I made a statement a couple of days ago regarding the amount of food that is grown in the Kootenays. I said, “it is estimated that 95% of the food consumed in the Kootenays is from outside this region“. One of the people I requested to review the document pointed out that this was a figure that they hadn’t heard before, and that a figure of 50% is commonly quoted. Just looking at the supermarket shelves around here, this seems impossible, so I did a bit of digging.

The 50% figure represents BC’s total food situation, not the Kootenays, here’s where my thoughts come from: (read more after the jump….)

B.C. farmers produce only 48 per cent of the meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables that we consume, according to a report prepared by the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture. The report, titled B.C.’s Food Self-Reliance, says that the area of farmland with access to irrigation in B.C. would have to increase by nearly 50 per cent by 2025 to provide a healthy diet for all British Columbians.

Maintaining our current level of food self-reliance in 2025 would require a 30-per-cent increase in agricultural production, the report say

Source: Oil, climate change threaten food supply: B.C. report

Agriculture production in B.C. is regionalized. For example, grains and oilseeds are produced primarily in the north, beef ranching occurs mainly in the Interior, the majority of tree fruits are produced in the Okanagan, dairy is concentrated in the Fraser Valley and north Okanagan, and the major production area for small fruits and vegetables is in the Fraser Valley. These regional differences are primarily driven by climate and soil type.

Regional production differences need to be considered when evaluating farmland needed to meet the food needs in B.C. For example for B.C. to expand small fruit and vegetable production it will need access to more farmland with irrigation in the Fraser Valley or Vancouver Island. If B.C. needs to expand tree fruit production it will need access to more farmland (with access to irrigation) in the Okanagan.

Source: Smart Growth BC – Self Reliance

The average North American meal travels 2,400 km to get from field to plate and contains ingredients from 5 countries in addition to our own.

Source: get local

The 2006 Community Agriculture Profile for Kootenay from StatsCanada shows clearly that the Kooentays has 6.3% of the total number of farms in BC, and represented 2.6% of the gross farm receipts (in dollars). As such, assuming that BC produced 50% of the food it consumed, the Kootenays produced 1% of all the food sold in the province. To counter this, the Kootenays is 3.45% of the population inn the Province and we know that major supermarket chains source food from all over Canada and Creston fruit and vegetables are available in all Western provinces. Any Creston fruit available at Safeway or Extra Foods may actually have been first sent to a distribution centre outside of the Kootenays before coming back here. On top of this, no livestock, (cattle or poultry) are commercially raised and slaughtered within the Kootenays due to recent meat regulations. Grain used to be commonplace in Creston, only now is it starting back up as a full scale commercial enterprise. Dairy is another issue…

The story of the Kootenay dairies is also a little bit sad.
One major dairy – the organic and humane Jerseyland in the town of
Grand Forks – exists, but we heard that there was once a dozen dairies
in the single valley that runs between the Rocky Mountains and the
Columbia Range alone.

Source: 100 Mile Diet: Local Eating for Global Change » Blog Archive » Quick Kootenay Tour Recap

My assessment of all this data supports what I see on the shelves of most supermarkets – a couple of locally grown or produced food products out of thousands – that’s where the 95% comes from – out of a hundred things I may buy, only a few are available commercially from local sources. Cities like Castlegar, Trail and Rossland have so little commercial agriculture surrounding them, quite a contrast from years gone by. The potential is there to rebuild a sustainable agricultural base, but we have a long way to go.

So if you think that 95% is too high a figure, I’d be happy to hear other views – it’s an estimate, but as far as I can tell, it’s a lot closer to 95% than 50%.

Thanks for reading, I’d love to hear your perspectives on this issue.

Published by 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.

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