The sustainability movement encompasses a great number of issues; Renewable Energy, Marine Preservation, and Agriculture, among others. It’s always been difficult to convey the urgency of these issues to the general public who don’t yet experience the adverse effects. However, we’ve found that the easiest way to make the sustainability movement resound in people’s minds is through food. Passed around the dinner table, enjoyed over meaningful conversations, and for many of us (whether we like to admit it or not), the first and last thing we think of everyday. Food is a religion, and has been bringing cultures and peoples together for as long as we can remember. Food is also a massively significant part of the sustainability movement. Fact: 50% of our ecological footprint comes from meat. Even more eye-opening: a meat-eating cyclist has a larger ecological footprint than a vegetarian Hummer owner.
With food as my religion, I dragged myself from the leathery recesses of the couch to Peter Ladner’s “The Urban Food Revolution: Changing The Way We Feed Cities” book launch on Commercial Drive. He presented some of the book’s most significant ideas, and afterwards, held a short Q&A. Inspired is a meager word to express what I felt last night. Here are some of the ideas he presented, some of which already exist, others of which are in the works.
How can we farm in an urban environment? Because of the lack of farmable areas in their immediate environments, urban farmers are finding ways to maximize space through innovative new farming methods. One such way is Aquaponics, a system devised to maximize space and resources. The Aquaponics system is composed of a small fishpond, on top of which hangs a rack of vegetable plants. The water from the fishpond is funneled upwards to water the plants, which contain natural fertilizers from the fish. Plants absorb the water, and the surplus cascades back down to the fish. The cycle goes on, and water is added to the system as needed. Off-shelf Aquaponics systems are being made available to the public.
Another innovative way involves the workplace. Some have collaborated with their employers to house rooftop gardens on their buildings. Grocery stores have also jumped in, planting vegetable gardens on their rooftops, which directly and efficiently answer questions of supply and distribution. Mobile and pocket farmers markets are popping up even in the busiest sections of the downtown core. There are many people championing the urban farming cause, but we need many more.
How do we involve people in the urban farming movement? There are many opportunities being made available to people of all ages. The annual Pemberton Slow Food bike tour is one, and it promises to “Blow the fast food competition away”. This agritourism event has grown considerably, with around 4,000 cyclists touring the farms and experiencing the food Pemberton Valley has to offer. Some schools have integrated food literacy into their programs, hosting garden plots on-campus to encourage community building and learning in children.
The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto is a great organization that houses a food bank, produce market, and artist centre, among others. Its programs include sustainable food systems education, agriculture, and community cooking.
What can the urban food revolution do for us? Peter mentioned a study that used good food as a crime prevention tool. Sound unrealistic? Not so. The study was conducted in the downtown Eastside, where they started distributing good, fresh produce through the food banks. Consequently, they noticed that crime and 911 calls dissipated substantially; after some time, emergency calls whittled down to almost none. It’s not such a surprise; healthier people have healthier dispositions. There is less room for aggravation, fighting, and crime. At the same time, governments can spend less on emergency or crime facilities and channel the money into green job creation.
Better food almost immediately equates to better health. A long-term goal in the urban food revolution is to lower government healthcare expenditures. The urban food revolution and all its supporting facilities could also increase the aesthetic and subsequent property value of homes and neighborhoods. It’s a win-win situation. However, we never said it was going to be easy.
What the urban food revolution needs to succeed: Local doesn’t automatically mean sustainable. It may actually be more sustainable to import rice from China because they have a larger agricultural capacity (better conditions, more facilities) in place. As a result, we need to figure out which food our area is at a capacity to produce while contributing least to our carbon footprint. We also need to consider factors other than carbon or GHG’s—factors like water and land pollution carry a lot of weight.
We need local processing facilities, as well as optimized distribution systems in order to be truly sustainable. We’re hoping that these systems will be just as innovative and resourceful as those of supply. The most important thing we need to achieve all this however, is a change in perception and a call to action.
Click here for more information on Peter Ladner’s book “The Urban Food Revolution: Changing The Way We Feed Cities”. If you’d like to take a stand, volunteer for RangiChangi Roots by clicking on the “Get Involved” tab on our homepage .