Food for change.


Friday night and all-day Saturday, I was at the Green Jobs/Green Economy conference hosted by the BC Federation of Labour and ENGO partners in Vancouver. An interesting couple of days, I attended workshops on food security, transportation issues in rural areas, and re-localizing our economy – as well as plenary sessions on green growth and economics. While I’m not quite buying the argument advanced by David Foster that an economy based on growth can be truly “green” on a finite planet – I really welcomed the conference and many of the conversations which took place there. Making the changes needed to halt the continuing decline of our ecosystems, we need lots of people from all walks of life getting together and talking. Disagreeing, arguing, figuring out, challenging, brainstorming, convincing – there’s a whole lot of that which needs to be going on right now.

But in this race against climate annhilation, it’s clear there is little agreement on the right way forward and that many of our leaders are stalled in the old and unsustainable paradigm. Pragmatics among elected officials (including union leaders and local councils) have bred a hesitancy to act for fear of overwhelming or alienating “the average person” and if the teabag party in the US is any indication, there is at least one sector of people who will vociferously oppose even the most benign green energy plans. I suspect in Canada any serious push against the tar sands by politicians would result in the same kind of backlash – so believe me when I say we are in the same boat as our US cousins as much as we want to pretend otherwise.

As much as I might despair this state of affairs, in times like this I tend to remind myself “if the people lead, the leaders will follow” – and I really have always believed that as much as possible we have to try to live our beliefs out in positive and healthy ways that will attract interest and inspire others to do the same. If we believe that eating local is important, then we not only need to shop at Farmer’s markets, but turn our yards and boulevards into daily reminders of how much food can be produced thirty feet from the doorstep. We need to relearn the skills of food preserving and share our labours with those in need in our community so that the concepts of local and equitable are intertwined to create healthy communities.

I use food as an example, in part because this is a gardening blog, but also because I’m lucky enough to live in Vancouver where the local food community is busy demonstrating the point of my quote above. Without even declaring itself a movement until recently, local farmers, food activist organizations, chefs, radical gardeners, writers and even the occasional municipal politician have been leading through events like markets, community gatherings, food security workshops, allotment gardens, demonstration farms and all manner of celebrations. It’s not just talk, you see, it’s action towards a more vibrant and healthy (food secure) world. And it’s catching on quietly as Metro Vancouver (and other municipalities) submit to food security planning processes designed to encourage local, healthy, equitably distributed food.

In some way, this is a response to climate changes over the past several years which have scared at least the smart politicians into paying attention to our food supply, but I think even more, this is a response to a movement formed by daily action and conversation with neighbours. Quietly. Simply. With shovels digging up the corners of city parks and the growth of the one Saturday Farmer’s Market into a market almost every day of the week across the city. Of demonstration compost gardens, and free worm-bin workshops in the neighbourhood.

I’m not going to pretend that this is it, the end-all-be-all of where we need to go – I’ve got critiques of the draft Metro Food Policy Strategy as I’m sure many people do – but it’s important to recognize that the vision we express as we put our hands in the earth always has the potential to go somewhere, to be heard, to make change. So quiet sometimes, our digging, but potentially powerful too. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ll get there a lot faster if we just start doing it.

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