On Friday June 17th, over 100 farmers and citizens concerned about food security in Canada filled the local Cowichan Valley community centre on Vancouver Island, and were hosted by Alistair MacGregor. MacGregor is the MP for the riding of Cowichan/Malahat, Justice critic for the NDP and will be sitting on the committee for Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act. He also farms on a small scale.
The Government of Canada is developing a first-ever food policy for the country. The food policy will revolve around the following four themes: increasing access to affordable food; improving health and food safety; conserving our soil, water, and air; and growing more high-quality food. The parallels between food, agriculture and cannabis, especially in regions like the Cowichan, are striking. It has been estimated that a disproportionate number of cannabis cultivators are located in the region, much like the medicinal cannabis farmers of Northern California.
MP Alistair MacGregor wanted to engage with farmers and food security advocates in person and develop a comprehensive submission to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in order to ensure that their “views and priorities are included in the food policy for Canada. We need to look at the whole picture and bring an integrated approach to federal policy that connects agriculture, rural development, health, and income security.”
The panelists included: Niki Stutynski, a local farmer and member of North Cowichan Agriculture Committee; Chris Groenendijk, local area dairy producer; and Amy Melmock, the Economic Development Manager of the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD). There was an opportunity for Q&A, at which time the subject of “specialty crops” was raised, and parallels were made with the thriving vineyards and potential hop farmers of the region. Micro-breweries and distilleries on Vancouver Island are supported by local industry and consumers, with some private alcohol distributors actively promoting local brands over products made in other locales.
The community is clearly in touch with not only its agricultural priorities, but also strong considerations of environmental stewardship.
Sarah Campbell, director of the Craft Cannabis Association of British Columbia, who lives and works in the Cowichan Valley, was impressed with the turn-out and the calibre of the feedback, and how it paralleled what could happen to the local cannabis economy.
"Farming is a way of life here on Vancouver Island, and it was concerning to hear how a community that was once thriving is now decimated due to strict governmental regulations. Many abattoirs, for example, were forced to shut down or have been driven underground since new rules were implemented in 2007 to address public health and safety. The community itself feels they were not a cause for concern and that the new rules were a way of getting rid of small agriculture. It's hard not to see the parallels between the agriculture industry and cannabis."
For more info regarding the proposed Food Policy for Canada check here.
Featured image by David Stanley.