Erin Mullan: Vancouver local food movement gaining momentum

Erin Mullan
Erin Mullan. Photo: Facebook

The local food movement can be seen sprouting up all over the city, in the form of greenhouses at high schools, an orchard near the Nanaimo Skytrain station and even “guerilla gardeners,” said Langara instructor and activist Erin Mullan.

Mullan spoke today about “why the local food movement matters” for Langara’s Community Lecture Series. Locally produced food promotes health, a clean environment and community connections, Mullan said.

Some community gardens in Vancouver started with guerilla tactics: “people just taking action and getting permission afterwards,” Mullan said.

“I’ve seen sunflowers comin’ up in places you wouldn’t expect them.”

Nowadays, city council is very supportive and the movement has “really taken off,” she said.

“A concrete thing people can do about climate change”

Importing food from far-flung countries instead of growing it locally is bad for the planet, Mullan said.

“To have your apples come from China instead of the Fraser Valley is not sustainable in the long term and it’s not good for the environment,” she said. “If your food travels a much shorter distance, it doesn’t burn up as much fossil fuel. So it is a concrete thing people can do about climate change.”

In 2010, Canada imported 191, 714 metric tonnes of apples and exported 25, 969 tonnes, according to Statistics Canada. With increasing international imports, the total planted acreage for apples in Canada decreased by 7, 689 hectares, or 30 per cent, between 2001 and 2010.

Canada’s top source of apple imports in 2010 was the U.S., followed by Chile, New Zealand and China.

Good for health

Locally grown food isn’t just good for the planet, it’s also good for our health, Mullan said.

Much of the processed food on the shelves of grocery stores is not fit to eat, she said. “Edible oil products aren’t really edible in my view.”

If people eat less of the junk that’s caused an epidemic of obesity, Mullan said she thinks public health problems will decrease.

A common refrain among health professionals is “eat more fruits and vegetables,” she said. “[And] what is locally grown food? Fruits and vegetables.”

Urban farms and gardens are growing at a record speed.
41st Avenue community garden. Photo: Maple Farms, Flickr, donkeycart

Mullan argues the local food movement is also good for the economy.

“If you go to a farmers’ market, you put the money in the hand that grew the food. That money stays in your community. If you put the money in the hand of a sales clerk at a Walmart grocery store to buy stuff that’s come from all over the world, where does your money go?”

Well, some of it, at least, goes to farmers in developing countries. Won’t growing more food locally take away their markets?

“I don’t believe in eating 100 per cent local food,” Mullan said, adding that she buys fair-trade tea and bananas.

It seems the best scenario, for Mullan, would be for every country and every region to produce its own food with far less importing and exporting.

“What can happen in some developing countries, if your entire economy gets turned over to growing bananas, you don’t grow any food for your own people and you gotta [import] your food,” she said.

“You can grow some stuff for export, but you also have to be able to feed your own people with your own food.”

Limit to what small groups can do “unless they have support from local government”

The city of Vancouver supports the local food movement through the Food Policy Council. This is important, Mullan says, since there’s only so much small groups can do without government action.

For example, the city has given local food growers, such as Sole Food Street Farms , control of abandoned lots and supports local farmers’ markets.

Getting your hands in the soil also helps build community connections, Mullan added. Students at Gladstone Secondary  get to experience volunteering by growing food for their school’s lunch program.
Want to help the local food movement? Here are some things you can do:

• Support your local farmers’ market , u-picks
• Support organizations doing this work, through volunteering or donating
• Have any fruit trees? People will harvest them for you
• Take courses through Langara, partnered with Gaia College

Reported by Kevin Hampson

Interview with Erin Mullan :  listen to the  podcast

Urban farm plot in Kerrisdale, Vancouver, B.C. 

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