Every community must be sustainable, otherwise it will not survive. A key requirement for the establishment and continuing survival of a community is a secure reliance on a food supply.
Over the last several hundred years, the Prince George region has transitioned from a community of Indigenous peoples who survived by locally hunting, fishing and gathering, to a community which relies predominately on food imported from and processed in other parts of the province, country and world.
Fifty years ago, British Columbia produced over 80 per cent of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the province. Today, that has dropped to 50 per cent.
In the middle ages, over three quarters of the workforce in Central Europe were agricultural workers. Today, that is in the range of one to three per cent. In B.C., 2.4 per cent of the workforce is employed by the agriculture, fishing and forestry sector. By contrast, the largest sector, at 24.8 per cent, works in knowledge-based industries.
We are not unique in being part of the agricultural revolution of the 20thcentury. In 1900, about 38 per cent of the U.S. workforce worked on farms. By 2000, that dropped to less than three per cent. Without the ability to increase our food supply, we would not have been able to increase our population from about 500 million during the Middle Ages to 7.8 billion and counting. In addition, 56 per cent of the world’s population live in an urban environment today, almost doubling the number since 1950.
How long can this rate of growth go on? Are we heading to self-destruction driven by our resourcefulness? Some of us think that we are living sustainably. But are we really? Do we need to rethink the whole notion of sustainability? After all, the methods of sustaining ourselves in the past have changed exponentially, so much so that a significant part of the population cannot keep up with the changes and long for “the good old days.”
The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, one which many wiser people had warned us to be prepared for, has certainly played a role in some of us starting to re-think our lifestyles. A large part of that is directed to security of the local community we live in – our shelter, our income, our lifestyle, our environment, our government and our food source. It may be a rude awakening, a sign, a warning. Are we able to sustain what we have accomplished, especially the global network of supplying our accustomed wants and especially our actual needs to survive?
When I sat down to write this column, I had intended to write about the Local Food PG Society, a familiar group of individuals who are dedicated to increasing and improving access to nutritious, locally grown and processed food for Prince George. During the process of doing some additional research, I felt that the topic is far too important and vast for just one column. Thus, in the next column, I will be writing about our local food supply network, technological changes, such as controlled environment agriculture, vertical farming, and specialized North American, small urban communities with a population in the 20,000 range that have a 30 per cent agricultural workforce sustaining horticulture grown primarily “under glass.”