OSCIII Blog: Food security in a time of uncertainty

A word cloud depicting the important concepts surrounding food security, April 2020 (Photo: shutterstock.com).

Farming is an essential service. It is also an industry with a great deal of volatility; farmers must continually rethink how they manage their crops in order to respond to changing weather patterns, depletion of resources, pests, diseases and markets . The current COVID-19 pandemic has also demonstrated how vulnerable agricultural systems can be when the number of workers who can be on site at a time is reduced or the farm has to be shut down entirely. A good first step to achieving total sustainability starts with the consumer. By better understanding where their food and materials come from, they can be more aware of the efforts that are needed to maintain food security.

Food security is the ability for all individuals to have safe access to food that is nutritious and healthy — no matter their economic or social status. When thinking about our current situation, and the need for social distancing as well as economic shut down, we need to consider what it means to Canadian food security.

So, where does our food come from? Many might think that we get a lot of our produce locally, especially those living in the Niagara region where fruit farms are plentiful and farmer’s markets are extremely popular. It might come as a surprise to learn that Canada actually imports most of its fruit and vegetable supplies from other countries. Outsourcing our produce means that the food has to travel long distances before ending up on our plates. The further that produce travels, the less secure it is and the more environmentally costly it becomes. One reason Canada relies on imports is that we have a relatively short growing season that limits the amount and variety of produce we can grow. Other factors, such as trade agreements, market demands, and the impossibility to grow some of the tropical produce that many people like in Canada, are also part of the equation.

It’s important however, to not take our local farmers for granted. Many of our local farmers are developing innovative new greenhouse systems and working with new indoor growing technologies to maintain production during our Canadian winters and attempting to farm as sustainably as possible through organic farming practices. Ideally, more people would also attempt to garden at home, and choose produce that is considered to be more environmentally friendly (which usually translates to buying locally). While our urbanized way of life and potential lack of skills and knowledge might be used as excuses to not try growing our own food, it is indeed worth the effort and satisfaction.

If growing your own food is not an option, changing your consumption habits to support local growers and suppliers is an impactful way to move toward food security. With borders being closed and food production factories shut down for weeks at a time, relying on Canadian farmers makes good sense. Choosing an Ontario tomato rather than one that has been shipped from as far away as the equator not only helps our farmers—who in turn help us—it also reduces the amount of carbon emissions that result from shipping produce over long distances. Bringing our food supply chain closer to home is one way in which we can help to implement sustainable agriculture and reduce the impacts of climate change. As consumers, we have the power to drive this change.

This blog section will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with bi-weekly updates provided by Liette Vasseur, Heather VanVolkenburg, Kasia Zgurzynski, Habib Ben Kalifa, and Diana Tosato (see research team). We will be providing research activity updates as well as informative pieces that delve into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change. Stay tuned for regular updates!

Categories: Organic Science Cluster 3 Blog, Updates of the Chair