Food insecurity is a common phrase that is bandied about in many reports.
In Campbell River, it should be top of the mind when considering the source of our daily food supplies. Our beautiful town is the most insecure community on Vancouver Island, when it comes to a reliable source of food. Almost 40,000 people wake up here each morning expecting three meals a day.
The reality is that we are almost totally dependent on those semi-trailers arriving here nightly to keep our grocery store shelves laden with food. The stats show that the Strathcona Regional District, of which we are the centre, produces less than one per cent of what we consume. The remaining 99 per cent is produced elsewhere and shipped in. Campbell River experienced the truth of that statement more than a decade ago when a tremendous snowstorm blocked off the Inland Island Highway as well as Highway 19A for three days. Within that time frame, the grocery store shelves were stripped of both fresh and process food as well as the other basic necessities.
This was a shocking reality but it galvanized a like-minded group of citizens to appeal to the city for the formation of an agricultural plan. From that point, an Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC) was formed. It included local farmers, private landowners, a council liaison, timberland owners, city staff and a provincial government agrologist. A grant application to the province for $70,000 was approved and enabled the committee to hire a professional agrologist with a particular interest in forest land development.
What evolved from the detailed report was confirmation that within our borders we have 5,000 ha of property zoned as Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) of which 1,000 ha is arable soil, in some cases classified as prime. Yes, much of it is owned privately and it is generally covered with trees. Leases on ALR land can be negotiated through the Ministry of Agriculture. Check the Young Farmers in B.C. site for opportunities. Much of the open land on south Vancouver Island was logged off long ago in order to raise livestock and food such as the Comox and Cowichan valleys.
This brilliantly-prepared report on agricultural opportunities in Campbell River won the much-coveted Civic Engagement Award at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in 2011. What happened next? the plan was put aside by a newly-elected council which was more interested in high tech opportunities. It is now gathering dust on the back shelves at City Hall. As I chaired the AAC, I am deeply concerned that this report, which involved the participation of 1,500 community-minded individuals, has been so shockingly neglected. There’s an election coming up. The Agriculture Plan should be on every candidate’s agenda.
I am not running for election but please contact me if you would like to read the AAC plan. I am determined that this extraordinarily-detailed and exciting report must be brought before the public. There are great opportunities for our emerging young farmers.