Like many British Columbians, residents of the Okanagan have broadly embraced the mindset of buying locally when it comes time to grocery shop – a habit made easier by our ready access to some of the best fresh produce in the province.
However, provincewide, the increasing need to strengthen our food supply security has spurred our BC Liberal government to encourage communities not only to buy local, but also to grow local.
As Agriculture Minister, I was proud to announce at the end of September the launch of Grow Local BC, a pilot project that will provide funding to help communities and other non-governmental organizations work with residents to help equip them with the skills and knowledge to grow their own food.
With recent environmental pressures taking a toll on agriculture in the United States and Mexico and inflating produce prices, which are then exacerbated by the low Canadian dollar when we import produce, many British Columbian families are feeling the strain on their budgets. Given the average household in British Columbia was already spending $8,218 on food in 2014 according to the latest Statistics Canada data, rising produce prices represent a significant concern.
While buying local, BC-grown products is one part of the solution to this concern, growing your own food is another sustainable, economical way to secure a healthy food supply for your family and to contribute to the broader food supply security of our province.
In the Okanagan, we are perfectly situated to take full advantage of the challenge to grow local. With ideal growing conditions, rich soil and a long growing season, our gardens have every opportunity to thrive.
For those of us who may like the idea of growing our own food, but lack the necessary skills and experience – Grow Local BC may be the answer. It will support urban and semi-rural local governments and community organizations as they seek to engage and educate residents in growing food at home and in their community. Ten successful applicants across BC will receive $25,000 over two years to fund educational and awareness activities.
These activities will promote the driving goals of Grow Local BC: to promote and increase involvement with, knowledge of, and skills in local food production within our communities, and so to increase the value that British Columbians ascribe to agriculture while also strengthening our communities’ ability to increase food supply security across the province.
The launch of Grow Local BC is just one of the steps our government is taking to improve the stability, strength and sustainability of our provincial food supply in response to the challenge of food supply security identified in the BC Agrifoods and Seafood Strategic Growth Plan, our government’s blueprint for expanding the BC agrifoods industry to a $15-billion-a-year sector by 2020.
Applications for Grow Local BC are now open and will be accepted until Nov. 4, 2016. To learn more about the program, including eligibility and application details, visit www.iafbc.ca.