Food sovereignty and food security sound like heavy, intensely political topics. While they can be highly politicized, it's important to understand that they are basic food policy principles that farmers and consumers have been actively involved in for decades.
Let's start with an example to help understand why food security is so important. I have been known to get in my car at 5pm, drive to the nearest grocery store, look at some on sale items, and load my car up for the weekend. I am looking at prices, and how much time it takes. I then drive my car home, forget about half of what I bought over the weekend, and end up throwing about 1/3 of it out mid-week.
In the past, most of how I purchased was based on the price tag, and not the label. Strawberries from California, avocados from Mexico, bananas from Costa Rica, yogurt made and processed somewhere in the US, coconut milk from Indonesia, quinoa from Peru, etc. All of these foods have travelled thousands of kilometres to be here, and can leave devastation in their wake, all to get to a trendy new market.
Coconut water is hailed as a “hangover cure to end all hangover cures” and had all kinds of trendy health benefits like replacing electrolytes after a workout and “super-hydrating” your body. The Kardashians drink it so it must be good, right? Quinoa is high in protein, contains iron and is another market “super-food” made trendy, and is already being phased out by sorghum. What we don't see is the deforestation, the ecological destruction, and the displacement of people because of these food trends.
Food trends are not the only thing displacing people. Massive migrations of people are occurring all of the world due to poverty, conflict, natural disasters, hungry, and climate change. In 2015, 244 million people migrated internationally, and 763 million people moved within national borders. In poverty stricken countries, investing in rural development can help create more food secure families, reduce the amount of moving needed by creating jobs and opportunities, and lay ground work for more long-term, sustainable communities. This idea of investing in rural communities also works in developed countries. We have many young people moving to cities, and we are slowly losing our farms all across the Maritimes to bigger businesses.
Food security, and access to healthy foods, are some of the some of the most pressing issues for Nova Scotians and many Atlantic Canadians. A lack of access to healthy, nutritious food is a public health, economic, and an environmental concern. Having more food secure people in rural areas (in developing countries, and here at home) can allow people to eat healthier easier, reduce our reliance on fossil fuel, processing, and packaging, can protect the diversity needed in crops, and can help reduce food waste. We need to start taking a serious look at our local, provincial and federal food networks, and choices that can lead to better, more sustainable food security.
“Investment in sustainable food systems and rural development means addressing some of the major global challenges – from feeding the world's growing population to protecting the global climate, and tackling some of the root causes of migration and displacement.”
Investing in smaller, rural businesses means buying local. Thankfully in the last 3-5 years, there are more options than ever in which to purchase local goods in our neighbourhoods. Nova Scotia has seen an incredible expansion in Farmers' Markets, local produce stands, local food being available at larger retailers, microbreweries, local wineries, and of course, community shared agriculture farms (CSA's).
From an environmental perspective CSA's and small farms have a lot of benefits because of the land stewardship often exhibited by the farmers. CSA farms have shown to reduce the reliance on chemicals and pesticides, balance nutrients in the soil, minimize erosion, and reduced carbon emissions. With reducing reliance on chemicals and needing to maintain sustainable soils, small farms are often increasing the biodiversity of their crops and saving or preserving rare species and cultivars that may no longer be available in larger markets. These are just a few of many benefits of the land stewardship that CSA and small farmers have to maintain their livelihoods.
In terms of economic benefits, the CSA's have benefits for the farmers, the customers, and the communities in which they function. Farmers rely on their members for feedback and therefore have an easier, direct line of communication for creating their fee structure to cover the cost of production. They can also eliminate or reduce costs such as storage, packaging and transportation. Due to the communication structure between farmers and members, there are often myths dispelled, crowd funding for projects or equipment and letting them know what to expect from their shares.
The customers often pay less for the quality and freshness through CSA's than from major markets. One study in the United States found in 2002 that CSA members were often receiving produce that was 20% less expensive than produce of the same quality from a local super market. There is also the benefit of being directly tapped into what is happening where your food is being produced. Customers are encouraged to be involved and to develop a relationship with the farmers, other team members, and other CSA members. This sort of “CSA community” helps inspire the farmer to deliver high quality goods, and to make sure that their customers are happy.
Communities with small, success farms, have been known to thrive. The farms serve as a conduit for a vibrant community by putting money back into the local stream, creating lines of communication through other local businesses, schools, establishments and residential areas, and establishing direct links from farm to table. Some CSA's offer educational workshops on how to shop seasonally, how to preserve your food, and some CSA's even educate on how to start your own compost to reduce your waste. Many of these actions help create small, sustainable loops in communities.
It is our jobs as consumers to use our money and our voices to make our opinions heard. According to a study done by sustainontario, if every household spent only $10 of their weekly grocery store budget on buying local, that could create 10, 000 new jobs. You can also communicate with farmers through CSA's to speak to local, provincial, and federal offices on how to create more sustainable rural communities throughout Canada to help promote more food sovereignty and food security. Working together and including many different members of the community to reach a common goal will help us move forward and create better policies, as well as addressing hunger issues in Canada now, and in the future as our global environment changes.
As many of you know, today is Fall Clean Up day in Port Williams, and we are doing out best! We have maximized our curbside pick up with 16 bags every 2 weeks and averaging 4-5 bags at all our other locations. I am happy to report that we have a maximum of 8 garbage bags at our office location, and we are only using about 4-6 bags of that 8 bag limit as garbage, the rest are sorted and recycled. The Jamaican worker's houses had the least amount of garbage out of all of us with less than half a bag of garbage for 2 FULL HOUSES! Which brings me to this:
I know that probably looks yucky to those of you who may not know what it is, but this makes me so excited! This is the inside of our very EMPTY dumpster. Our dumpster has been empty now for a full 10 days. This means that all of our major wastes, and wastes from all the houses associated with the farm are being sorted. Although there is still about 1/3 of waste being generated that is garbage and destined for the landfill, we are sorting the rest out. We have 2/3 of our waste being sorted into recycling streams! We are hoping that our dumpster will become obsolete and we will need to have a recycling dumpster take it's place for cardboard, and maybe one for plastics!
Here are the totals so far of weights of diverted or separated waste on-farm (employee stations/other):
Garbage: 50.5kg (111.3lbs)
Recycling: 55.0kg (121.3lbs)
Paper: 25.6kg (56.4lbs)
Refundables: 6.2kg (13.7lbs)
TOTAL WASTE: 137.3kg (302.7lbs)
TOTAL WASTE DIVERTED FROM LANDFILL: 80.7kg (191.4lbs)
Other Waste News!
Energy Savings with Efficieny NS
We were very excited last week to have Efficiency NS stop in and have a look around our major work sites at our Canard address. They did and in-depth look at our warehouse and packing shed in regards to energy usage. One of the main reasons we had them on-site was our interest in solar panels, however we got a lot more information that we bargained for in terms of energy saving projects!
One small example is some of our more outdated light-bulbs. This new low-energy LED bulb was an old fluorescent light bulb less than a week ago! Now that it's getting darker in the mornings, the lights were being turned on, and left on. Partially because you could see a little better with them on, and partially because once it got bright enough, you could no longer see the lights due to how old the bulbs were. We simply replaced the light fixture, and put in a new bulb thanks to our handy-man Korey. This light is also bright enough that people are turning it off when it no longer needs to be on! There are several older halogen lamps, and fluorescent light bulbs around the warehouse and sheds that we will be replacing as we go along. Energy NS is also in the process of making a report for us that details more things we can do to save energy, and programs we can partake in to help keep our costs low in changing things over to more energy efficient alternatives.
Confidential Paper Waste Trial
The office is a major source of paper waste, and most of it we can't put into our paper waste stream due to confidential information. We were shredding it, and we could have put it in the paper waste stream at that point, however we figured it could be used again for another purpose. After consulting with our farm safety consultant, we have added the shredded paper in our chicken coops as a bedding option for our chickens.
We are careful to keep glossy paper, staples, plastic, and other problematic items out of the shredder, and we make sure our coops are cleaned so the damp paper isn't affecting our chicken health. This is mixed in with out current bedding as an added bulking item. It's not too hard to wash off the eggs, and the ink isn't transferable. It's helping us keep our bedding costs down as well, as we use less of it with the paper being added. It's a great 2-for-1 cost and waste reduction item! It's working well so far!
Thank you for checking in with us, we will have more news on the next Curbside Pick-up Day!
We had such a successful curbside pick up day, and we're seeing a lot of diversion from the on-site dumpster. I've been keeping tabs, and weighing every bag that we put out curbside to see what kind of numbers we are diverting. The two pictures below are (left) the very first week we started this program and (right) today. There was 1 bag of garbage, and 2 bags of recycling put out in the first week. Today we put out 3 bags of garbage, and 12 bags of recyclables!
I have been keeping track of the weight of all the nags that go curbside for our pickup, and wanted to share with you some of the totals so far. We have sorted 161lbs (73.4kg) from our on-site dumpster. We have diverted almost 125lbs (124.8lbs or 56.5kg) of waste from the land-fill! Our blue bin was the most impressive collection point with 71lbs (33.8kg) worth of plastics and recyclables being diverted from the landfill.
After our collection night with Valley Waste Resource Management, our farm workers also had their first curbside collection! The farm workers have bins set up at their houses, and are making tremendous efforts to sort their waste, and use the curbside collection! One of the houses in particular had an incredible small bag of garbage (only about a small Sobey's bag worth), with everything else sorted and ready for curbside or composted!
Terracycle Program - Zero Waste Bins.
One of the main things we have found in our garbage bins that are the most common are blue nitrile gloves that we use for farm safety practices. Unfortunately, there is no way around using them in certain areas on the farm for food safety purposes, and they are a significant source of waste. We also have cigarette butts that are making it into our garbage. Thankfully our staff is very respectful of where there cigarette butts end up, however we wanted to avoid them being in the garbages to avoid a fire hazard. Neither gloves or cigarette butts are recyclable in regular waste streams, so I branched out and found the Terracycle boxes for the office.
The cigarette receptacle from Terracycle is a $0 program. We pay a 1 time fee for the receptacle, and then send all our butts and ashes in when the receptacle is full, free of charge. The cigarette butts then are processed and remade into things such as park benches, gardening supplies, reusable bags, etc. Terracycle also has a points program that we have enrolled in. For every shipment we make over 3lbs, we get $1 per pound to donate. We will be looking more into that as we figure out how much we are creating to return to Terracycle.
The second, and the one I'm most excited for, is the nitrile glove box. It surprised me that they were not recyclable! We go through so many of them, and it's impossible to replace them with a recyclable alternative due to our safety regulations. We are creating portable hand-washing stations (and I will update on those when we get them) for the field that are going to be replacing some other non-recyclable waste, however we needed something for the gloves! Enter the Zero-Waste Nitrile glove recycling box!
This program works similar to the cigarette collection receptacle, except that we will need to purchase more boxes. We are trying a small collection box first to see how long that lasts us, and then depending on how frequently we are filling it, may upgrade to a bigger box. Much like the cigarette receptacle, the box is sent back to Terracycle where the gloves are pelletized, and made into similar products as the waste from the cigarette collection receptacle.
We have all these things and a few more exciting things to come! I will update everyone when we get some more things in the works, and keep a tab of how much we have diverted from the landfill as time goes on!
Today, the sun beats down on my shoulders, covered in dust from a hard days work. Although the days are hot, September is slipping away into the cool night air. I am aware of the turning of seasons as the Sweet Dumpling squash and Paula Red apples beckon to be harvested.
Earlier, during the cold winter months of this year I traveled to Heredia, Costa Rica to study sustainable agriculture while learning more about Latin American culture. Once I returned home to Halifax, I was looking to gain experience at a farm a little closer to home. I connected with Patricia Bishop of TapRoot Farms and within a few days I moved into the farmhouse with large bay windows overlooking Wellington Dyke and the red sands belonging to the Bay of Fundy.
During my stay in the Annapolis Valley I wanted to learn about as many aspects to agriculture as I could.This included working within the Fibre Lab. I found it fascinating how flax fibres can be processed into linen and constructed into the very garments we clothe ourselves in. From harvesting, to hand breaking, hackling and eventually spinning the fibres, it was impressive to see the laborious work that it takes to transform raw materials into textiles. Fibre production was something new, that previously, I had never associated with agriculture.
As more hours were invested at the farm, I became acquainted with some of the employees. I soon came to learn that many would spend months away from home in order to support their families financially: some from Newfoundland and others as far as Jamaica. There were also those, who like myself, were spending their first season with TapRoot. However, many more have come year after year, seeing how the farm has grown and changed over recent years.
Recently, I have begun to see the challenges farms in the Annapolis Valley are confronting as they compete to sell their produce in our local supermarkets. The needs of grocery stores are unpredictable from one year to the next, sometimes causing large crops to go to waste. Without the demand for local in our stores, farmers are struggling to pay bills. Over the past couple of months, I have been fortunate enough to witness some of the challenges and triumphs the farmers behind our food are facing.
While deepening my understanding of the challenges of farming in Nova Scotia, I was introduced to Community Shared Agriculture(CSA). It seemed logical to be receiving produce directly from local farms, yet so often we as consumers choose imported items over those grown within our own backyards. CSA members all over the province are helping to create sustainable communities through eating foods that are in season from our local farmers. I have been learning more and more that this is the type of community I want to be a part of.
Each day at the farm brings a new adventure, whether that means being up before the sun breaks the horizon or bringing a crate of cherry tomatoes to the cooler with powdery green tomato tar reaching up, past my gloves. Last week, it was exciting to see the Bok Choy begin to germinate for our winter crop and to pack hearty eggplants(the largest I had ever seen) into our CSA boxes.
Over the past eight weeks I have learned through digging my hands into the soil, soaking my leather boots in the rain and place produce from the farm into the hands of our community. From farm workers, community members and literature, I have only just begun to scratch the surface of what it means to provide fresh, local food for our dining room tables. From my experience, I know it is from the callused and blistered hands working together that we will be able to build a sustainable community where local businesses are supported and thrive together.
As the seasons change once again, I am hopeful because we are able to sow seeds that will influence the future.