We must protect our disappearing farmland

Think we don’t need to worry about British Columbia’s reliance on imported food to feed ourselves?

A new report commissioned by Vancity should make you think again.

“Wake up Call: California Drought B.C.’s Food Security” details the severe consequences of our reliance on imported produce from the U.S., specifically from California, where three years of drought are about to hit us in the wallets at the grocery store.

Most of us have just finished enjoying Thanksgiving. Our holiday meal likely consisted of some of the very fruits and vegetables that have been affected by the lack of rainfall to the south.

The numbers are alarming. In 2010, 67 per cent of B.C. vegetable imports came from the U.S. Over half of those imports came from California, including 95 per cent of all broccoli. Vancity’s report tells us that between 1996 and 2011 the area devoted to broccoli production in B.C. has declined by 52 per cent, and that we could be paying $7 a crown in five years.

And that’s just one crop. In total, area in the province producing vegetables has decreased by 20.4 per cent between 1991 and 2011.

Love those local strawberries?

The farmland devoted to strawberry production has decreased over 60 per cent during that same 20-year period.

Why are we so concerned? The produce we’re not growing doesn’t just appear in the grocery store by magic.It comes from somewhere. If that place suddenly has trouble growing it, we pay.

In B.C. a price increase of 9.6 per cent for fruit and 5.7 per cent for vegetables has been documented between July of 2013 and July 2014. That’s in just one year.

“If these trends continue for the next five years, it would not be surprising to see price increases of 25-50 per cent for many fruits and vegetables, adding an extra $30-$60 to the average B.C. household’s grocery budget each month,” Vancity’s report reads.

There are two inescapable conclusions. We have to grow more of our own food and in order to even begin to do that we need to do a better job of protecting the lands in the agricultural land reserve.

There is an upside to producing more of our own food, besides food security. Buying local food can benefit our farmers and our communities as a whole.

Vancity’s report tells us that if an average B.C. household was to spend 50 per cent of its grocery budget on local food, it would put over $6,000 per family into the local economy.

But there’s a hitch to getting there. The Liberal government could not have picked a worse time to fiddle with the Agricultural Land Reserve. Their machinations, clearly politically motivated, make lands in the ALR vulnerable to conversion to non-farm uses.

In the current climate, this is unacceptable. Our farmland needs our protection more than ever before.

We cannot afford to lose it.