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: http://www.gov.bc.ca/al/
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.