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COVID-19 and the Future of Food

By Lil MacPherson, Lead Mentor for the Maritimes

· General

On September 29th, 2003, Hurricane Juan struck Nova Scotia with a force that didn’t just change the landscape in the province, it reshaped my life forever. As I sat in my dark living room in Dartmouth waiting for electricity to return, I asked myself some tough questions.

Would there be enough food in Nova Scotia if we were all cut off from the rest of the world for a few weeks, even a few days? The answer is no; we have about 3 days of food.

How much of our food is produced locally, and how many farms do we have in Nova Scotia? Not enough: nearly 90% of our food comes from far away. (This is a terrible model to face any food crisis, especially a pandemic.)

What kind of food are we producing and eating? Is it healthy for the environment and us? Obviously not. Industrial food production is killing our planet, and the industrial food chain is killing us.

How will more extreme weather events – like Hurricane Juan – affect farmers and food security as the climate crisis deepens? For me, this was a rude awakening – and an epiphany.

Six months later, The Wooden Monkey restaurant was born to help bring on the change. We purchase from local and organic farms and producers in Nova Scotia.

Climate change became, for me, the issue that I could no longer ignore, the issue that preoccupied me all the time. I became a Climate Reality Leader, trained by Al Gore to present on climate change and agriculture.

For years, at every possible opportunity, I urged people and governments to realize that it’s not just big oil that needs to die; it’s also big industrial agriculture. Small-scale sustainable farms can sequester carbon, and feed us. And yes, “We can eat our way out of the climate crisis.” (Tastes better, too!)

Then, along came COVID-19.

Make no mistake – this is another crisis linked to the way we produce our food. Don’t be fooled into thinking such pandemics can be blamed on a single market in China or anywhere else on the planet. The evidence is mounting that such viruses and the pandemics they cause are the result of widespread habitat destruction and environmental degradation, much of it caused by industrial agriculture and livestock production. Cramming thousands of animals in closed confinement on land or in the sea is a breeding ground for disease.

This HAS to be a turning point, and despite the hardship and death that SARs-CoV-2 is causing around for world, this pandemic is shining a bright light on what we are doing wrong. We can fix this!

I’m not the first to say it, and I hope I won’t be the last: we need to rethink and redesign and rebuild out food system… NOW.

So how do we do that?

The answer is local. Every school, every institution, every municipality, every community, every province, every country can get on board and contribute to the food revolution.

This means promoting urban agriculture and farmers’ markets; governments and citizens investing in local farming, and supporting local farmers and seed producers; local processing; and greater awareness of the immense value of healthy, local foods, and food chains.

The opportunities are huge and endless.

When we start to grow and eat our own foods, we nourish our families, the local economy flourishes, pollinators thrive, soils are enriched and sequester still more carbon, food deserts disappear, and the right to food finally becomes a reality!

This is not just wishful thinking. In his book The Local Economy Solution, Michael Shuman points out that if just 20% of the food consumed by people in the city of Detroit were local, this would generate an additional US$20 million in business taxes and create 4,700 new jobs.

Imagine the possibilities and potential if that percentage of local food was still higher.

According to the Alliance for Healthy Food and Farming in Ontario, the multiplier effect of buying local food is huge. They figure that if every household in Ontario spent just $10 a week on local food, it would pump an additional $2.4 billion into the local economy in a year and create 10,000 new jobs. Those are big numbers.

No one knows how long the COVID-19 crisis will last, but this new direction in how we feed ourselves will bring health to every living creature on this earth.

This next decade will feed the world right, and could possible end world hunger. Wouldn't that be wonderful?