Sustainable food systems in the RDOS

  • Posted on: 20 January 2017
  • By: Michael Brydon

Dr. Kent Mullinix from Kwantlen Polytechnic presented to the RDOS board at its Jan 19th meeting.  His presentation slides, which are data rich, are attached.  His institute also has a website.

Kent Mullinix RDOS presentation

Kent's core assertion is that our food production system is broken.  Although the system has achieved its primary objective of creating sufficient cheap food to feed the planet, it has failed along a number of other important dimensions.  The purpose of his presentation was to enumerate these failures and suggest that an increased emphasis on decentralized (local) food production is a possible solution.

If we accept Kent's argument the question is the following:  What can a local government do about it? We already have an agricultural land reserve in this province and I see plenty of fallow/underutilized land.  Indeed, the de-agriculturalization (made-up word?) of the West Bench still astonishes me.  And I am not sure lack of farming knowledge is the problem.  The West Bench VLA project was predicated on the belief that amateur farmers could, with a little help from the Summerland Research Station, supplement their incomes growing tree fruit.

The subtext of Kent's presentation is that the critical barriers to local food production are primarily economic.  And this is despite existing economic incentives such as reduced property taxes for farms, subsidized water, cheap(er) land (thanks to the ALR), and so on.  Perhaps the problem is that these incentives do not add up to much.  But increased incentives for farmers (or any for-profit enterprise) are bound to encounter political opposition. We saw a very mild form of this when we discussed water rates on the West Bench.  Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) we have so few farmers on the West Bench that a serious debate on water subsidies for farmers is not worth having.

At the end of the day, many of us talk a big game about local food but then (a) choose not to grow food and (b) shop for price, quality, and convenience rather than provenance.  My mother used to can the cherries we grew in our orchard.  I remember as a kid that almost every dinner started with a trip to the creepy cold storage room in the basement to get a jar of some fruit or vegetable. Now, as an adult, I buy grapes from New Zealand in the winter.  I guarantee that, net of opportunity cost, the grapes are cheaper than home-canned cherries.  And not as soggy. So that is what we are up against.

I am curious to hear whether anyone has strong feelings about local agriculture in the RDOS.  We need to decide as a board whether we have a dog in this fight.

(photo from


I have read the report which to my mind is outdated referring to tree fruits. In order to make small scale farming viable on the West Bench we need to look at many more options. I have chosen hops at an attempt at a cash crop. My planting went in five years ago Barriers against making this profiable include irrigation and no farm status for property taxes. Maybe there could be another level of taxation between full farm status and full taxation. For anyone attempting to grow any consumable vegetation irrigation costs could well be a hindrance. At the consumer level the water user can use drip and microjets to minimize usage. We are also in an area where there are water users who are wealthy enough to not worry about over usage and are still of believe that their lawns should by ultra green and weed free.


I should clarify this comment:

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) we have so few farmers on the West Bench that a serious debate on water subsidies for farmers is not worth having.

When we modeled the impact of the different water rate structures, we saw that subsidizing farm water use (as defined by BC Assessment property classes) has little impact for most West Bench residents.

For example, consider the colored lines in this image.  Each line represents monthly costs under the different billing schemes. The farm subsidy leads to very little separation between lines.

As such, the current West Bench water rate bylaw includes a 50% discount on the variable rate for water.