Da Legal Stuff...

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NL - Master's of An Empty Stomach

Last week columnist Russell Wangersky ran an article in the Western Star that pointed to Newfoundland and Labrador’s dire need to ensure the security of its food supply.

This is a topic that has been spoken on by people like Merv Wiseman, and others in the province who are very close to the issue, and although it may seem like an odd topic for Web Talk really it isn’t. The site is dedicated to a bright future for our province so stay with me for a minute or two and you might just learn a thing or two about just how fragile our existence here really is.

The threat to our food supply is not a matter of some perceived terrorist attack, civil war, trade embargo or other political emergency. The threat is much simpler than that.

According to those in the know, we are at the mercy of fuel prices when it comes to the cost of our daily bread and, the scariest part is, if our only connections to the outside world (ferry services, air freight and container shipping) were to be cut off by something as simple as a week or so of very bad weather, the island and remote portions of Labrador would quite simply run out of food. No ifs, ands or buts.

It may sound a bit alarmist to talk about people in Newfoundland and Labrador starving to death but when you consider that we have a matter of days before the shelves are bare, it’s not out of the question.

As things stand today, our food supply (in supermarkets, warehouses, etc.) would by all estimates last a matter of days, not weeks or months. Now that’s a scary thought.

Mr. Wangersky’s article rightly notes that for centuries there was enough food produced here, both livestock and vegetables, to supply the entire population year round. Those days are long gone and nearly all of our food supply is imported from other places in North America or around the world. It’s not that the food can’t be produced here. It was done before and it can be done again, perhaps even more efficiently than in the past. The problem is a lack of will.

With the security of our food supply in such a precarious position and with the province needing a rural boost to the economy it begs the question of why our provincial leadership is not investing in, and promoting the purchase of, locally produced products. It also speaks volumes about us as consumers.

This is something we should all be supporting, from the man and woman in the street to the Premier himself.

Mr. Wangersky points out that, “…for years, with the help of government-funded cold storage centres, the province had been virtually self-sufficient in root crops and cabbage. Potatoes, carrots, beets and turnips… had been grown successfully in the province for generations. But lacking the sexiness of hydroponics and English cucumbers (read Sprung Greenhouse), funding for the cold storage centres, and for the root crop industry in general, were the victims of the double jeopardy of government cost-cutting and product-dumping from other provinces.”

The “product dumping” comment is in reference to supermarkets that tend to stock old, stale, second rate produce on their shelves for us to buy by the bushel. The reason is simple. It’s cost effective. The excess food is not wanted in most regions but here, with no support for local producers, it can be sold at a slightly lower price than fresh, crisp locally produced product, which rarely makes it to the supermarket shelves.

As a result local producers are struggling to survive, with the odds stacked against them, and very few of us ever stop to consider the impact of our willingness to buy a cheaper, second rate product. Most of us don’t even remember what a fresh turnip really tastes like but I can tell you it tastes nothing like the one you’ll find if you go shopping tomorrow.

Another impact of our actions is a higher than needed unemployment rate in rural areas and, as previously mentioned, our food supply is one of the least secure of any developed part of the world.

Yes, buying locally produced products may cost a few pennies more (literally pennies), but look at what those few pennies buy.

Fresh and tasty produce;

A secure food supply;

More employment in rural areas; and

Over time, if local producers are able to grow and expand, their costs will come more in line with imported goods as a result of efficiencies of scale and savings in shipping costs.

Thanks to the cost of fuel, the price of shipping second rate goods into the province is coming ever closer to that of fresh local goods and this trend is likely to continue. Yet that won’t matter in the least, except to your wallet, if the supply chain and infrastructure is not in place and capable of meeting the challenge ahead.

The time is now for all of us to promote, purchase and protect our local food supply. Each of us needs to make sure we tell our grocery chain managers that we prefer fresh local produce, we then need to buy it rather than buying stale imported stock and also we need to convince our government that investing in local producers is paramount to ensuring the stability and cost of our food supply.

We’ll never grow bananas here, but fresh locally produced meat, dairy and vegetables are good for the economy, good for workers and best of all good for our health and our future.

To paraphrase Mr. Wangersky, it’s hard to be the master of your own house when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. It's one hell of a scary thought and what a waste of resources to not support local farmers.

I eat local and fresh whenever I can but, like you said, it's not usually available in the local supermarkets. We can thank ourselves for that because we are willing to buy the crap they have.

There's nothing like locally grown veggies and don't get me started on a good feed of cod or seal.

stephen said...

It stunned me to learn that St. John's used to be surrounded by over 300 farms. All of that land was developed into parking lots and manicured suburbs - what a waste that the city wasn't grown in a denser more efficient manner in order to preserve manner of the farms that were there. This province produces only 10% of its vegetable needs and 2% of its meat. Having said that I think things have turned around somewhat - people are now seriously thinking and talking about local agriculture and its possibilities.

Patriot said...

To the person who contacted me through the comments section because they did not have my email addres:

I have honored your request to keep in confidence what you had to say. You cover a lot of issues in your comments and they are difficult to address in short order. I don't have your email address either but if you send it to me at higginsmyles@yahoo.ca I'll be happy to touch base with you directly and discuss your concerns.


Patriot said...

Hi Stephen,

There are indeed more people talking about the situation but unfortunately action is needed as well. I, for one, always try to buy local products at farmer's markets, roadside and so on but I'm as guilty as most in not doing more. When the next opportunity arises I'll be sure to tell the Sobey's Manager where I shop that I'd prefer local produce, meat, etc. I'll continue to do that everytime I go shoppping.

I also plan to make my concerns known to the provincial government.

We can all take action. One person can't do much but if hundreds or thousands stand up a lot can be acomplished.

Starrigan said...

Great article Myles. Maybe we should take a look at building our own root cellars. Low tech, cheap. Then in the fall we can stock up on local veggies for the winter. Too simple.

babe in boyland said...

then stop talking about it and just do it. build a root cellar. plant and tend your own kitchen garden. stop shopping at the big boxes. just do it.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about anyone else, but I do grow as much as I can for the amount of property I have. It tastes great like the article says and it's worth the work.

I also buy local for everthing else I need.