Bringing it home

There is a lot of talk in the media these days about local eating: the 100 Mile Diet,  re-localization, Food Security, Food Sovereignty and so on.  There has even been some Ministry of Health interest in promoting the aforementioned with their recent ‘access to produce’ initiative. Meanwhile there is a host of legislators busy prohibiting farmers from producing, and consumers from accessing, this same food. Finally, there is another host of economists employed by the relevant Ministries who pay lip service to rural economic development but never consider in that equation small scale, traditional agriculture and its supports–let alone promote its viability. Instead they look to big industry to solve the economic crisis and brag about how many jobs this or that industry will bring to a community. Amid all this economic posturing, it would be refreshing if someone asked why 50 years ago a farmer of 20 or 30 cows (or many of the livestock options) could make a nice living and support a family (generally larger than today’s average size), but not today? Now the average farm size is huge, monocultural, less diverse and productive, and we have reverted to a feudal social system.

I had someone over the other day who wondered why I was struggling to make a living off the farm, let alone make it pay for itself. I was dumbfounded because I thought the answer would have been obvious: there is a limited population base where I live, few jobs are left, ethically raised food is more expensive than factory raised food, and–to paraphrase Joel Salatin–the government legislation coupled with the marketing boards have made nearly everything I want to do illegal. So this was my response: Do I think I could make a living off this land? Absolutely. Do I think I can make a legal living off this land? Probably not. I sent him off with this food for his mind, and handed him some ‘contraband’ eggs to nourish his body (my customers and I are happy with recycling egg cartons, which is a ‘no-no’ as far as the ‘higher-ups’ are concerned), and ‘soon-to-be-contraband’ salad greens–yes, the brilliant stroke of our previous Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Pat Bell, announced during his time in office, that all fruit, vegetables, honey and wine for sale will be required to be government inspected, by September 2009! Community food systems are healthy for local people and healthy for local economies. If the regulators really wanted to address the economic/environmental/rural community health and viability issues, they would think in terms of re-localization of our food systems, about de-centralisation of the production and distribution system, and about how to make local food systems robust, more efficient and economically viable for the communities they could support.

If we seriously began to support our small mixed farmers, a demographic shift would unfold from the over-crowded cities to rural BC. Along with this would come an increased need for adjunct skilled people, such as butchers, bakers, cheese-makers, and dairy-men and women. In addition to those would be the front end suppliers such as feed growers for the animals, and mechanics to fix broken tractors and the like. Imagine the changes that could take place if we began to promote a food inspection system that supports small scale, sustainable producers and processors (and one that puts ‘environmental impact’ back into the equation of food production), instead of throwing them out of business with regulations that prohibit their growth and development or require major financial inputs that only mega-corporations can afford. For example, when I look at the price of organic milk in the store, I’m relatively certain my goats could help make this farm a going concern–if only their milk was legal to sell, and/or I didn’t need to fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital equipment to meet the new regulations standards before I sell one litre of milk. If there were some exemptions to the rule for small producers, we could grow our businesses at a scale that makes sense to our conditions.

I’m glad I have as much control of my food as I do; I think everyone should feel this secure. But how can everyone, when the access to local produce is becoming more and more difficult. I think about the milk I was lucky enough to have had access to this past year. It was contraband and technically illegal. Why? When farmers (and shareholders) can drink raw milk safely, why can’t we, the general public? Why am I not free to choose where I get my milk from? If you don’t want to drink it raw, home pasteurization is easy; all you need is a pot, a thermometer, and a heat source. Not long ago that most people in this country knew this. Non-native North American traditions are based in being hunters and homesteaders; we are descendants of pioneers who colonized this land by being self-sufficient, and knowledgeable in the ways of food provisioning and preserving techniques.

What could be more integral to community than its self-provisioning of food? The famous anthropologist, Levi-Strauss, said that food was as important to culture as language. If this is true, then we are rapidly losing our culture to mega-corporations backed by our own government legislators. Why are we being forced to abandon our culture and traditions? Moreover, why are we accepting it? It is time to revivify our cultural traditions, and bring food back home and into the hands of our families and communities.

REFERENCE NOTE: Several people have asked for the reference to where the previous Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Pat Bell, said that the regulations for fruit, vegetables, wine, and honey will be changing. It was in a letter to The Vernon Daily Courier October 2, 2007, where a local resident wrote about the impact that the meat regulations are having on meat producers and warned that by 2009 the same will be true of fruit, vegetables and honey:

The Honourable Pat Bell, Minister of Agriculture  and Lands informed a meeting of the Union of BC Municipalities that they should get used to the new regulations because fruit, vegetables, wine and honey will face similar regulations by September  2009.

You can also search the Ministry’s web pages:

The letter also warned that: These regulations would spell the end of the Farmer’s Markets. Also, we would no longer be able to go to a local orchard to buy our fruit as we have done in this Valley for 150 years.


Filed under Developing Community, Educational, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Bringing it home

  1. About two months ago I tried to find a source for raw milk and approached one of the ladies I work with, who has a rural home. Her hushed tones and eyes darting back and forth made me feel like I had done something “wrong”…but no, she was just scared someone who overhear us. Scared someone would hear about my evil plans to purchase four liters of illegal milk.

    The current situation in our country is ridiculous, and sadly it looks like it’s just going to keep getting crazier.

  2. Right effing on! Thank you for saying this and for being so blunt about it. Our political class is selling us all out.

    When I’m feeling good, I can scarcely blame them: the system they live in rewards this sort of treasonous behaviour, so it’s hard to expect much better than this.

    When I’m feeling less good, it makes me crazy to think that we live in a world where it is becoming harder and harder to feed ourselves using techniques that have been around for thousands of years and are known to be safe — not 100% safe, but certainly safer than turning our well-being over to corporations who care nothing for us and for our families and friends and neighbours and communities.

  3. I’m speaking as an american; canada’s food system is partially based on a (very real) fear that if the market was truly open there would be little food actually produced in canada; and that national food sources are an important resource to conserve. I can’t speak as to what problem they’re trying to solve by inspecting salad greens (or even what would constitute “failure” of such inspection?), but when you give people ownership of a market, like the broiler chicken quota system, suddenly there’s a group of people who benefit by driving all possible competition out of business to improve their monopoly.
    So with respect to wine, greens and so on, I’ll bet that the current canadian quota holders of each of those commodities is behind this push for “food safety”.
    In the USA slaughter politics are very similar. The current inspection regime is set up to support slaughter facilities that slaughter 1,000 or more cows a day. So if you’re a small farmer that produces 50 cows you’re pretty much out of luck. You fit into the existing structure and you absorb the higher cost and you put your cows through the same process that resulted in the recall of millions of pounds of beef and you wonder why. But big ag supports it because it prevents small producers from getting bigger. Monopolies are evil. And government-mandated monopolies are the most evil.

  4. EJ

    Do you have a reference for: “all fruit, vegetables, honey and wine for sale will be required to be government inspected, by September 2009!”?

  5. permacultureinbrittany

    Hi Kristeva,
    It’s easy to blame the usual suspects, corporations, politicians (check out the UK ministers’ expenses scandal etc., but I think the general public has a huge hand in this with their buying choices.

    The proportion of a family’s budget spent on food has gone down over the last 50 years (the period you mentioned in the demise of the small farm) simply put, food is too cheap. This means that it’s taken for granted and undervalued, allowing people to cut the breasts of a cheap factory-reared chicken and throw the carcass away. They don’t realise, are too stupid, or just don’t care for the alternative: a much more expensive locally-reared, free-range, organic bird, which you then make several meals out of, finally boiling the bones for stock for a soup or risotto. And when you add up all the meals you get out of a bird using the ways of our grandmothers, it ends up looking like quite good value.

    If the consumers picked the organic shelves bare each week and kept asking questions in the shops as to where their food was sourced, remembered the pleasure of standing in line in the butcher’s or grocer’s meeting friends and catching up on gossip, rather than picking plastic wrapped boxes off cold supermarket shelves, life would be better.

    • Yes, food is too cheap. But that is thanks to the factory farms and intensive livestock operations, not a public that demands it despite the rhetoric we are fed about this issue. It is a false belief that in today’s ‘democratic societies’ if the people ask for something they will get it. They no longer drive the system, if they ever did. The citizens of Paris rioted in 1789 becauise they had no bread; if they had cheap mass produced white bread (which might have been slowly killing them from obesity, cancer, etc.) there would have been no revolution.

      When they are not starving, the public simply gets accustomed to what is provided. Imagine if the regulations were changed to outlaw factory farms, ILOs, monocrops, GMOs, and intensive slaughterhouses, then those businesses would go belly-up and their cheap food would not be available, and a more wholesome, healthy kind of food production and distribution system would develop. The public would buy the more expensive food because that would be what is available, and they would get accustomed to that.

      But the government (who is funded by agribusiness corporations) and the marketing boards (who are governed by these same big business people) make rules that enable these disgusting farming operations to exist and then thrive, while forcing small, sustainable, mixed farming operations out of business. If the government really was interested in issues like food security, environmental pollution, animal ethics, rural economic development and so on, they would make rules, regulations and legislation that support small farms, and ban factory farms.

      Thus, I do not blame the public. It doesn’t matter what the public wants to buy, if it is not available for purchase.

  6. Natasha

    I’m also interested in finding more about the inspection announcement. Could you please post links or information? The position small producers in BC are in is making me nervous, and I’d like to learn more.

  7. Sarah

    Me too. Please could you post links or other information about the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands inspection of greens, honey etc.

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