Port McNeill in Focus is a bi-weekly opinion piece, written by Port McNeill locals Derek Koel and Matt Martin, that focuses primarily on various issues going on in and around the town. Have some thoughts about Port McNeill in Focus? Email editor@northislandgazette.com and we will publish them online and in print.

Port McNeill in Focus: Food insecurity in Port McNeill a growing concern

“Lack of local food production also means we have little control over our own fate”

The good news is that at a community level, people in Port McNeill have access to sufficient safe and nutritious food.

The bad news is that is only as a result of vast quantities of food being transported to town from afar. While we don’t know for sure what percentage of food consumed in town has actually been grown or foraged locally, in conversation with a number of people in the local food scene, the best guess is it’s less than 1 per cent.

(Provincially we are in much better shape, but still vulnerable – in a Ministry of Agriculture report it was estimated that BC Farmers produce less than half of the volume of food consumed in the province. Another report by the Conference Board of Canada estimated that only 16 per cent of food produced in BC was consumed in BC.)

It’s alarming that perhaps upwards of 99 per cent of food consumed in Port McNeill comes from farther afield, because it leaves us vulnerable during emergencies, international trade disputes with crazies, and fluctuations in harvest/food prices due to climate pollution. It also means that just like the brussel sprout, we are leaving this sector off the economic diversification plate, even though it’s good for us.

Lack of local food production also means we have little control over our own fate should all that nutrient rich manure ever hit the fan. Where would the first truckloads of food be sent to in an emergency? To the huddled masses in Vancouver and Victoria, or us up here who are hungry in Port McNeill?

How long would we last on our own? Even if people knew what to do to survive off the land it would still be difficult.

As local Forester/Biologist Megan Hanacek pointed out to me, the real challenge would be “getting enough calories and protein. There are enough forage materials in the region, but the highest calories (e.g., berries) are only available three-four months of the year.”

The local First Nations knew exactly what they needed to do to survive in our region for thousands of years, but unfortunately, most of the rest of us in Port McNeill don’t have that knowledge, nor do we have Hanacek’s knowledge, and we wouldn’t have any idea of how to survive off the land.

There is definitely an appetite to change this situation. People intuitively know that local food production is important for a variety of reasons. According to a report by the Real Estate Foundation and Vancouver Foundation, 92 per cent of people in BC believe it is very important that BC produces enough food so that we don’t have to rely upon imports so much. People increasingly also want to know where their food comes from, and when possible, have a relationship with the producer. Anecdotally, two of our local small scale food producers – Katie Green and Angela Menzies of Creekside Produce – report that there is “huge demand” for the locally grown food they sell at the Farmer’s Market.

So, what can be done to increase local food production in the Port McNeill area? I chatted with Graham MacDonald, who is a current town councillor, an avid forager, has been involved with the Non Timber Forestry Products and food security scene for over a decade, and has also been an active participant of the local Farmer’s market. He’d like to see the town move forward with elements of the town’s economic development plan that speak to sustainable food systems, and is an advocate for building greenhouses in town.

Leslie Dyck, the coordinator of the Mount Waddington Community Food Initiative, suggests a number of practical ways individuals and communities could increase food security.

Amongst other things, she thought “people can increase their Food Literacy by participating in community gardens and community kitchens”, “attend one (or all) of the many food skill workshops that are offered throughout the year”, joining the Mount Waddington Food Initiative email list serve (https://bcfsn.org/our-listservs/), and by “checking out www.foodatlas.ca for links to regional and island wide food security programs and services.”

She suggested local governments can help in the way they develop business bylaws and community plans. She also thought that “it would be an interesting project to actually collect statistics” on how much food consumed in Port McNeill is produced/foraged here.

Green suggests the town allow people to keep chickens as “[they] are a great way of getting a good food source, but are also valuable garden companions!”

Menzies loves that the mentality of “we can’t grow gardens up here” is changing. She’d like to see local governments help “provide transportation free for low income people to and from the farmer’s market… or even doing a similar coupon program to the BC Farmers Market Coupon program for all low income people.”

In addition to the resources Leslie provided, Angela Smith, the coordinator of the Mount Waddington Health Network, wanted people to know that a goal of the health network is to improve food security in the region. The upcoming fall health forum (Wednesday, Nov. 14 from 5-8 p.m. at the Seven Hills Golf and Country Club) “will focus on the issue of food security with presentations on successful North Island agriculture businesses, talks on how to start and fund a small agricultural operation, a presentation about the local Farmer’s Market movement, as well as a regional community dinner with a focus on local available foods.”

For more information or tickets to the Food Forum visit www.mwhn.ca.

If it’s a pot-luck dinner we know Sointula will be showing up with wasabi. What will Port McNeill bring to the table?

Matt Martin is the president of the Port McNeill Kids in Motion non-profit and is interested in social issues such as child care, housing, transportation, education, food security, and local politics.

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