Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

The need for more food

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PHOTOGRAPH BY LUCA LOCATELLI

I am going to venture out of my normal sphere and probably bring down a ton of criticism on my head. But even so I am going to recommend an article from National; Geographic that looks at how much more productive the Dutch have made their agriculture. And to its credit the focus of the article is on sustainability.

One of the reasons that I am concerned enough to court this criticism is that in this region we do not seem to have done enough to protect the Agricultural Land Reserve – especially from the depredations of the Port (which has been covered extensively here). But we also seem to suffer from an urban purblindness. Agriculture is a business that grows food. It is not necessarily one that preserves our preferred picture of the countryside, which seems to be driven by a romantic association with the picturesque countryside of our preferred artists – Gainsborough comes to mind but that’s because I’m English. Even in an era which has taken to mechanisation of many tasks  – just to make up for the lack of willingness of local people to engage in backbreaking repetitive tasks, and the unwillingness to allow for enough people who would do that work across our borders. We would still like our food sources to be local – but not based on greenhouses.

Thomas_Gainsborough_009

One of the earliest lessons I learned as Chair of the then BC Energy Aware Committee (now the Community Energy Association) was that people in Delta – residents and the people they elected – HATE greenhouses. They somehow retain the illusion that the food producing business is going to be green fields and peasants sleeping under hay stacks.

300px-Noon,_rest_from_work_-_Van_Gogh

In fact one careful bit of scheduling meant that I presented an award to Delta council for allowing a greenhouse to utilise collected methane from the Vancouver landfill to provide both energy and CO2 for its operations on the same evening that they were considering its expansion.

The people who now live in Delta do so because it is cheaper than Vancouver and there is a freeway that connect them to employment centres there and in Burnaby, New West and Annacis Island. Transit has never been good enough in Delta, even in the denser developed across the boundary to Surrey. And the distances between its centres make for some long trips. But they also like the landscape benefits of the Green Zone – and would like not have a greenhouse with its lights shining all night on their doorsteps. The Dutch appear to be a bit more realistic – but I am pretty sure they have people breathing down the necks of the chicken and milk producers illustrated in the story.

There is also an interesting take on the European attitude to GMOs.

BC is a huge province, but very little of it is capable of producing food. The bits that are good for food production have been vanishing under development. Only five per cent of B.C. is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). It was supposed to stop that development but it has been under constant attack – mostly from the real estate / development people who argue that it increases house prices. But also from government and its arms length agencies who have been encroaching on it for dams (Site C being the worst but not the only offender) highway expansions, port expansion, industrial development and in Delta a huge mall and housing development as part of the deal with the Tsawwassen First Nation. The places we get food from now – mostly California – are going to be unable to provide what we need as they have already depleted their water table. The aquifers are not getting refreshed and the rivers are drying up, and the climate is getting hotter. That means we need to be pursuing a much more aggressive food policy which includes protecting the little productive land we have left and making it much more productive in the process – even if that does cut down its landscape value.

POSTSCRIPT: I just did a quick search on the tags ALR and “agricultural land reserve” because – as usual – once I have written something I think I must have done the same thing before. Yup. I’m not boring you, am I?

Written by Stephen Rees

August 31, 2017 at 4:30 pm

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