The province is trying to create the perfect recipe for the promotion of the local food industry.
It’s asking Albertans to weigh in via written consultations that end Jan. 19.
“Local food has become a very important sector in agriculture, so we are looking at what we can do to further support and grow this industry,” Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier says.
Legislative provisions under consideration include establishing a definition of local food (i.e., “food grown, made and/or harvested in Alberta and then marketed in Alberta”), proclaiming a Local Food Week to increase consumer awareness and celebrate the local food industry, enhancing food safety training requirements for approved farmers’ market managers and vendors, and applying existing federal organic product regulations and organic certification requirements to organic products produced and marketed within Alberta.
“It’s time to switch the lens on how we view farming,” says Susan Roberts, director of Alberta Food Matters, an organization that promotes local healthy food.
“We need to think locally first, then talk about exports.”
She says local producers are usually small farmers who are often environmentally conscious, yet there is no funding to help support and build up the number of organic farmers in Alberta.
“Most government funding is allocated to larger farms that partake in commodity farming for export.”
Dana Penrice from the Young Agrarians says a recent survey conducted by the National Farmers Union suggests 68 per cent of young farmers don’t come from an agricultural background.
Their biggest barriers are access to land and capital, something her group would like to see addressed.
“They are trying to buy and rent land, but finding that can be difficult if they are not embedded in the rural communities.”
These young people frequently lack the minimum amount of capital required by lending agencies. Instead, they might turn to crowdfunding to raise the money they need.
Some municipalities are involved in land-matching programs that pair newcomers with older operators who don’t have family interested in taking over their business, and there is a role seen for the province to help ease the legal side of that process.
Kayla Atkey, policy analyst for the Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention, says research suggests comprehensive food education involving youth and local producers encourages students to adopt healthier lifestyles because they’re more in touch with the environment around them.
She hopes new legislation will lead to better coordination between the health, education, and agriculture ministries and the implementation of local food programs in schools.