Tuesday, October 16th is World Food Day.
This day was created to celebrate the launch of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. In recent years, World Food Day has focused on different aspects of food security, such as fishing communities, biodiversity, and climate change. London’s Fanshawe College offers a new Agri-Business Management program, and I spoke with coordinator, Sandra Wilson, about how the students learn about food security.
“In the first term of the program, they take a full course on food safety and traceability,” she says. “So they learn about the regulations and what is required to safely bring food to the consumer.”
Wilson says that technological development in recent years has lead to a lot of efficient changes in the industry.
“The one area that has changed a lot is precision technology in agriculture. So when I talk about applying nutrients or pesticides for weed control, precision agriculture lets the farmer actually sample at the tractor while going over the field to determine how much nutrient needs there are in one particular area, or weed control in one particular area. So in the past, the farmer might be applying nutrients or pesticides over the entire field, but with precision technology advances, they only apply it where it’s actually needed in the field. So that helps from an environmental point of view, but it also helps the farmer or the producer in that they’re not paying for the entire field, they’re only paying where they need it.”
The industry is also forced to look forward to potential upcoming issues, such as climate change. “When we look ahead to climate change, the crops we are growing today, in Canada, might not grow in twenty years from now, because of lower water, higher heat, whatever. So there’s quite a movement now to start developing strains that will grow in our environment, supposing these climate changes are happening in the future. It’s something we need to think about now, so we’re ready in ten years, fifteen years, twenty years.”
Many local growers in Southwestern Ontario are also faced with the issue of distribution. Right now, a lot of growers take their food to Toronto, and it gets distributed that way. It’s important to get London thinking about a local distribution network so that local growers will bring their food to the city of London.
I also stopped by a local farmer’s market to speak with Ellen Laing, an organic grower from a farm near St. Thomas. She says that local production is always changing. “I’d say everything has just got more dramatic,” Laing says. “The storms are more dramatic, the droughts are more dramatic… so there’s bigger swings. The interesting thing about that is that I think it makes conventional farmers pay more attention to things that we’ve been paying attention to for a long time – like soil health – because it means that the crops are more resilient to those dramatic changes that are brought about by climate change.”
She also says that local agriculture benefits everyone involved. “We know that we’re growing for people whose vegetables are picked the day before they get them. I can pick varieties purely for colour or flavour, and I’m not thinking about whether it’s going to ripen all at once so that I can ship on the truck on Tuesday and it’s going to get to the distribution centre on Saturday. I don’t need things to be good for two weeks, I can just have them be good for two days.”
While climate change may be a growing issue for local food production, the industry doesn’t plan on hitting the hay just yet.