Uncertain Times – the Best Time to Think Local


Uncertain Times – the Best Time to Think Local
Julia is a farmer in Cobble Hill and is on the Cow-op board
Images courtesy Cow Op and Julia Fisher.

This article is about how connected we are and about the system we are part of. This time has brought a lot of people to reflect on how our society works, and the part everyone plays in it. I want to discuss the role of the local farmer. As we watched the rush for goods at the grocery store and the ensuing barren shelves, the Duncan market briefly shutting down, and restaurants closing, we start to think about where we are going to get our food in the long run. The nightmare of the three day food supply on Vancouver Island has become central in the thinking of many, as we worry about the possibility of things grinding to a halt as the virus spreads.
Vancouver Island, as you may know, is blessed with soil fertility, a mild climate, many farms, and used to supply the majority of the food for Islanders. This is not the case now, and small food farmers are often eking their way through the years, with success sometimes defined as “being able to farm next year”. I’ve seen farmers burn out and move on, as this is a challenging occupation requiring ingenuity, optimism, and a community that shows up for them, making sure their efforts are not in vain. Even if all of that happens, one snowfall that destroys your greenhouses (or another surprise event) could put you out of business.

Let’s get back to the present situation. Currently farmers are looking for new ways to move their food and maintain their livelihood as markets that have been planned for since November are perhaps never going to open. Chickens are still laying eggs, and pork, lamb, and beef sit idle in freezers, all destined for the restaurants that are closing. To me this is a chance for our community to step up, and think about who will be there for them if we do get cut off. Who do we want to support in this system? Is it California, where it has just been announced that there will be a 40 million person lockdown? 

Or mainland BC, which is separated from us by a body of water? 
Or, is it the farm down the road, producing fresh, safe food?
Maybe none of this is news to the readers, but perhaps more of our community will be thinking about the local food producers. We need to look to our farmers at this time and enable them, let them know we support them, and toss out price ideas that we grew up with (39 cent radishes cannot make anyone a living!). 

We need to show up at the markets if they are still going on and sign up for a CSA program if we can. Farmers today are scrambling to find alternatives ranging from delivery to farm pick-up. Choose one way to support them and tell a friend!

Another side to this story is a bit of a pitch. In these uncertain times, Cow-op, the online farmers’ market, is supporting farmers and food producers. For those in self-isolation and who are social distancing, access to food is no longer as easy as it was. For this reason, the Cow-op has moved completely to home deliveries, using a sliding scale fee based on the ability of customers.

We have teamed up with the Cowichan Recyclists to deliver food through Duncan and now through Cowichan Bay (bike, e-bike, biodiesel powered), and we will have drivers to reach our other local communities. Cow-op is working to contribute to food security by being a marketing and distribution solution for the local food producer. You can order locally grown or processed food, such as eggs, veggies, dairy, baked goods, flour, and more.

After this all boils down, whether it’s in a month or a year, I hope that our food system has been disrupted enough to have changed some mindsets, and re-ordered what is seen as important. My wish for you is that you look to your local farmers and choose them first. It is unlikely in this connected world with our desire for non-local goods, that we will ever get to be one hundred percent supplied from the Island farmers/processors, but perhaps we can get to a point where we can feel less worried about where to get our food. So, plant some seeds, raise some chickens, or find your local farmer, whether on the online market, Cow-op.ca, or in person.