Skip to main content

A Focus on Food

While Castlegar City Council makes an impassioned plea for residents to understand the tough times the City is facing, it seems that all the good work, energy and momentum that was generated during the Integrated Community Sustainability Planning (ICSP) sessions seems to have fallen to the wayside.

Council still has a focus on attracting new businesses to the City, with little idea of what a sustainable economy looks like. Do we want another car yard? More pubs? Costco? Walmart? It may not seem to be time to be picky as a municipality, but the truth is that positioning the City for long term resilience is far more important than doing whatever it takes to attract business – from the City’s recent press release (gag warning, excessively florid language ahead)…

The city’s diligent promotion and attraction of new business and commercial opportunities works to achieve a more diversified, versatile, and sustainable economy. At the same new economic growth will diminish the single-industry reliance that has ultimately crippled so many municipalities in this modern economy. Relentless and creative grant applications continue to forward city goals and projects without draining the city budget.

A few weeks ago, Castlegar council and some members of the community heard from a panel of CBT experts on the risks of climate change and opportunities to adapt to the potential changes we could face.  Of the various areas discussed, George Penfold’s discussion on food security was by far the most lively and inspirational, and probably the most serious for humanity as a whole, rather than just our community. Missing from this discussion was a recognition of the economic and fossil fuel spheres of influence – something that was addressed at a high level during the initial ICSP discussions. If we examine the vulnerabilities the community faces due to climate change through a lense that includes a less prosperous economy and less abundant fossil fuels, chances are that food would not just be the most engaging topic, it would become evident that it was by far the most important one to focus on.

Without cheap, abundant fossil fuels most of the food we consume would be impossible to grow or transport. Without a robust, prosperous economy, most of what we eat will become too expensive to produce  as supplies decrease or too expensive for the consumer to purchase as incomes decline relative to the cost of goods. The twin effects of abundant fossil fuels and a strong economic climate have made the cost of food in our society shrink to less than 10% of our average family income, in developing countries such as India, this figure is still closer to 50%.

As oil prices rose again this week, up 10% from a month ago, and a full 100% over this time last year we can expect to start seeing many of our food products increasing in cost as well. The food system that has developed under these “fertile” economic conditions in the western world is extremely complex and far removed from the end consumer. This complexity decreases resilience and removes the ability for the average person to have any meaningful control over their food production or how the food they eat is grown or raised. This complex system is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, forcing us all to consider what we can do to increase our individual and community resilience to even simple price fluctuations of fossil fuels, but more significantly a supply of a finite resource that one day will become less abundant, or constrained by greenhouse gas taxes or targets.

The issue of food is way bigger than just the impacts we may feel in Castlegar, but it is apparent that the development of genuine local solutions to foreboding issues such as food security and peak oil will build community and create a tighter more engaged citizenry that is more likely to stick together through tough times. We need to start considering where our food is grown, finding ways to grow more of it locally and removing barriers to building community resilience, which is not going to come from big box stores, the airport, car yards or a gaming centre.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.