Agriculture & Food Security

Agriculture & Food Security

This week we'll explore opportunities, barriers, trends and more surrounding farmers’ markets, sustainable agriculture, resource management, food systems & jobs, innovative farming tools, etc.

Exit dialog mode

We are kicking off our series of week-long Idea Centre discussion topics with a conversation on Agriculture & Food Security.

Join competition entrants, additional thought leaders, and “budding” practitioners to learn more about how agriculture & food security can strengthen your local community.

  1. 302 days ago

    Peter Heri

    In developing countries there is a problem of unemployment but the developing are blessed with fertile soil in which youth can employ themselves and create employment for others, do you think why unemployment is still a problem to those countries?



  2. 349 days ago

    Jason Rucker

    I need to know how agriculture and food security can strengthen our local community, so I’m looking forward on this. You can get a great life insurance policy



  3. 671 days ago

    Devin Coverdale

    Food security is only as strong as the farms that grow the food and most farms are not able to produce crops without water. The abundance and reliability of electricity in North America has made us entirely dependent on access to grid power to perform many essential farm tasks. Some of these tasks such as pumping water, refrigeration, heating, and lighting have a major impact on the volume of food that a farm can produce and deliver to market.
    At Renaissance Energy we have designed a combined heat and power system that can sustainably support the energy needs of a small farm or community. We have worked with Stowel Lake farm on Salt Spring (stowellakefarm.com) to help guide the design parameters of the overall system. Our system is designed to produce a variety of liquid and gaseous Biofuels from agricultural and forestry waste while simultaneously sequestering the carbon from the biomass. The fuels can be used for generating electricity, running tractors, saws, pumps, domestic heat, hot water, refrigeration etc. The waste heat from the system is also used for domestic heating, hot water, dehydrating food, refrigeration etc. making the overall efficiency extremely high. Some of the energy that is produced while the system is running is also saved in battery banks for later use thought the day or week. We feel that local, reliable, sustainable energy is key to food security, and will prove to be more so as time goes on.

    Devin Coverdale
    Renaissance Energy



  4. 672 days ago

    Lisa Giroday

    My name is Lisa Giroday and I am one of the founders at Victory Gardens. Our mandate is to help people grow food.

    It was said recently by Michael Ableman of SOLEfood Farms in Vancouver (http://montecristomagazine.com/ReadArticle.aspx?IssueID=9&ArticleID=116), that urban ag is not going to feed a city, but it’s going to be part of the process which engages people and reconnects them to their food source. This idea, about reconnecting to our food source, is to me, one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. Growing food, observing food and seeing land used in new and innovative ways, encourages challenging and critical thought AND assists in the educational change necessary to convert the masses to consume more sustainably. At Victory Gardens, we believe that the action of growing food changes the way you perceive everything.
    As for challenges, the most significant, is that we, as a society, do not understand or have not yet realized the economic potential or model for urban agriculture (nor do we, on a large scale, acknowledge the economic, environmental and health based detriments of monoculture). In Vancouver, we’re very fortunate the there is a team devoted to rethinking the city’s zoning and licensing restrictions for urban agriculture and due to this municipal position on sustainable land use, many of the residents understand and welcome food within the urban context.
    But how cool would it be, to see a lowered property tax for food growing?! It’s these kinds of economic incentives that first, inspire positive change, and second, sustain positive change through the intrinsic nature of food growing.
    Luckily and not coincidentally, “good food” is becoming such a relevant part of the daily conversation, that it seems to be only a matter of time and some basic education, that food growing will be an obviously good thing to do for most people, for reasons so numerous, it will make no sense not to :)

    Lisa Giroday
    http://www.victorygardensvancouver.ca



  5. 730 days ago

    Our Local Markets

    Current Trends

    Media reports focusing on problems with the food industry have served to raise consumer’s awareness of the issues. This has encouraged consumers to turn to the smaller scale producers in order to avoid the negative issues that are associated with the large factory farm model. Interest in farmer’s markets and organic food buying groups is at an all time high. So far this market is small but growing rapidly with the farmer /producer usually personally having direct contact with the customer. This social interaction that takes place also results in the consumer being educated in some of the details of food production. A bond of trust develops that ties the consumer to the producer breeding loyalty to both groups. Another positive aspect to this is that product pricing is allowed to “float ” to a level that satisfies both parties. Although returns are still fairly low small scale farming is suddenly profitable. This has caused a renewed interest in farming with the main purpose of doing things right. This new generation of farmers and consumers view the world from a different perspective with the primary focus being on solving the negative issues of past practises rather than maximum profits.



  6. 741 days ago

    Our Local Markets

    The Problem

    My name is Wayne Smith. I am Susan Roth’s partner in Our Local Markets. As a farmer and businessman, I would like to offer an insight into issues as they relate to food production and its resulting impact on society.

    Presently food prices in North America are driven from a top down approach. Most products are sold to consumers through supermarket chains. The supermarket’s primary purpose is to survive in a highly competitive environment. The way that they keep their market share is to offer the best price and a wide range of products.

    This negatively affects the farmer /food producer in the following way: Consumer price pressure at the retail level, plus competition from the wide range of products available worldwide, causes store managers to source stock where they can get best deal. Brokers or volume purchasers then keep the farmers and food producers informed on what they can afford to pay to meet those budgets. Most farmers do not have the ability to hold on to their food products after harvest so they are powerless to have a final say in what they get paid for these perishable products. For many decades, this has caused a situation that forced food producers to work for very long hours at low pay.

    The constant demoralization of self worth values has kept new farmers from choosing this as a primary career. Without this constantly renewed source of young people with entrepreneurial leadership the state of food has degenerated to the point that most production is being done at factory farms. Production cost at these very large farms is the prime concern. The result is food quality, inhumanity to animals and livestock, and environmental damage. For the rest of the smaller food producers they generally still have to compete in this top down pricing strategy and as a result have to work off the farm in order to keep the dream alive.

    I will post about the solution a little later….



  7. 749 days ago

    Susan Roth

    Here’s an excellent article on “sustainability.” http://www.iasc-culture.org/THR/THR_article_2012_Summer_Yates.php



  8. 751 days ago

    Our Local Markets

    Now that we’ve figured out how to use the Internet to strengthen the local economy through supporting the local food movement we need to think how this same model could be applied to other sectors in our community. We need to create online communities that parallel the communities that we live in. Small businesses need to organize themselves into sectors then share e-commerce marketing and distribution costs. The Internet opens small business to a much larger market which means there’s room for everyone to make a fair profit in cyberspace. I can’t wait to make it all happen.



  9. 757 days ago

    Sarah Mintz

    Thanks to all the Agriculture & Food Security participants! This conversation will stay live for another 3-4 weeks, so please continue with the conversation if you have any additional thoughts. This week (July 23rd) we discuss Fundraising & Capacity Building, a topic near and dear to our hearts. Drop by to learn from and connect with experts.



  10. 757 days ago

    Our Local Markets

    The way I see it, agriculture is one of the most important foundations of a community. If your agriculture sector is strong, your community will be strong too. Good food and good health go hand in hand. Local food is important to good health because it is fresh, not genetically modified, not processed, antibiotic-free/hormone-free, pasture-raised/free-range, no chemical sprays, and often organically grown. The food found in most supermarkets generally do not have those same healthy attributes. When we support local food, we help build a stronger foundation.



  11. 761 days ago

    Our Local Markets

    I think BC communities should better organize themselves in cyberspace. Where I live, the focus seems to be on trying to bring people into the community to spend their money. It’s not working. We need to bring our community to the people. There is no reason why we can’t organize whole communities online and set up an efficient distribution system between each one. We need to look at communities through a business perspective and co-ordinate each sector in cyberspace in a manner where marketing and distribution costs are shared. Our future depends heavily on small business. Small businesses, such as farmers and other food producers, need to find ways to share costs and eliminate the competition barriers amongst themselves. Perhaps business needs to look at themselves more as a “community” and the community needs to look at itself more as a “business?” What do you think?



    • April Dutheil

      Maybe leasing of infrastructure could serve as a better profit model for food security start-ups, similar to what’s happening with solar panels: http://cleantechnica.com/2012/01/24/leasing-solar-panels-appeals-to-less-affluent/

      761 days ago


    • Our Local Markets

      I like the idea of leasing infrastructure for food security, especially when it comes to land and equipment. However our highest start-up costs are building an e-commerce website. Our website will be a cost-saving tool in streamlining processes, and a revenue-generating tool to support sales and marketing. I don’t know if it is possible to lease a website in the same way that one would lease building and land?

      757 days ago


  12. 761 days ago

    April Dutheil

    Community gardens have received significant attention in recent years, but still seem to play a small role in terms of increasing access to locally grown foods. What are some of the obstacles with scaling up/coordinating community garden initiatives to be more effective to provide food for a larger population?

    Should community gardens strive to produce more food for a greater number of people? Or should the food grown be considered more of a supplementary piece to our diets?



    • Nicole Huska

      A couple months ago, a woman I had connected with over Facebook about the Nicoles Farm project sent me a PM, offhandedly asking if I thought it would be an interesting idea to start a FB group for local garden enthusiasts. She put together the Sunshine Coast farm and garden swap and talk group and it has over 300 members with more being added every day…in a community of about 20,000 people. We chat, share seeds, surplus garden supplies, have many backyard chicken enthusiasts and everyday there are new people joining the discussion, asking about starting their own backyard gardens. It is a fascinating example of a new social media facilitated community garden. :)

      761 days ago


    • Nicole Huska

      The economic climate is reawakening people to the usefulness of growing their own food. Plus there are many folks, like the ones participating in this discussion who see the inherent vulnerabilities in our current food system

      761 days ago


    • Nicole Huska

      Whether it be overtly through progressive business models and innovative technologies or subversively through aggressive backyard gardening and poultry raising which defy absurd municipal bylaws and animal rearing and exchange which go against government policy. There are many forces at work which are rebuilding a more localized, dynamic food system.

      761 days ago


    • Nicole Huska

      “Never complain, never explain, get the thing done and let them howl.” ― Nellie McClung

      761 days ago


  13. 762 days ago

    Sarah Mintz

    Hi all, I have some questions about farming/ag tools and systems. What are examples of systems that improve farming and – ideally – also have positive environmental outcomes? I’ve read about Aquaponics Systems, Growing food on balconies, indoors, on rooftops, etc., Zero Embodied Energy Building, (ZEEB), Farm-based anaerobic digesters, and others. What are recommended tools and systems and how do people set them up? Also, how do you determine what land is good for farming, and what isn’t? Can land deemed “not-good” still be farmed on?



    • Philip Be’er

      Hi Sarah, In response to the teaser that you put out: Peak Oil and Climate Change are defining how we will grow food and it’s probably going to look very different from today’s tractor-based monocropping. Supplies of affordable energy, fertilisers and phosphorus are dwindling and forcing us to reuse all of the bio materials that we have access to to maintain fertility. To grow food when there is little climate stability will require increasing control over the conditions for growing, but we will have to gain this control in such a way that we’re not dependent on large amounts of energy. We also need to assure that every dollar that we invest goes as far as possible. So covering crops with plastic that needs to be replaced each year, for example, will probably lead to a scenario where, sometime in the near future, we’re unable to afford the covers for that year and our entire business will become nonviable. Here’s how Home Harvest Farms has approached some of these challenges, keeping sustainability as our focus: To reduce the amount of energy, soil, water and nutrients required , we’ve designed a raised-bed growing system. To take advantage of all the space available close to population centers, the raised beds are isolated from the ground below – they are well suited for use above asphalt, ground contaminated with industrial pollution and ground that would be unsuitable for growing food because it lacks adequate drainage or floods at some time during the year. We’ve also designed our systems so that they will support a glass or durable plastic cover – this way we use passive solar energy and we’ve created a low-cost but durable greenhouse. In warm climates, it’s easy to protect the plants from the sun by using a polyester or a black shadecloth material. The planters are narrow enough to fit through a standard door so they can also be used inside. One of our options is stackable making it easy to do vertical farming. I appreciate the benefits afforded by Hydroponic systems, like accelerated growth, but these systems require tight control over temperatures, water PH and nutrient levels and they need someone with sufficient technical capabilities to keep them running. A soil based system is simple by comparison and most of the hard work is done by microbes in the soil who never need to get paid, and never demand a vacation. We have no expensive pumps that break down and no filters to get clogged up. If you’d like to see an example of our movable raised beds, take a look at: http://homeharvestfarms.mybigcommerce.com/hhf-planters/ These container garden fit together like Lego and can be integrated into outdoor structures like fancy entranceways, outdoor seating, covered pagoda’s and pergola’s and can even be used to support a fence to keep deer out of the garden. We’re trying to interest the park board in using these systems because they can’t easily be stolen and they provide the support for uprights without a need for pouring concrete. We’d love to hear your feedback and ideas. Philip Be’er Visionary

      762 days ago


    • Nicole Faires

      There is definitely land that is better for farming than others, but all that is really truly needed to make something suitable for farming is compost. Our current land area had been scraped down to bedrock and couldn’t even grow much weeds, let alone carrots. Through long effort we brought in soil and horse manure, one wheelbarrow-load at a time, and built up our raised beds. We couldn’t afford to buy the soil, so we reclaimed soil by sifting it by hand through a large metal grate to remove rocks. Once in place, we will never turn this soil again and through careful care it will become even better over time. This could be done in containers or anywhere the land is not suitable for farming.

      762 days ago


    • Matt Dickson

      Energy and nutrients, in whatever form they come in, are vital to farming. While farmers may have opportunities to reduce their energy and nutrient dependence (and these will increase as energy becomes more expensive), these inputs will never be eradicated from commercial farming. At Cowpower, we are working with farmers to help them generate both renewable electricity and high value nutrients from their waste and the waste of we create (such as spoiled food). By doing so we are enabling farmers to create renewable electricity and nutrients that others can use to reduce dependence on fossil-fuels. However, as with most things in this world, the technology farmers use to achieve this isn’t yet cost competitive with fossil-fuel based energy and fertilisers. Thus we need the help of sustainability leaders and businesses in this province to support Cowpower so that we can support farmers.

      761 days ago


    • Nicole Huska

      Newspaper, followed by leaves, followed by grass clipplings followed by whatever soil you have on hand. Add raw vegetable kitchen scraps….ripping out some lawn? Brake the turf sort and add it in there too. Have some potatoes sprouting in your cubboards, great! Bury them six inches in, wait 60 days….see what happens! What have we got to lose? Growing food, whatever scale it may be, that

      761 days ago


    • Nicole Huska

      (sorry…typing on an iPhone…having some troubles with format). Cont’d. Along the lines of what Nicole at Faires Farms is saying, sustainable agriculture does not have to be a complex or cost prohibitive endeavor. The challenge we currently face as a society is the loss of the skill set over the past couple generations.. innovative High tech solutions which facilitate localized agriculture in urban centers and can cultivate produce in ways that decrease or eliminate fossil fuel/fertilizer dependency are absolutely worthwhile too. The uniquely fascinating thing about localized agriculture in any context is its inherent ability to build community and foster health and vitality. We needn’t over intellectualize it, simply do it, relearn how to get our hands dirty and in that even in minute amounts we are engaging in multifaceted environmental stewardship.

      761 days ago


  14. 764 days ago

    Sonia Bianchi

    Food security and agriculture are such big issues in BC. What are the biggest obstacles you face in developing your ideas into fully operational projects? Some people have identified problems getting their produce into the marketplace, others have mentioned the difficulty in finding start up funding. Have you found any innovative solutions to these types of issues?



    • Our Local Markets

      I have found some problems being that we are a for-profit venture. Grants are available to non-profit and public agencies but not to businesses. We looked at structuring our business as a co-op which could have opened some doors to funding however the thought of operating under a board posed problems for us. In my experience, so often, the board of directors slowed growth and hampered innovation. People get on boards for different reasons and they do not always have the same goals in mind. When you have a good progressive board it often changes during the next election and you’re back to square one again. We really want our project to move forward and to have a sustainable future…that’s why we chose a for-profit business model.

      764 days ago


    • Nicole Huska

      Our Local Markets – ditto on the For Profit challenges. An extension of that is the belief that sustainable agriculture is a industry of low economic returns. As soon as you start talking about farming and money…business people believe you’re naive and the old guard of sustainability movement has a hard time embracing business as a possible collaborative force. Corporate greed has tainted the views of the far left against business as a vehicle for progressive change. Then there’s the haters. There will always be haters and doubters. People who don’t think it can be done. Oh well…the Earth isn’t flat, we are not the center of the universe, women got the vote, and so on and so on. “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs

      763 days ago


    • April Dutheil

      Hi Susan and Nicole- What are your thoguths on the B Corporation model as a hybrid solution to integrating the mission-driven and profit-generating model? http://www.bcorporation.net/

      761 days ago


    • April Dutheil

      *thoughts

      761 days ago


    • Our Local Markets

      I love it! I have never heard of it before. Certified B Corporations are a new type of corporation which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. It gives a name to what we’re trying to accomplish. I’ll comment more after I thoroughly review the website. Thank you April.

      761 days ago


    • Our Local Markets

      Is Canada working towards legislation for Certified B Corporations? I have a close connection to a local provincial politician and could try to get it on the agenda in the legislature. This is exactly what we need.

      761 days ago


    • Our Local Markets

      I would be proud to bring this idea into a political arena.

      761 days ago


    • April Dutheil

      You can structure a B Corp in Canada- but it is still a small and little known solution. There are less than 30 B Corps in Canada. Donna Morton’s First Power (an Ashoka Fellow) from BC runs her venture as a B Corp. http://www.firstpowercanada.ca/

      761 days ago


    • Nicole Huska

      Honestly, while I understand the premise behind the B corp model from my perspective it is a branding mechanism more than a genuine business structure. It requires extra administrative burden on the enterprise as well as payment for certification. For a cash strapped start up already pulling long hours to launch, the time spent executing the extra paper work could as easily be spent building relationships with your client base. Integrity speaks volumes and is more deeply perceptible now that ever with our culture of hyper informed consumeris

      761 days ago


    • Nicole Huska

      *m

      761 days ago


    • Our Local Markets

      I really like the accountability that comes with B corporations. It is how a business that claims to have a social impact can walk their talk. For many years, I worked in the forest industry. This type of certification would also help ensure a sustainable future. If I am aware that a business is truly bettering the world, I am more likely to support the business.

      761 days ago


    • Our Local Markets

      Ha ha sorry I was going to talk about my experience in the forest industry in my previous post but then decided not to and didn’t delete the entire comment. I’ll share my original thought here: During my tenure in the forest industry, the company that worked for went through a certification process that was meant to identify and control their environmental impact and improve their environmental performance. The company took the certification seriously. I could see an improvement in the manner we did business.

      761 days ago


  15. 764 days ago

    Tito Llantada

    Hi Sarah and BC Ideas community — I’m not an expert in this field, but the competition that Changemakers ran in partnership with Green Mountain Coffee focused on community innovation, and several of the best projects were focused on agriculture, food security, and hybrid financing models. Take a look: http://www.changemakers.com/Revelation, might spark some additional ideas.



    • Our Local Markets

      Thank you for sharing the link. I really like “Vermont Food Education Every Day.” It is a great idea and something that could be used in Our Local Markets. We could add component to our website where people could send a basket of fresh fruit and vegetables to a classroom.

      764 days ago


  16. 764 days ago

    Our Local Markets

    Hi Sarah…. Our idea coordinates our local food sector online. It’s about improving overall health. Too many people are battling health problems because of the food they consume (and don’t consume). It’s also about making farming profitable so more people will enter the field. In the community where I live, less than half of the land that is suitable (and available) for farming is being utilized and less than 10% of that land is being used for growing fruits and veggies.



    • Sarah Mintz

      Thanks Our Local Markets, and congratulations on being an early entry investment recipient. Your model sounds fantastic and critical to your local community needs. What has been the response so far and what’s your next step towards launch?

      764 days ago


    • Our Local Markets

      Thank you Sarah. The response has been overwhelming. We have had many food producers approach us with different needs and ideas and we’re doing our best to fit them within our model. One of the most recent conversations was with First nations on the west coats of BC. There are 9 small communities that produce non-timber forest products (wild berries, etc) and need better ways to market their products. I think our model will serve them well. We really want First Nations a part of our business because they are such an important part of our community. The $500 investment from Ashoka will go towards building our website. We have also participated in a food market showcasing many of our local foods and have made profit there as well. We are so looking forward to taking our business online.

      764 days ago


    • Nicole Huska

      Hi Our Local Markets! What a fantastic idea! Have you explored the scalability of your platform?

      763 days ago


    • Our Local Markets

      HI Nicole. Thank you for your kind comment. What do you mean by “scalability?”

      761 days ago


  17. 765 days ago

    Sarah Mintz

    Hi BC Innovators! I am looking forward to this week’s discussion. I’ve already seen a lot of strong entries and ideas using Agriculture and Farming to improve communities. Please tell us more about your ideas and models – what inspired you, where do you find and practice innovation…? Also, I am curious about your experiences getting your ideas off the ground. What are the opportunities and challenges that you have come across? Do you have advice for others who may be getting started? Thanks!



    • Our Local Markets

      When I first got the idea for Our Local Markets I talked about it on an locally-based online discussion forum and listened closely to the response. Then I went to a public meeting for farmers where a report on local agriculture was released. The report confirmed what I thought was happening (and not happening) in our community. We really have an ageing farming sector and young people are reluctant to enter the field because of the low return associated with farming. After the meeting, I connected with a local farmer with an excellent reputation and formed a partnership. This person knew the next step to take. We drew up a business plan and got together with others in the field. It’s important to choose a good business partner…someone that is uplifting and has a good background.

      764 days ago


    • Nicole Huska

      Nicole’s Farm develops precisely modelled, year round, sustainable farms on small acreages to help rural communities create local economic stimulation and living wage jobs by building and managing regionalized food sovereignty networks. We are currently in the proof of concept stage for the business model which involved building and operating our first one acre farm on the Sunshine Coast. With 12 months of proven yield and sales, the goal is to grow the model by a minimum of 10 acres per year. My inspiration and innovation are rooted in the blurred lines between my own personal and professional life. I have been a work from home mother for just over five years and once I caught the entrepreneurial bug, I was hooked. I read volumes upon volumes of entrepreneurial content as an outlet for my drive to grow and manage the best company I possibly can for my spouse’s excavating contracting company. This profit driven hunger for knowledge has blended with my personal hobby of backyard gardening and the calling that comes with the role of mother to create the best home, community, life possible for one’s children. Experiences: This ideas has been germinating in my brain for close to five years. The catalyst which drove me to write the start up business plan was the collision the following factors: my desire to transition out of the professional misery of running a construction company during a global economic recession (I figured it I was going to work 70 hour weeks, it might as well be doing something that I enjoy); reading Timothy Ferriss’s “Four Hour Workweek”; noticing that the the quality of fruits and vegetable that are available in grocery stores was getting worse and the birth of my 3rd child who also began exhibiting the same food sensitivities as my spouse and middle child. Opportunities: The rapid evolution of personal computing technology, the internet and social media have provided a historically unprecendented opportunities for folks with entrepreneurial spirit to research industry, build plans, take action and cultivate relationships. Above all, Twitter has allowed Nicole’s Farm to make many connections that have resulted in positive media attention and networking with other sustainable agriculture enthusiasts and food security activists. Challenges: FUNDING FUNDING FUNDING. Everybody eats. Everybody has a vested interest in furthering their own health and well being by having reliable access to nutritious, uncontaminated fresh food year round but sustainable agriculture isn’t sexy like the next hot app or tech advance. Eventhough the seed financing to launch the proof of concept farm is a minute $60,000, finding investment as a for profit sustainable agriculture business has been the greatest challenge to date for the Nicole’s Farm project. The other challenge has been a purely intellectual one, it is too easy for the project founder to become entrenched in their personal vision for a project. I have had to learn to allow the idea to evolve as I learned more about the industry, competition and consumer base. Advice: Find your passion. Pursue it relentlessly. Break the rules. Think outside the box and always follow your intuition.

      763 days ago


    • Our Local Markets

      I really like what you’re doing Nicole. It fits so well with what we’re doing. I also really like your advice: “Find your passion. Break the rules. Think outside the box and always follow your intuition.” Those are words that I can live by.

      761 days ago