Local farmers more important than ever

British Columbia does not produce a lot of its own food.

A 2006 report by the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture estimated that the province produces just 48 per cent of the food residents consume.

The only area where we are more than 100 per cent self-reliant is in the production of fruit. And we still import fruits that cannot be grown here due to climate.

The area of production where we are the lowest is in grains.

Vancouver Island isn’t immune to these troubling statistics.

So what’s wrong with importing such a large proportion of the food we eat?

The places it comes from can be problematic.

Imports from countries such as Mexico or China or Central American nations may have been grown under environmental conditions we would not allow here in Canada.

But by far the largest portion of our imports comes from California. That is extremely problematic, as the state to our south is experiencing one of the worst droughts on record.

The lack of rainfall is a serious issue now heading into its fourth year. In January, the state declared a State of Emergency.

Unprecedented rules calling for a mandatory average water conservation rate of 25 per cent for all state residents has gone into effect.

But of all the surface water in the state, about 80 per cent goes to the agricultural sector, according to an article in the New York Times.

If severe drought continues, it can’t help but start to have a big impact on the industry.

And an impact on the industry can’t help but be felt here.

From strawberries to broccoli, we import it from California.

A report commissioned last year by Vancity called “Wake up Call: California Drought B.C.’s Food Security” detailed the severe consequences of our reliance on imported produce from the United States.

It predicted massive price hikes for said produce due to the declining growing conditions.

It also detailed the declining production in B.C. In total, area in the province producing vegetables has decreased by 20.4 per cent between 1991 and 2011.

Clearly that’s not the direction we need to be headed.

But we can turn it around. In talking to our local farmers it’s clear that here is a smart and innovative bunch dedicated to taking Cowichan Valley farming into the future.

Sustainability is a watchword. And gradually, more and more consumers are coming on board.

Should prices of imports rise as drastically as predicted, the numbers of people buying locally grown and produced goods will also rise. Let’s make sure our farmers are still here.