Can local governments use their buying power to stimulate local food production? The municipality of Saanich will be giving preference to local producers when contracting out for catering and municipal services and events. They are going even further and giving first preference to vendors with local products at festivals and are hoping to create a long-term marketplace for local producers. This is a great start to ensuring that the Saanich area will have a viable food economy no matter what happens in the global market.
The city of Vancouver has also taken large steps to becoming less dependent on foreign food with a series of initiatives, the latest one being “Lawns to Loafs,” a program that encourages people to replace their lawns with a plot of wheat. The city of Vancouver has created a grant process for those who are interested in taking on the urban agricultural projects, a move that has been very contentious as it is using tax money to allow people to try their hand at urban farming.
The Saanich project one could argue is a little more responsible because, rather than giving out tax money, it is creating a new market for farmers to sell into. It is responsible government for municipalities to encourage food security, but the citizens should not fully expect the tax payers to foot the bill for people to play backyard farmer. It would make more sense for the municipality to use its buying power to secure seed stock and then sell it to the people who wish to partake in the urban agricultural experiment.
If local food production is to be seen as a serious step in the right direction, not only do producers need the support from local government, they need the support of the business community and its voice the Chamber of Commerce. The Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce has stepped up and said that the agriculture is a vital component to the economy. They took this message to the B.C. Chamber annual general meeting in Prince George where their agricultural policy was accepted unanimously.
Government has a role in supporting agriculture, and a responsibility to allow farmers and ranchers to do what they do, produce food. Government bureaucrats have a way of getting in the way of agriculture. With cities like Saanich and Vancouver moving towards embracing local agriculture, we might see a change in this trend. British Columbia is blessed with some of the most fertile land in the world yet we import so much of our food. If governments alone had a buying policy that was local first, we could see a larger local food production system.
Schools, hospitals, municipalities, regional districts and prisons make up some of the largest public sector markets. If they all had a buy local policy, we would see a secure local agricultural system that would have a market large enough to keep producers afloat during the ups and downs of the global market. Augmented with farmers’ markets, farm gate sales and other market options, farming and ranching could once again become viable and we could see the next generation stay on the farm or ranch rather than head to the cities or elsewhere for a future.