Cherry blossoms

Ornamental cherry blossoms, a sure sign of springtime

Michael Ableman is a farmer and food activist based on Salt Spring Island, so he’s like a neighbour to us folks here on the Sunshine Coast. His farm is called Foxglove Farm, and Ableman is creating an educational centre there. From the website:

The Center for Art, Ecology & Agriculture was established to demonstrate and interpret the vital connections between farming, land stewardship, food, the arts, and community well being; to model the economic possibilities for small and medium scale sustainable agricultural and forestry projects, and to nurture the human spirit through public programs, classes, and events.

For a really wonderful introduction to Michael Ableman’s thoughts on food, agriculture, urban farming, and the need to inspire many more people to take up food production, tune in to this recent issue of Deconstructing Dinner, the weekly radio show out of the Kootenays. I found it very inspiring. I particularly liked Ableman’s policy recommendations (starting at the 23 min. 50 sec. mark):

  • Every urban area should have an urban agricultural centre, offering practical assistance in urban food production and support for making these activities economically viable;
    • These centres should support urban agriculture on all scales, from containers to rooftops to acreages, with a particular focus on fundamental sources of protein and carbohydrates (i.e., grains, beans, eggs, dairy);
  • Urban areas should have agricultural extension agents on their staffs offering workshops, classes, and on-site technical support and help in agricultural marketing;
  • Organic waste should be returned to farms via large-scale composting operations;
  • All permits for new housing developments should require that space be set aside for food production;
  • All new office, retail, and warehouse projects must contain a rooftop farming component, with greenhouses that use the building’s spent heat;
  • All municipalities should immediately phase out lawns (this suggestion got a big round of applause from Ableman’s audience);
  • All existing schools, churches, and sports facilities should provide cooperative neighbourhood canning, freezing, and dehydration services to the community;
  • All real estate transactions should include a 1% farmland preservation tax and the lands preserved should be put under covenants which protect their status as agricultural land;
  • Municipalities should offer property tax credits for landowners who turn their property over to long-term food-growing initiatives.

These all strike me as pretty sensible proposals. But we’re not yet at the point where these ideas will get much political traction. Nonetheless, we need to start engaging with local politics as much as we can to look for opportunities to promote the idea of greater self-reliance and resilience in the region. Every town, city, and region should be thinking about how to support its population as times become tougher.

So does anyone want to start a working group to develop a local food policy charter?