Local food production has been on my mind a lot lately, much in part to the proliferation of fruit stands that I see on old Dewdney Trunk Road on my way to and from work.
Eating local is never an easy proposition as it always begins with the most difficult of tasks … self-examination.
So let’s just start with me and my breakfast this morning; I had peanut butter and sliced bananas on multigrain toast with a side of organic raspberry yogurt and some black coffee.
It turns out that my peanut butter is from India, and the closest place to import coffee and bananas from is Central America.
I had some hope for the multigrain bread but apparently that is baked in Toronto and shipped halfway across the country, while the yogurt comes from even further afield, Quebec.
In other words, the closest food source for this meal was 3,200 kilometres away as the crow flies. Which begs the question, how much fuel, labour and packing materials are unnecessarily wasted in the process of preparing all of my weekly meals?
Some of you might argue that as long as we can afford these foods, what does it matter? It matters because our current system of mass food production and distribution relies heavily on three outdated assumptions;
1. Those current producing regions will be able to sustain production.
2. The cost of transporting goods will remain relatively low.
3. The people who pick and pack those edibles will remain content with substandard living conditions and wages.
All of these assumptions are already showing signs of cracking – with drought threatening the California fruit and vegetable industry, workers in developing countries demanding better compensation for their labours and the already rising fuel costs – which will accelerate as this resource becomes scarcer.
Then there are those naysayers who believe that we cannot produce enough food in the Fraser Valley to sustain the current population, even though it has been done before by First Nations and even as late as the 1920’s – when much of our fruit, vegetables and meat was raised right here.
The question isn’t whether it can be done, but do we have the foresight to begin preparing for a diet that will inevitably rely heavily on local production?
Thankfully, there is hope on the horizon and we find it in the form of dedicated local growers.
Prominent among these is Ken and Elke Knechtel of Red Barn Plants & Produce who along with their grown children run both the 224th Street location and their satellite farm in Cawston, where the warmer weather crops thrive.
They have transitioned from being one of the top perennial growers to selling edibles simply because that is where the market has led them, with edible sales increasing by about 10 per cent annually for the past three years.
Another pioneering couple is Sonja and Raymond Barker of the Silverhill Orchard in Mission who have decided to train most of their tree fruits (apples, cherries and peaches) under crop tunnels to prevent disease and the need for pesticides – the result of which is abundant, organic crops grown on easy-to-pick dwarf espalier trees.
So what can you do to make locally-grown food a reality in Maple Ridge?
Start by buying directly from local farmers and even consider growing a bit of your own if you have the space. The time to plant winter crops (kale, cabbage, arugula) is upon us now and it won’t be long before it’s time to sow next year’s garlic (September-October.)
Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author. He blogs at Soul of a Gardener.