Food Security, Food Sustainability, Local Food availability

I think I saw a goalpost

It wasn’t there for long, and it might have been at the wrong end of the field, but I think I saw a goalpost through the fog of my overwhelmed mind this weekend. My third residency at California College of the Arts netted me some phenomenal tools for analyzing what I know now, thinking what that might create, and then moving on to new and more provocative questions. Innovation is a messy, messy business and I’m up to my armpits in slime right now. Bert Aldridge from HeyDey in New Zealand lead us through a set of constructs for ideation that allowed us to see some possibilities.

Here are some photos of my work and process so far.

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Food Sustainability, Local Food availability

This is Water

I am dazzled by the folks that are making local produce more available in the Metro Vancouver region. But here are some interesting things I have learned this past week:

From a 19-year-old girl helping at a farm stand at Trout Lake Farmers Market this past Saturday, “Local produce would be more available and more affordable if people knew more about local food and why it’s important”. Hmmm. The education element — I hadn’t really factored that in to my possible toolkit, but it could be a huge driver for making it viable for farmers to grow locally.

From Allan Surette at Urban Edibles, a 2-acre shared farm on Steveston Highway in Richmond, “if we want more availability and lower costs for local produce, we need more local farms and farmers. More supply = lower costs.”

More education. More supply. Fabulous insights to kick off my face-to-face research. It reminds me that Susan Worthman, Director of the Leading by Design Fellows Program at California College of the Arts asked us to constantly be in the “beginner’s mind”.

It is important to see what is right in front of me. David Foster Wallace, in his commencement speech to Kenyon College in 2005, said,

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

“This is water.”

Food Security, Food Sustainability, Local Food availability

Is Local Just Too Gucci?

I’m starting to realize that, because people want locally grown produce at a groundswell-movement level, it has become a luxury of sorts. Why? Are some people perhaps taking advantage of the demand to push prices up? Not to be too “mother earth” about this, but we are all human beings on a planet that is beginning to groan with the weight of supporting all of us and our acquisitive natures.

Maybe there needs to be less “what’s in it for me” and more “what can I do to help out”? People for Good is giving it a shot. It seems a bit vague right now, but there are people willing to put their money where there hearts are.

When I lost my husband in March last year, my world fell apart. But Ray and I were never the kind of couple that let tragedy get in our way. I wasn’t going to be that kind of widow. I felt inspired by my loss. I felt motivated to make something better out of it. And that’s why I’m working on Dangling the Local Carrot. I will do many more things like this, but this is my “training-wheels project” to learn some of the skills to make change happen.

What concerns me at this point in my current learning curve is that what attracted me to working on this project is a cultural meme — and people have jumped on it like a fat kid on a Smartie to find a way to make it hugely profitable. Local is the new “gold standard” and, just because it’s local, it’s a lot more expensive.

But why does it cost that much more when it gets to an urban farmer’s market where people will trample each other for cute little pattypan squashes?

I had a fabulous talk with Linda Delli Santi, Executive Director of BC Greenhouse Growers Association this afternoon. She gave me a quick flyover of what the greenhouse business is all about. She’s had a lot of hands-on experience, having run her own greenhouse farm for years. It’s not simple. You need to consider that land and labour are both expensive in North America. Granted, the greenhouses make incredibly good use of the land they use, growing up instead of out, but it still costs a lot to get a tomato to pop out of them. I don’t argue with the fact that, for so many reasons, it costs more to grow something locally than it does to bring it from Mexico. But why does it cost that much more when it gets to an urban farmer’s market where people will trample each other for cute little pattypan squashes?

My goal is to find a way to make local produce more accessible and more affordable in Metro Vancouver.

I repeat that to myself every 1/2 hour to remind myself of what I’m doing. It’s so easy to get lost down a rabbit hole doing research like this. If I want to find a way to make it more accessible and more affordable, that means finding a way to green some of the urban food deserts and, if not to make local less expensive, then to make it no more expensive for people who can’t drive to it than for people who can.

I can’t change the law of supply and demand, but there has to be another (well many others, actually) way to crack this local hazelnut. It’s not Gucci. It’s just a nut.

Food Security, Food Sustainability, Local Food availability

Narrowing the Field

I’m learning so much, just through secondary research on this project. It’s really overwhelming. There are so many people doing so many good things here in the Greater Vancouver Region as well as throughout Canada and the U.S. It helps me better understand where my work might fit and help. I’m so impressed with organizations like Fresh Roots, the Truck Farm, Victory Gardens, Vancouver Fruit Tree Project, The Sharing Farm and Urban Edibles for doing things large and small to get people closer to the sources of their food. I get excited about backyard chickens and locally, organically raised meats, but I want to focus on my core goal: find a way to make locally grown produce more affordable and accessible in Metro Vancouver.

People like Fresh Roots and the Truck Farm are finding unique ways to grow food and connect the community. Others are making sure that more and more locally (and when possible, organically) grown produce is available. I have over eighty responses to my survey (and I hope you will take the time to do it as well) which tells me that people are very motivated to buy local produce, but it can be inconvenient to either find it or get to it, and it is often more expensive. If it can be made more available and more reasonably priced, people in Metro Vancouver will buy it.

Many have told me that they would choose organic over local, which is an ongoing struggle for a lot of people, including me. When I think about the needs of people on fixed or limited incomes, however, I feel that local has to come first as growing organically costs farmers more and by default must cost more at the point of purchase. At best it’s a nice-to-have for lower income families. The nutritional value and freshness of local produce should be available to all families, regardless of their income and that is my goal. I’m not specifically focused on lower-income, but my goal is to have this be inclusive.

I’m making lists of the people I want to interview now. I will also ask some of my subjects to allow me into their homes to talk about food and cooking as well as to tag along with them on a shopping trip to document their process to put nutritious food on the table. I will keep you posted as I work through this discovery process.

Local Food availability

Attempting to Live My Passion

It’s easier said than done to eat local all of the time and, in fact, I think it’s unreasonable. That said, I do think we can combine locally grown foods with other foods that give us variety.

Today’s lunch started with walking about 10 steps out of my back door and picking arugula, basil and Italian parsley to make a salad, combined with local hothouse tomatoes (more about these later). I drizzled it with Olivia’s black mission fig balsamic from Kelowna.

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I freely admit that this fresher-than-fresh salad was accompanied by leftover pizza from Panago…but I’m trying!

Food Security, Food Sustainability, Local Food availability

Eat Your Own!

Ilana Labow and Marc Schutzbank are such an inspiration! They know about the hidden connections between the things we consume and the people who provide them. They have personally been in places like the Congo — home of the longest running war in history and where violence and rape are the norm — where the metals that run our phones and other gadgets are mined. They shed light on the farms in North America where the workers are unfairly paid and work in poor conditions. Marc says,

“We can change the way the world functions by changing the way we eat.”

There is a ripple effect in every choice we make as consumers. When 74% of students in a survey didn’t know that tortilla chips contained corn, we need to better understand what is in our food and where it comes from. Locally grown food brings the chain of production down to a human scale and allows us to see exactly how what we consume is produced.

Ilana and Marc are Co-Directors of Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society. They have created urban school farms in Vancouver with the help of VanCity and many, many hands. They have created neighbourhood food assets in the places that most need them in the city. They have helped create living classrooms and awareness of where our food comes from.

I invite you to watch the first 30 minutes or so of this video where Ilana and Marc speak at Creative Mornings Vancouver. They are such inspiring leaders and I thank them for helping to inspire me. (And thanks to Mark Busse for his incredible energy in making events like this happen!)