Locally sourced produce grown here in Ontario, May 2020 (Photo: Abby VanVolkenburg).
Where does our food come from? If your answer was the local grocery store, think again! As we talked about in last week’s blog, much of the food found in grocery stores comes from somewhere other than Canada. This causes challenges such as heightened emissions, attributed to shipping, as well as food chain supply disruptions, especially in times of uncertainty, such as during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, we need to consider supporting our local farmers to allow them, in turn, to support us. The relationship is reciprocal, with both parties standing to gain a great deal from one another’s support. Supporting local growers means supporting their livelihoods as well as our overall quality of life. There are also countless environmental benefits of supporting local.
So how does one support local growers? At first the answer may seem obvious: We need to educate ourselves on where our food comes from and try to buy locally sourced products whenever possible. Yet, there is so much more to it than that! Aside from selling what they produce, farmers are also faced with many uncertainties in terms of how they produce. Extreme weather events that result from climate change, such as temperature and wind fluctuations and more intense periods of heavy rain or prolonged dry periods, present challenges for farmers. In addition, they also face increasing pressure from pesticide/herbicide resistant organisms, depleted soil fertility, and dwindling (not to mention expensive) synthetic fertilizer options. Farmers need management options that utilize approaches to farming that are more sustainable.
Sustainable farm management options already exist; many of which have been utilized in the past, before industrialized agriculture became a dominant figure on the landscape. From supporting beneficial organisms, to utilizing non-synthetic fertilizers and increasing cropland diversity, there is no shortage of alternate management options. What is missing, however, is guided research that investigates those different options, and combinations of options, to help farmers apply the best option to suit their own unique situations. Research is not only an important part of understanding farm management techniques, but also in policy making decisions, as well. Policy can either support or work against management choices that are connected to our food supply chain.
In many ways, farmers are supported by policy and policy is created based on current research data. Anecdotal information is not enough to dictate or change policy (which often works against more sustainable farming practices). There is a need to support both our farmers and local research efforts to ensure that solutions to today’s sustainable agriculture challenges, both environmental and social, are possible. The OSC3 here at Brock is one such research project that embraces farmers’ knowledge, sustainable practices and the investigation of novel crop management strategies for the future of Canadian food security.
This blog 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!