Salmon Arm farmer makes impassioned plea to protect B.C.’s food supply

Too much reliance on foods shipped from offshore while B.C. agricultural lands destroyed

“I see a kid walking down the street, I just want to give them a hug and say I’m sorry.”

John McLeod is referring to the destruction of agricultural land in B.C. and the subsequent lack of locally grown food available for the future.

Although reluctant to be featured in the newspaper, McLeod speaks passionately about the need to think more about future generations – what and how they’re going to source food.

“We’ve got to change our mentality. It’s not just about ‘me’ all the time… We can learn from our First Nations’ neighbours. We’ve let greed rule for too long. I hear people saying kids today are all entitled. I think it was our generation that was entitled. Hair straight back and do what we want.”

He stresses Canada must have the ability to feed its own people.

“If you have to rely on foreign corporations and other countries to feed you…. when they control your stomach, they’ve got your brain. It’s up to us to protect and maintain all viable land. And by viable, I mean all land. We have to get away from soil classifications; poor dirt is better than no dirt. You can’t grow vegetables out of concrete and asphalt.”

With only a small percentage of land in B.C. available as viable agricultural land, McLeod would like to see more hillsides and mountains used for residential, commercial and industrial.

This community grew out of agriculture and forestry, he reminds.

“We’ve kind of kicked it to the curb because of a boat coming from offshore with our food.”

He points to existing starvation on the planet.

“We kind of ignore it and think there’s always going to be food in the grocery store. I think that’s false bravado.”

McLeod’s family has been farming in Salmon Arm since 1911. He was born and raised on the property next door to where he and his spouse Lois now live. In 1979, when his uncle was ready to quit farming, he began farming Edgemont Farms, near the corner of Foothill and 30th Street SW.

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He’s a long-time member of the city’s agricultural advisory committee and the environmental advisory committee; in fact he was instrumental in the formation of the agricultural committee. He is also a member of the Shuswap Food Action Co-op.

Related: Committee considers agriculture

McLeod presented a report to Agriculture Minister Lana Popham and the Standing Committee on Agriculture regarding an idea he’s been touting for many years. He would like to see hospitals source local ingredients to help ensure healthier outcomes and support local economies. The report was well received and he is pleased the minister is moving forward with the initiative.

McLeod points to a recent report from the BC Real Estate Foundation on sustainable food systems in B.C. as well one from Kwantlen College on the future of the food system in the Southwest B.C. Bioregion. Both emphasize the need to look to the future regarding land use and food provision.

In a submission to the province on the Agricultural Land Reserve, the Union of BC Municipalities asked the agriculture ministry to “recognize that local governments are a key component of agricultural planning and protection in B.C. and that thorough consultation with local governments is an integral aspect of enabling a robust and effective ALC and ALR.”

McLeod believes food security and food sovereignty should be part of official community plans.

“Sixty communities in B.C. have a strategy to start moving agricultural land into their OCPs (official community plans). We’re a way behind the curve. It would be nice to see that change. We’re having civic elections in the fall. I think we should have this asked of the candidates.”

He finds that local and regional governments don’t have the desire to preserve agricultural land.

“What we have to do is get broad representation in the community to work on agricultural policy and the importance – importance isn’t a strong enough word – the necessity of looking out for future generations. We’re only looking for our own return on investment. We have to think of two and three generations down the road. Minimum. That’s the thing I want to try and hit home.

“We just have to keep our eye on the proper focus and not rely on the multinational industrial complex to keep feeding us.”

Then there’s climate change, which has huge implications for agriculture.

“There again, it’s a thing we’re oblivious to… There’s a whole host of birds we don’t have anymore. What happened there? Did they just decide to go somewhere else? We shouldn’t be oblivious to this. We’re the stewards for the next generations. The way I see things, I don’t think we’ve been very good at our jobs.”

Related: Workshop connects farms to land

On the positive side, McLeod points out there’s been a good turnout for the recent Shuswap Food Action Co-op’s series of food conversations towards a local food system, and more people with young families have been participating in the co-op. Canning is making a comeback.

On the global scale, however, he’s concerned about trade agreements.

“The NAFTA trade agreements control what governments can and can’t do. How did we allow that to happen? The NAFTA agreement we’re now negotiating, they want no labelling of ingredients on food. We get to go vote once every four years, after that the lobbyist has an open door to government and the constituent has been told to sit down and shut up.”

He quips, with his characteristic wit: “I quit drinking 10 years ago and it was too soon.”

But, despite any discouragement, McLeod is driven to keep working towards a sustainable food supply.

He remarks, this time deadly serious: “I see that little kid and I can’t let it go.”


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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