Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner by guest authors Karen Fox and Ruth Blaicher. This is the introduction to a series of articles about food issues I will be writing over the next few months.
Have you noticed food prices creeping up, especially for items like bread and meat? With the world now one big interconnected marketplace, what we pay at the grocery store relates directly to myriad production issues around the globe. But the real players in this new drama are two old economic buddies called “supply and demand”.
The planet’s population has exploded from around 1.65 billion in 1900 to more than 6.9 billion today and is growing by around 78 million a year. By 2012 it will exceed 7 billion. That’s a lot of mouths to feed: “Demand”.
On the “Supply” front, violent weather has caused havoc on no less than five continents this year. Thailand lost much of the rice crop leaving little to sell, Russia has imposed a ban on wheat exports after severe drought and wildfires, Pakistan lost most of it’s stored grain in the recent flood, India suffered it’s worst drought in 37 years, East Africa is in it’s fifth year of extreme drought, leaving 23 million on the verge of starvation, Australia is being called the “new dustbowl” due to prolonged drought and depletion of aquifers, while Egypt, Ukraine, Romania, China and the Southern US also suffer from severe water shortages. Canada’s own prairies endured storm events and high water levels this summer drastically impacting grain production.
Biofuels add a new twist to the supply side crisis as agricultural lands are swallowed up for ethanol production. We are now growing corn for fuel, cattle feed and fructose additives, instead of food. As over-farming of agricultural land worsens, dependence on petroleum-based fertilizers increases while rising oil prices escalate both the price of fertilizers and the cost of shipping food around the globe. That doesn’t bode well for those Californian or Chilean strawberries in your grocery store in January, not to mention bananas, coffee, tea, sugar, exotic fruits and so on.
On the home front, our local grocers carry only a 2- or 3-day supply of food at any given time. With the majority of it traveling a great distance it’s not hard to see that a disruption in the food chain could lead to stockpiling or hoarding and something we have not experienced in recent memory: empty shelves.
Perhaps it’s time to brush up on some old skills of self-reliance and self -sufficiency. Can you find your local food producers? Could you grow some food in your own yard? Do you remember what Grandmother taught about canning or preserving? Some great resources can be found with the folks at Simcoe County Farm Fresh who have compiled an excellent document on local food growers, Living Green Barrie, who supported Barrie’s first community garden, and Transition Barrie who are initiating “reskilling” courses on food preserving and storage.
Most of the world realizes there is a looming food crisis. Here in our land of plenty we are just waking up.
Ruth Blaicher and Karen Fox are local Realtors and founding members of Transition Barrie with a passion for green issues, and are directors of Living Green. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org