Opinion

Feeding a growing Richmond

28 years from now, the population of Richmond will be 280,000 people.

On this island, we can anticipate that accommodating this kind of growth with appropriate housing, transportation, and food will be a major challenge. Barriers to getting people adequate amounts of healthy, culturally appropriate and safe foods will be: climate change, the unequal distribution of foods, harmful agricultural practices, pest outbreaks, and lower crop yields.

With approximately 30 per cent of Richmond residents living at or near the low income cut-off line, users of the Food Bank and other community food services will continue to grow. We have a pressing need, now more than ever, to shift away from our current model of ‘hunger amidst abundance.’ Estimates of food waste ranges from 20-50 per cent of food purchased. Much of this food is imported from other parts of the globe.

Richmond is reliant on food imports to meet its food requirements. This situation leaves residents vulnerable to price shocks and food shortages. One mechanism that could address this situation is to build regional and municipal distribution and processing infrastructure that create shorter food supply chains resulting in jobs, income, and a healthier community.

Growing food in the local area is a key strategy in being able to accommodate 280,000 people by 2041. Recognizing that we cannot produce all of our currently consumed fruits, vegetables, grains and meat with available farmland is important. However, switching to shorter value chains by reducing the distance between production and consumption can enable us to become more resilient to food system shocks and provide much of the food that we do eat. Creating local food systems reduces the environmental impacts of food transportation and enables community members to have greater control over their food choices.

Policies and regulations supporting local food production are required if we are going to be able to feed everyone. Containing urban sprawl and preventing non-farm land uses will be needed to conserve existing agricultural lands. As well, pursuing different tax options to generate funds can be used to bring farms back into food production and to motivate businesses to set up local agricultural enterprises (such as processing facilities). Municipal government can develop food policies and assess current bylaws and zoning regulations to ensure that they are supportive of farming and local food value chains.

Looking at Richmond’s Official Community Plan, we still have a ways to go in mobilizing existing food security organizations, the business community, and local and regional government to collectively work together to achieve food for all. Initiating a conversation around food values and documenting it in a food charter is a first step in meeting everyone’s food needs.

Feeding the additional 80,000 people that are expected to join Richmond by 2041 is no easy task. We need to proactively start looking at solutions that we can put into place now so we are able to grow in tandem with the growth in population. The strategies identified will take community, industry and political buy-in. It’s time to start thinking about how we are going to get food for everyone. Have this conversation with your friends, family, and coworkers and talk about how we all have a part to play in solving this dilemma.

Richmond Food Security Society works to ensure that all people in the community have access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate foods that strengthen our environment and society. If you want to contribute and learn more about our activities, visit our website at www.richmondfoodsecurity.org.

Colin Dring is executive director at Richmond Food Security Society.

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