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Strong appetite to defend farmland, buy local: poll

Locally grown veggies can be found at farm stands and farmer
Locally grown veggies can be found at farm stands and farmer's markets across the Lower Mainland but farmers say they also need local processors to help them tap the Metro Vancouver market.
— image credit: File

Metro Vancouverites strongly support the protection of farmland and say it's important to buy locally grown food, according to a new poll.

Ninety-three per cent of those surveyed by Mustel Group for Metro Vancouver said it's important to protect agricultural lands in the region, with two-thirds saying it's very important.

They cited the need to be more self-sufficient in producing local food, as well as concerns about over-development, urban sprawl, environmental impacts, the need to support local farmers and jobs and the perception that locally grown food is safer or healthier.

A minority of dissenters argued food is better produced elsewhere in the province, land in the Lower Mainland should be developed and a balance must be found to support population growth.

Almost nine out of 10 of those surveyed said it's at least somewhat important to buy locally grown or produced food, with 45 per cent listing it as very important.

Seventy-three per cent said it's somewhat easy to find local food but only one in five said it's very easy and a strong majority said improved labeling would help.

Avoiding increased reliance on imported food was a bigger concern to Vancouver residents, who also stressed their interest in organic food, while environmental impacts were more prominent for Burnaby and New Westminster residents.

Women were more likely then men to support farmland protection, as were immigrants from Europe versus those who come from other parts of the world.

The poll was commissioned to help Metro pursue its newly adopted Regional Food Systems Strategy, which aims to find new ways to assist farmers and   promote local agriculture and food processing.

"Farmers tell us if they don't direct-market or go to the farmer's market, it's difficult for them to get their food processed or distributed to the consumers," said Metro agriculture committee chair Harold Steves.

Among the planks of the multi-faceted plan is to press the provincial government to re-establish the Buy BC label to help shoppers find B.C.-grown food.

It also aims to protect farmland, find new growing areas such as rooftop gardens and encourage local residents to choose locally grown food.

Metro is also to prepare an inventory of all agricultural land in the region to determine which parcels aren't actively farmed.

Land speculators sitting on farmland is a problem, according to the strategy, as is the proliferation of giant estate homes on agricultural land.

Underlying the strategy is the concern that as transportation fuel costs rise Metro Vancouverites will be increasingly vulnerable to higher prices and food supply disruptions because of their heavy reliance on international suppliers.

Just 48 per cent of fresh food consumed in B.C. is grown in the province, down sharply from 86 per cent when the Agricultural Land Commission was created in 1972.

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