Help Secure Local Food Production On Farms And In Gardens

Credit: Kristi Dobson
Kristi Dobson

What will happen if entrance into and out of Port Alberni is cut off for any length of time? Have you thought of where you would acquire food for the duration? Although an emergency grab bag should contain at least one week's worth of food and water, not everyone has one ready and, if they do, the supply is limited to for the short-term. 

Local food security could be lifesaving in emergencies, but it is just as important for sustainability into future. Supporting farmers and educating the public has economic benefits for the community as well. An information session is being held this weekend for anyone interested in helping with such initiatives in the Valley.

In 2014, the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District contracted a team to implement the 2011 Alberni Agricultural Plan, in part by helping local farmers to market their products and find opportunities to expand. These Agricultural Support Workers have successfully raised awareness for both consumers and businesses. Currently, the role is being filled by Heather Shobe and Anna Lewis. 

Significant energy has been put into connecting with restaurant owners in Port Alberni and on the West Coast to provide options for purchasing meat and produce from local farmers. 

"That was successful," Shobe said. "We found that there was a lot of demand and were encouraged by the interest restaurants showed to having local food." 

She said education is key.

"We have seen a lot of increase in interest because of the education and getting the word out," Shobe said. "This is what it's about, involving people in the momentum and giving them the ideas they need to be able to help out." 

On Sunday the public can learn more ways to get involved in food security in the region. The free event will be an opportunity to network with the agriculture community. The afternoon will be broken down into two main issues: a session on community initiatives for urban dwellers., followed by access to land for both small and large-scale producers. 

"We want to hear from people who are looking for land or who have land available for food production," Shobe said. "We already have someone with a livestock farm looking for someone to lease it. There is also bare land out there for people looking for production plots." 

Other ways for the public to get involved include renting and tending community gardens, helping with school garden programs and volunteering on farms to gain skills and experience. Not only will volunteers contribute to a sustainable future, they will gain an appreciation of where food comes from. 

Shobe hopes the work that continues to be done leads to change. 

"Changing buying habits is always tough," she said. "We have seen a general increase in action towards supporting local food producers though, particularly from restaurants and West Coast communities. A survey at local farmers' markets also showed that the public is looking for increased availability of local agricultural products."

She said that the increasing food prices continue to drive people to look for alternatives, and expects the number of backyard gardens to rise.  

"Port Alberni has a great climate for growing, and this trend could really increase the health and resilience of our community," she said. 

The Land Access for Food Production networking event takes place at Echo Centre on Sunday, Jan. 24 from 1-4 p.m.