Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nov Friday AM article

Natural Capital

The term ‘Natural Capital’ is not something you hear often in the Shuswap, so I was pleasantly surprised to see one of our local gentlemen running for council mention it at a meeting in a local coffee house recently. Natural Capital is the stuff that gets in the way to spoil the view, you know mountains, lakes, flora and fauna, the stuff we seem to have plenty of and after a while of living here take for granted as we muddle along in our busy lives. It’s the stuff that made people move here in the first place and the reason folks still relocate to Salmon Arm and its surrounding area today. With development being touted as the lifeblood of a community, it seems that any development at any cost is a good thing and we should be grateful. Sadly development chips away at our Natural Capital and once that capital is spent or lost we cannot get it back. Don’t get me wrong I am not against development as many great things have happened here over the last 30 or so years. I, as does the above-mentioned Politician who rang a warning bell in the coffee house, feel we have reached a tipping point and need to better manage our Natural Capital. Not only to preserve it but to cash in on our assets and make them more a part of our economy. Bringing industry and jobs to Salmon Arm is popular but often is not sustainable due to logistics, lack of affordable housing for staff etc. Where as using imagination and hard work to create jobs from our Natural Capital can produce sustainable, eco and social friendly jobs and businesses making use of what we have.
It’s not just the lake folks, we are more than that. The City of Salmon Arm is big and two thirds of it is agricultural reserve, farmland that folks drive through every day on their way to work, passing through to somewhere else or casually touring around the Shuswap taking in the views. We all know that large scale modern agriculture can be hard on the eyes with lots of barns and livestock housed year round and little but crops in the field grown to feed the penned up critters. Due to modern economics this is the way most of agriculture has gone, the get bigger or get out syndrome. It meant that farmers could stay on the land, but only a few, and like an endangered species their numbers have dwindled from what they once were. This has changed our Natural Capital, fields are empty of critters and uninteresting for passers by and the only time livestock are noticeable is when their odor assaults your nostrils on barn cleanout days. I am not saying what has happened is wrong; it is what has developed due to shifting economics.
More barns will be built and more empty fields will appear with monoculture (single purpose crops with little rotation) and this will chip away at the two thirds of our cities Natural Capital. The checkerboard of fields with varied livestock and crops that tourists and we see and enjoy as eye candy will be a memory. It has happened else where in our country and is happening here and because it moves slowly we fail to notice it happening until it is too late. This is economics at work but that does not make it inevitable, it can be changed. What’s more it can be changed by economics, a different model. Farmers have to make a living and will change only if things make economic sense.
This is where you the consumer comes in. By buying local, that means from a local farmer not a local grocery store, you will pay no more for the product than at the store for an often-fresher superior product. It will probably be more nutrient dense as it has not travelled far and so will be better value for money. You will be able to take the family out for a ride in the country, get some fresh air and meet a local food producer on his farm or road side stand. Buying food could be a pleasure not a chore, at the same time you would be helping preserve our Natural Capital which in turn would help the tourist sector businesses. When a farmer sells retail (direct to you the customer) instead of commodity (wholesale) he can farm with less land and smaller livestock numbers to make a living. It is easier for him to be organic or farm old style with livestock out in the fields where they should be.
During the summer when our sheep and poultry are out in the fields we notice how many cars and motorcycles slow up or even stop to take photos of frolicking lambs and the mountain scenery we are surrounded by. By you buying local food, which allows farmers to farm sustainably, we improve our Natural Capital, which in turn brings tourists and helps enhance and diversify our economy. I have only touched on one part of Natural Capital, there is also forestry and crown land along with the rivers and lake and then there is downtown and Smart growth, but I think I will leave that to the politicians!
Rob Fensom farms in the city at Harmonious Homestead and ewe and can be reached at