By: Alyson Vandergrift
Food sovereignty and food security sound like heavy, intensely political topics. While they can be highly politicized, it's important to understand that they are basic food policy principles that farmers and consumers have been actively involved in for decades.
Let's start with an example to help understand why food security is so important. I have been known to get in my car at 5pm, drive to the nearest grocery store, look at some on sale items, and load my car up for the weekend. I am looking at prices, and how much time it takes. I then drive my car home, forget about half of what I bought over the weekend, and end up throwing about 1/3 of it out mid-week.
In the past, most of how I purchased was based on the price tag, and not the label. Strawberries from California, avocados from Mexico, bananas from Costa Rica, yogurt made and processed somewhere in the US, coconut milk from Indonesia, quinoa from Peru, etc. All of these foods have travelled thousands of kilometres to be here, and can leave devastation in their wake, all to get to a trendy new market.
Coconut water is hailed as a “hangover cure to end all hangover cures” and had all kinds of trendy health benefits like replacing electrolytes after a workout and “super-hydrating” your body. The Kardashians drink it so it must be good, right? Quinoa is high in protein, contains iron and is another market “super-food” made trendy, and is already being phased out by sorghum. What we don't see is the deforestation, the ecological destruction, and the displacement of people because of these food trends.
Food trends are not the only thing displacing people. Massive migrations of people are occurring all of the world due to poverty, conflict, natural disasters, hungry, and climate change. In 2015, 244 million people migrated internationally, and 763 million people moved within national borders. In poverty stricken countries, investing in rural development can help create more food secure families, reduce the amount of moving needed by creating jobs and opportunities, and lay ground work for more long-term, sustainable communities. This idea of investing in rural communities also works in developed countries. We have many young people moving to cities, and we are slowly losing our farms all across the Maritimes to bigger businesses.
Food security, and access to healthy foods, are some of the some of the most pressing issues for Nova Scotians and many Atlantic Canadians. A lack of access to healthy, nutritious food is a public health, economic, and an environmental concern. Having more food secure people in rural areas (in developing countries, and here at home) can allow people to eat healthier easier, reduce our reliance on fossil fuel, processing, and packaging, can protect the diversity needed in crops, and can help reduce food waste. We need to start taking a serious look at our local, provincial and federal food networks, and choices that can lead to better, more sustainable food security.
That being said...
One of World Food Day's mandates states:
“Investment in sustainable food systems and rural development means addressing some of the major global challenges – from feeding the world's growing population to protecting the global climate, and tackling some of the root causes of migration and displacement.”
Investing in smaller, rural businesses means buying local. Thankfully in the last 3-5 years, there are more options than ever in which to purchase local goods in our neighbourhoods. Nova Scotia has seen an incredible expansion in Farmers' Markets, local produce stands, local food being available at larger retailers, microbreweries, local wineries, and of course, community shared agriculture farms (CSA's).
From an environmental perspective CSA's and small farms have a lot of benefits because of the land stewardship often exhibited by the farmers. CSA farms have shown to reduce the reliance on chemicals and pesticides, balance nutrients in the soil, minimize erosion, and reduced carbon emissions. With reducing reliance on chemicals and needing to maintain sustainable soils, small farms are often increasing the biodiversity of their crops and saving or preserving rare species and cultivars that may no longer be available in larger markets. These are just a few of many benefits of the land stewardship that CSA and small farmers have to maintain their livelihoods.
In terms of economic benefits, the CSA's have benefits for the farmers, the customers, and the communities in which they function. Farmers rely on their members for feedback and therefore have an easier, direct line of communication for creating their fee structure to cover the cost of production. They can also eliminate or reduce costs such as storage, packaging and transportation. Due to the communication structure between farmers and members, there are often myths dispelled, crowd funding for projects or equipment and letting them know what to expect from their shares.
The customers often pay less for the quality and freshness through CSA's than from major markets. One study in the United States found in 2002 that CSA members were often receiving produce that was 20% less expensive than produce of the same quality from a local super market. There is also the benefit of being directly tapped into what is happening where your food is being produced. Customers are encouraged to be involved and to develop a relationship with the farmers, other team members, and other CSA members. This sort of “CSA community” helps inspire the farmer to deliver high quality goods, and to make sure that their customers are happy.
Communities with small, success farms, have been known to thrive. The farms serve as a conduit for a vibrant community by putting money back into the local stream, creating lines of communication through other local businesses, schools, establishments and residential areas, and establishing direct links from farm to table. Some CSA's offer educational workshops on how to shop seasonally, how to preserve your food, and some CSA's even educate on how to start your own compost to reduce your waste. Many of these actions help create small, sustainable loops in communities.
It is our jobs as consumers to use our money and our voices to make our opinions heard. According to a study done by sustainontario, if every household spent only $10 of their weekly grocery store budget on buying local, that could create 10, 000 new jobs. You can also communicate with farmers through CSA's to speak to local, provincial, and federal offices on how to create more sustainable rural communities throughout Canada to help promote more food sovereignty and food security. Working together and including many different members of the community to reach a common goal will help us move forward and create better policies, as well as addressing hunger issues in Canada now, and in the future as our global environment changes.
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