Kwantlen study finds Okanagan food production could be more self-sustaining

Local food sustainability

A new study suggests the Okanagan could meet most of its food needs by increasing local production.

The study by Surrey's Kwantlen Polytechnic University says regionalizing food systems can be a driver of sustainable community development and the basis for resilient local and regional economies and ecologies.

“Food systems cannot be separated from other planning and development activities. We need to recognize the inextricably linked nature of food systems and adopt a ‘food systems lens’ in all our planning activities,” says Dr. Kent Mullinix, director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems.

The three-year Okanagan Bioregion Food System Project focused on farming and food systems in the Okanagan.

Mullinix says the current global industrial food system is unsustainable and has adverse impacts, including habitat degradation, unsustainable use of finite resources, labour issues, increased vulnerability to distant disruptions, and corporate concentration and control that leaves out local farmers and economies.

“Regionalizing our food systems by producing food closer to home, bringing the economic activity home to local communities, and having more control over our own food system through local policies, can help address some of these issues.”

Considering the Okanagan's population, diet, and agricultural land base, the study found the Valley could theoretically satisfy approximately 70 per cent of local diets by producing food for the local population.

Other findings included:

  • Developing regional food systems can have economic benefits for the bioregion. These benefits are maximized when investments are made in the development of food processing, distribution and storage infrastructure.
  • Increasing the consumption of locally produced food does not reduce the environmental impacts associated with the food system, but changing diets does. When it comes to ecological footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, how food is produced, and the resources required, matter more than where it is produced.

“Climate change and other factors bring uncertainty to the dominant global food system. Finding a better balance between our global and regional food systems can help make sure that we continue to have access to the foods we need to support good health now and in the future,” ?says Jill Worboys, a dietician with Interior Health.

Mullinix adds agricultural land needs to be protected and accessible to farmers.

“We need to consider the impacts of any development to food, water, and wildlife, and also ensure that we develop local post-production infrastructure so that we can realize many of the potential benefits to the local economy and communities that regional food systems can provide.”

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