by Deron Johnston
One theme that was established through the results of our recent local food survey at www.ngtimes.ca is that there is an education deficit about local food. Whether going to conferences, attending meetings, or talking to stakeholders, many people involved in local food say that not enough people know the who, where, when, why, what or how of local food.
To begin with, many people have heard of the term ‘local food’, but they don’t really understand what it is. Local food is defined by Wikipedia as “a movement which aims to connect food producers and food consumers in the same geographic region, in order to develop more self-reliant and resilient food networks; improve local economies; or to have an impact on the health, environment, community or society of a particular place”. Sounds good, right? So, it’s pretty evident why it would be a good idea to get more people interested in and involved in local food.
Why do people need to know more about local food? The more that people know, the more they begin to understand and make the connection to the importance and the benefits. On top of that, the more that people know, the more they are willing to get involved and support local food in their behaviours, buying habits, and their overall lifestyle choices. For too many people, food is something that comes frozen in a box, or gets handed to you through a window. It’s critical that people understand the other benefits of local food as well. It increases food security and lessens the impact of shifting worldwide commodity prices on the food we buy. If there’s a major crop failure in another country, this can increase the price and reduce the availability of certain foods. So, the more food we grow and make here, the less these global events impact our food supply.
The importance of educating children specifically about local food is another piece of that ‘lack of education’ message, and may even be the most important part. Working with school boards and teachers to add this type of education to the curriculum of schools would go a long way towards raising a whole new generation of people who seek to buy local food and even grow, make and sell their own. On a positive note, there is already some momentum in that area, as there are some schools across Canada that are growing gardens and tend to them throughout the school year. This is very encouraging, as it allows children to see the whole process of planting, growing and preparing delicious, healthy food. If children learn this at a young age, they are more likely to continue this type of behaviour into adulthood.
In the past, summer courses were given at the Kemptville Agricultural School (Kemptville College) at which school teachers were taught how to make vegetable gardens in their schools. They cleared the ground, planted and tended the gardens during the summer, with the idea that they could bring back the skills they had learned to pass on to their students during the school year and beyond. North Grenville residents today can join in the Community Giving Garden project at the Ferguson Forest Centre on County Road 43 and learn, and apply, those same skills.
Part of the reason for this education deficit is that, until this type of education becomes mainstream and part of school curriculum, there’s a limited amount of government funding available. This means that the resources necessary to implement a campaign to educate people about local food are often scooped up quickly by established and well organized groups or organizations. In order to help secure these resources, you need people who are influencers to work with local food stakeholders to help bring these resources to the area. To date, we don’t really have an organization like this in North Grenville. Maybe it’s time to create one.