The Future of Local Food
Would you think I was crazy if I suggested to you that I think we could change the world by changing Nova Scotia? I frequently bring this idea up in conversations I have about local food systems and I challenge people to think it through a bit. How many residents of the Calgary metropolitan area are there? Around 1.5 million. How many residents of Nova Scotia are there? Around 949,000. How quickly would we run out of food if the trucks stopped rolling? The most recent figure I have is three days. Doesn’t it seem absurd that despite the resources available to us that we are as dependant on outside food as we are? How is it that with our relatively small population and large landmass we can’t feed ourselves? Indeed there was a time when Nova Scotia produced the vast majority of the food it needed internally, but today we are completely dependant on the outside world for our diet. This is a result of the continued centralization of food production globally. For example, Nova Scotia consumes the equivalent of 100,000 cattle a year and yet we produce about 5,000. The latest Stats Canada figures show that we only have 3,300 steers in the province. The largest packing plant in Canada processes about 4,500 cattle a day. That’s nearly what we produce as a province in a year! Seems a bit depressing, doesn’t it?
This is where the naïve idealist in me steps in. We have an opportunity to change the world by changing this province. Take a walk with me down idealism lane and let me paint a picture for you. Imagine, if you will, a province rich with rural activity. Small-scale, family-run farms connected to regional food hubs that help coordinate distribution to feed into larger population centres. Larger farms producing such a volume of products that they can feed directly into large Nova Scotian institutions like hospitals and schools. Vineyards ripe with unique varieties of grapes supplying wineries making world-class wines. Malting barley being harvested and transported to local malting houses for use by Nova Scotia’s myriad of brewers. Nova Scotian ranchers selling their pastured cattle and sheep to local neighbourhood butcher shops. Machinery sharing cooperatives working together to help mitigate the cost of specialized equipment needed on farms. Vibrant fishing communities working with regional processors and distributors that not only help export but ensure that Nova Scotians have access to their own bounty. Imagine a web of neighbourhood farmers’ markets in larger centres like Halifax where seasonal and artisanal products can be purchased directly from the producer. Picture walking through the supermarket and seeing local products prominently on display. Try and imagine the impact this could have on our cuisine. Our chefs could have a deep and abiding relationship with Nova Scotian ingredients and producers. Our cuisine would begin to take on the identity of its place. Our terroir would begin to shine.
Seems a bit idealistic, doesn’t it? Well I have good news for you. Everything in that picture already exists. There are aspects of those ideas already in place and they’re happening across Nova Scotia as you read this. We have a long way to go to solve that three-day problem, but we are moving in the right direction. Let’s face it, it took us over 60 years to dismantle our local food system and it may take us just as many to repair it. There are going to be some big challenges along the way, but things are beginning to change. This is what I mean when I say that we can change the world by changing Nova Scotia. One day the world will look to us not as a struggling export-based agricultural economy trying to compete on a global scale but as a model regional agricultural system with a vibrant rural economy, a distinct cuisine and most importantly secure and sustainable access to food for Nova Scotians. We are already on our way to showing the world that it can be done!