel became more common.
The other significant change I noticed was how agriculture had shifted after the war and how the pace had quickened into the 50s and 60s. In the pre war days most of the produce from these local farms was eaten locally in Salmon Arm with the excess being put on train or truck to Kamloops or Vancouver. Today nearly all the product is shipped to Vancouver or out of province with only a small fraction staying in town. The area of farm land is about the same and the population of Salmon Arm is doubtless ten times what it was in 1930s, so in theory we should be eating all we produce and bringing in the extra we need. Instead nearly all we produce is shipped out and virtually every thing we eat is trucked in. So what went wrong?
We now have single purpose farms which are production orientated and one farm can produce more eggs or chicken than our town can consume. The same goes for milk and a lesser extent beef. Modern processing factories require more product than our bountiful valley can supply so our farm produce is trucked away to bigger centres, sometimes out of province. All of which has led to 1000 plus mile diets and huge carbon foot prints within the food system.
Back in the early part of the last century all the farms were mixed farms and the folks I was sipping tea with produced milk, eggs, chicken, pork, beef, lamb, fruits and vegetables, all or any combination of these. This provided a steady cash flow for the farmer (unlike today’s once a year pay cheque when you ship the calves) and with a variety of products a degree of security was in place because if one thing did poorly you had several other products and crops to pull you through. Many more folks would be living on the land and more folks would be employed in town to process the farm product if we went back to this style of rural economy. Our city would be more food secure and maybe more of our young folk would stay in the community if there were more employment opportunities due to a local food production, processing and consumption.
I know, you think I have my head in the clouds and I am dreaming, or you are beginning to wonder what was in the tea we were drinking, another home grown product! Seriously though, what I am proposing is all the rage and in the news most days, it’s the 100 mile diet. Actually it’s nothing new and was about for several thousand years but has been out of circulation for the last sixty or so, hence we think it’s sexy and new. In parts of the world where fuel is expensive or transport rare it is still the normal way of food production. With climate change, rising fuel prices and transportation costs it is the logical solution, especially in a climate such as ours. We can grow food in three out of four seasons, and some are breaking new ground and growing salads in winter in unheated greenhouses, ask Wild Flight Farms from Mara. In theory we should only be trucking in out of season fruit and vegetables along with tea, coffee, sugar and flour. (Oh, my wife just reminded me to add chocolate to that list!) The dollars would stay within the community from farm gate to your plate, and that would bring about security and sustainability for lot of people. A new leg on our wobbly economic stool which would help stabilise the seasonality of tourism and the ups and downs of lumber. This to me should go hand in hand with Smart Growth, sensible urban growth and local food production is a new paradigm that needs to be explored and acted on. It’s up to you the consumer, hunt out and buy the local product. Encourage the farmer, not just with your dollar but with a thank you for a job well done. Learn about your local food and feel proud that your actions are keeping your dollars circulating in the Shuswap as opposed to going out of province, or worse, off shore to a large corporate entity.
They say things go in cycles and after talking about days gone by with some locals I wonder if its time for them to come around again. I did learn that my barn is probably one hundred years old and in good shape for the next two hundred. Now if only I could find a hardy Cacao tree to make my own chocolate, I could eat lots because it was grown local, right!

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