Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Inaugural Harvest Trek 2012 Part I

Installment 1 of Harvest Trek 2012 occurs in Vancouver, BC where our Food Warrior, Orla.Hegarty, is preparing to embark on a cross Canada drive along the Trans Canada Highway. She hopes to explore this years harvest and collect deliciously radish-al Food Stories across Canada. She will be driving from sea to sea in the next few weeks and sharing some of these stories here. Lettuce Connect hopes to publish an anthology of these stories as a collection within a few months of the tour ending (and in time for a similar Scattered Spring Planting trek around Canada in the spring of 2013. Her first story is below. Please leaf feedback since it's nice to know if you give a shitake :)


This food warrior seems to have a magnet attached that attracts similarly minded folk. Case in point: I got on a crowded double length bus to visit a friend at UBC (University of British Columbia) yesterday and immediately my food warrior ears started twitching. 

Two young lads were discussing their programs: one of them was a land and food systems faculty student  from Sasketchewan and the other was (ready for it?) a young farmer (and UBC student) from Richmond, BC.  My food warrior ears started twitching when I heard the two making introductions and discussing farming and food issues.  The land and food systems student had wanted to be a vet so that he could work on farms (he was not a farmer but wanted towork in the industry).  The young farmer was living on the family farm and was basically just taking interest courses after two years of college and was hoping to major in Cultural Anthropology and Astronomy.

I navigated my way through the crowded bus until I was close enough to introduce myself to these young men.  The lad from Saskechewan wanted to end up in marketing in the farm or agricultural industry.  He got off well before UBC so that allowed me and the young farmer to talk for quite a length of time.

His family's farm was 200 acres and they owned 65 acres of that and leased the rest.  The land is protected by British Columbia legislation in order to ensure that the land remains agrigulturally zoned in perpetuity.  The young farmer (Lucas) told me that no one sells their agriculture land in Richmond due to the fact that everyone recognizes the possibility that the legislation may one day be repealed and then it will be like the lottery since land values anywhere near Vancouver are easily recognized as the most valuable in all of Canada.  I am sitting here typing on a computer in a cafe on a piece of property probably worth more than I can even fathom.

Lucas also told me that medium scale farmers like his family are concerned about new farming endeavours such as urban farming and new immigrant farms.  He said that as a regulated traditional type farmer they have to meet stringent criteria that is set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  He had concerns that food safety regulations were not being met.  He gave an example of a new immigrant family in Richmond that is farming pea sprouts on leased land.  He told me that this farm had had eight harvests so far in this season! Even I, as a non-farmer, know that this kind of intensive farming is in no way sustainable and destroys the soil very quickly.  And as a Management Scientist, I also recognized immediately that this intensive farming allowed these farmers to undersell any other pea sprout farmer. This all too familiar imbalance cascades down the supply system and directly into consumer's pocketbooks.  Consumers are not paying the true value of the food if there is even just one farmer managing to harvest 8 times whilst regular farmers harvest much less and with a mind to conserve the value of their soil.

So Lucas' family and other land owners like him have a right to be concerned and frustrated at these new food iniatives springing up like wildflowers across the continent.  The more quickly they sprout the more bureacratic agencies like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have to run to catch up in order to ensure the safety of the food on our marketplace shelves.

So, after a nice visit with my friend, I was strolling through the demonstration garden/orchard beside the Land and Food System faculty building (pictured below). As I walked and observed this unprotected garden, I was thinking of Lucas and how wise he was about the whole food system thing.  At 20 or 21 years of age, his multigenerational farming family and others like his feel the effects of any changes in the system that allow shysters to take advantage of regulatory loopholes.  At the end of the day, Farmers Feed Cities, but they also have to feed themselves.

UBC's Land and Food System demonstration garden

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