Eating our way out of sprawl

The Fertile Ground team
This is Andrew and Angie, just two of my farmers; and it’s good to know your farmers.
Perhaps the most powerful focus for the local consumption movement is what we really do consume: our food. Many of us are familiar with various arguments in favour of local food. It can taste better and be more nutritious. There are three other primary benefits that I’d like to highlight today. My vision is that we can develop strong relationships between farmers and eaters and create a Waterloo Region where four townships feed three cities. Tasty, tasty policy.

Local food is a sustainable transportation choice, just as much as carpooling to work, or cycling to a friend’s place on a weekend afternoon. Did you know that our very own Regional staff at Public Health have done important research into food miles? Kudos to Marc Xuereb, also a founding member of Grand River CarShare! Food represents an enormous portion of the world’s “stuff” that we burn through every day. However, much of this resource use is unnecessary when we eat local organic foods.
When we grow certain crops for bulk markets far away, on land that is less than ideally suited, it requires chemical support. Monocultures are also a pest’s dream (they have an endless supply of their favourite victim plant, with no pesky interruptions). There’s also the packaging, the extra water for irrigation, and so on. All of this must be shipped and pumped. Then, the product itself is shipped through the whole value chain, processed, packed, distributed, retailed… and then it finally comes home to your table. The 100 Mile Diet was Waterloo Region’s “One Book, One Community” selection in 2008, so I’ll presume that I can move on.

The second important factor is that this represents an enormous opportunity for more local green jobs. Waterloo Region Record reporter Terry Pender recently noted that some local farmers are already converting their land to locally destined produce, to support our growing urban farmers’ markets.
When we keep our diet local, we will also keep our food budget local. This means more stable and lasting income for our local farm families, giving them a brighter future and a deeper connection to each of their urban neighbours across the region. Perhaps the best way to provide real resilience for our farmers, and share what Angie calls the “inherent risk of farming,” is Community Shared Agriculture (CSA). There are many CSA operations locally (Fertile Ground, reroot, Transpire Organic, Garden Party, etc.), where you pay the farmer at the start of the season, and enjoy your share of the bounty.
Picking up local veggies by bike.
So, here’s the big deal that is discussed most rarely. I am a firm believer that Community Supported Agriculture can finally put a halt to our sprawling ways. By eating locally, we begin to truly value and respect the farms that surround us. That’s not a subdivision waiting to happen; that’s dinner. Working in partnership with programs to inspire developers to invest in existing urban spaces (light rail transit, brownfield incentives), and restrict them (strict countryside line for planning regulations), the ultimate backstop for sprawl prevention is thousands of local food eaters declaring their support for our farmers. This also addresses the need of farmers to retire securely, knowing that their land is more valuable growing three square meals, not three car garages.

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