Food Sovereignty Supported by Small Scale Farming

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Eat local, buy local messaging has captured our attention, and we’re becoming more interested in how our food is created. But is this having a real impact on our food system?

Third-generation farmer, City of Calgary Food Sustainability consultant and Calgary EATS! Co-Chair, Renée MacKillop says it remains an uphill battle for small-scale farmers who are committed to the concept of food sovereignty. Or, food as a human right.

“We don’t have the distribution systems and infrastructure that make it more economically viable to be a small-scale farmer. For example, meat regulations are created for industrial agriculture and have made it so difficult for small abattoirs that there just aren’t many anymore.”

Nonetheless, MacKillop decided to return to the farm after university because she saw an opportunity to work toward a more sustainable paradigm of agriculture. Just west of High River Alberta, MacKillop’s grass-based livestock operation is a closed loop system that nurtures the animals and the land. The Highland beef is sold direct-to-market to happy customers who embrace MacKillop’s philosophies of animal welfare and environmental stewardship.

“Our customers are inspiring because of their dedication to us; it’s great to feel so supported by people we have just met because they want to buy our beef (they hug me!). It makes me want to try harder to find a way to make this work because right now the local food movement is not perfect.”

Which is why MacKillop spends half her time in the city, engaged in policy and advocacy work with Calgary EATS!. Heading up the city-led community collaboration MacKillop, and her colleagues have a guiding document in the approved 2012 Food System Assessment and Action Plan. But the group isn’t working on quick wins, their recommended actions toward a sustainable and resilient food system are rooted in imagineCALGARY’s 100-year vision.

“Food sovereignty is about justice throughout the entire food system, and we can start in our own communities. Right now food, including animals, is commoditized like any other widget. The local food movement is trying to change that. There are social, economic and environmental benefits that come with a more sustainable local food system,” says MacKillop whose studied social justice, and more recently community economic development (CED).

Buying local is important because it plugs leakages in our economy says Simon Fraser University CED instructor Michael Shuman. “Every new purchase of local food through a local grocery store, restaurant, or community supported agriculture (CSA) means more income, wealth, and jobs for a community. It’s also good for local resilience, entrepreneurship, tourism, social equality, political participation, and public health.”

MacKillop explains our food currently travels approximately 4500km from farm to plate. So buying locally not only reduces food miles, it also builds social relationships between people and their farmers. According to MacKillop if Calgarians shifted just 10 dollars of their weekly grocery shopping to local food it could potentially create 1500 new jobs and retain $150 million in the local economy each year.

“Buying local is making a difference for small-scale farmers as it creates demand for new market channels, such as farmer’s markets, CSAs and direct farm retail,” says MacKillop. “However, to scale-up the local food system beyond its current niche status will require a more democratic, localized food system that recognizes the human right to food and the value of working with nature.”

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