Sunday, November 30, 2008

It takes a village to raise an adult

On Saturday I attended a forum about food security in Nanaimo. At the turn of the (previous) century, Vancouver Island produced 85% of its food locally. Now only 5% of the island's food needs are met locally. This is astonishing if you consider that we have a mild climate that allows us to grow winter greens and that the ocean also is a source of food.

The City of Nanaimo has quite a progressive attitude towards local food production. Municipal bylaws allow the growing of vegetables in front yards. They encourage real estate developers to plant edible landscapes. City parks and school playgrounds have some space set aside for community gardens.

Although there are some community gardeners doing stellar work, not all of the space that the City makes freely available is used. In addition to that, local farmers wish more Nanaimo residents would buy their groceries from farmers' markets.

One of the obstacles that became apparent during the discussions was the general population's loss of skills. In the past, say about 50 years ago, it was common for people to grow some of their own food, to store some types of fruits and vegetables in root cellars, to can other types of produce, and to cook recipes that employed seasonal plants.

But, after the Second World War, social and economic trends tempted people to rely more and more on convenience foods and on foods that had been imported from distant climatic zones.

I am a prime example of that. When I moved from Africa to Canada just over thirty years ago, I was able to keep right on buying oranges, bananas, avocados, etc.

But earlier this year the province of British Columbia introduced a tax on carbon-based fuels like gasoline, diesel, natural gas and home heating fuel. People are starting to re-think their habits and to ask themselves if they can do things differently. It turns out that efforts to reduce the consumption of carbon-based fuels overlap very nicely with the concept of increasing our level of food security.

At the food security forum there also were representatives of Vancouver Island Health Authority. They were talking about the staggering rise in the rate of diabetes in Canada, the health benefits of eating vegetables and the exercise that gardening provided.

The people who already were involved with community gardens reported what a lot of fun it was to work together. They said that all aspects of food production and consumption -- gardening, harvesting, canning, cooking and eating -- were so much more enjoyable when they carried them out in each others' company. This testified to a fact of which most of us are aware at some level, namely, that food helps us to come together and celebrate.

I then recognized that we at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community already were carrying out some of the suggestions at the food security forum and already had plans to carry out the remaining suggestions once we moved into our apartment complex.

Once we're living there, we intend to have organic vegetable gardens and an orchard.

But, in the mean time, those who know how to cook seasonal fruits and vegetables have been sharing their recipes with those who didn't know how to do so. At our potluck dinner last Friday night, we enjoyed a delicious meal that focused mainly on fall and winter vegetables.

After we'd cleared the table, we returned to it. About half of us strung popcorn so that we could have environmentally friendly Chrismtas decorations (that we would feed to the birds after Christmas). The other half of us wrote Christmas cards to the friends of our community.

As we did all this, we were sharing stories and telling jokes. I felt so warm and fuzzy. In looking back on it, I realize that some of my behaviours had changed for the better, and it hadn't taken anyone wagging their finger at me (or my feeling guilty) in order for me to switch.

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