5. Food Systems in British Columbia

Summary

A food system encompasses cultural foodways in addition to the production, processing, packaging, distribution, marketing, exchange, consumption and disposal or post-consumption treatment of food and food-related items. This chapter focused on the food systems and the way in which humans interact with their environment, including a range of historical agricultural practices.

To understand the origin of food systems in British Columbia it is important to review the geographical landscape of the province, which includes a number of mountain ranges with relatively few areas of high soil fertility suitable for conventional agricultural practices. The highest soil fertility is primarily located in river valleys and deltas. Of the province’s 92,250,929-hectare land base, the Canadian Land Inventory estimates that only 5% is suitable for agriculture.

Climate affects the expansion of agriculture. The number of frost-free days and growing degree days determines what kind of crops can be expected to successfully grow in different geographic regions. As elevation and latitude increases, the number of frost-free days decline. Water accessibility is also a factor in determining the success of agriculture. Although considered a high precipitation geographical zone, there are arid regions within the Okanagan valley that make water availability for crops difficult.

Today’s food system encompasses agriculture, aquaculture and commercial fisheries, and processing of food and beverages. Ironically, in 2013 BC’s main export was farmed Atlantic salmon  at $267 million. The contemporary food system, within BC, has direct linkages to socio-economic issues despite increasing production in staple foods and growth in commodities like wine. Many BC families have increasing difficulty managing a budget that allows them to access foods that meet the requirements of healthy diets.

BC’s contemporary food system has also been affected by the rapid growth of urbanization. The case study on the Agricultural Land Reserve detailed policy reactions to agricultural-urban conflicts. Attention to food system issues in BC has led to a number of political and social trends aimed at changing understanding of our food systems. These include the 100-mile diet, better access to seed sources, growth of organic producers, the establishment of the BC Food Systems Network (BCFSN) and Sole Foods and Young Agrarians, and the introduction of SPIN-farming. Managing food systems is also a complex process that entails coordination between competing local economies, environmental processes and global markets, which we have seen in the case study of the BC salmon fishery.