Picture – Courtesy of KPU Institute For Sustainable Food Systems
The agricultural economy of the Okanagan is the subject of a study by the Institute for Sustainable Foods Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey.
It’s a two year project looking into the Okanagan Bioregion with a goal of bringing the food economy back home, regionalizing the food system.
Institute Director Ken Mullinex says British Columbians spend 17 billion dollars a year on food and the vast majority ends up in the hands of trans-national companies.
“In St. Louis, Chicago, Toronto, Zurich, Berlin, you name it. And this is the result of moving away from local regional food systems”
Which in turn means the loss of economic activity, income and business opportunities in our communities.
So the idea is to determine how to retain the economy of food production in the region.
“And what kind of benefits, economically, socially, business-wise and environmental stewardship- wise that can accrue to the Okanagan and the Okanagan’s communities.”
It’s estimated Okanagan residents spend about one billion dollars a year on food.
Kent Mullinex says the Bioregion study will help policy makers find methods to re-regionalize the food system.
“What it takes first is an understanding of what can be achieved, then the development of a long term, well, immediate and longer term plan, strategy, for achieving it.”
And how to create an environment for businesses to develop and start working and supporting one another in communities.
He says we may enjoy a marginal economic advantage by importing food, but at what cost.
“Much of the fruit and vegetables that come to us from California are cultivated and harvested and packed by people being paid sub-poverty wages.”
He also says much of the food produced off-shore is produced with pesticides illegal to use in Canada, but we turn a blind eye.
Mullinex says what is really needed is an appropriate balance of regional and trans-national that maximizes local regional economic opportunities.
He says the Okanagan is considered as one of Canada’s most significant agriculture areas.
One key to success is getting more young people involved, which Mullinex feels is possible on a smaller scale and through alternate marketing strategies.
The two year study is in the process of collecting baseline information right now.
The research team includes experts representing areas of expertise from nutrient-cycling to social-capital development to policy and planning to agriculture production and post-production.
Various Okanagan institutions and communities are also involved.
Mullinex says the question in the long run is do we want our food dollars to go somewhere else and benefit someone else or do we want our food dollars to be generated and circulated in our local regional economies and benefit our communities more substantially.