LOCALS remember the feeling that existed for a day or so in early June 2007.
At the worst of the late spring flooding that year, Hwy 16 east and west of the City of Terrace was, albeit very temporarily, cut off.
While the area did not run out of food, milk all but disappeared from grocery stores and there was a mini run on essentials.
It served as a reminder to all of how connected the city is to a complex trucking distribution system.
In fact, the City of Terrace’s Terrace 2050, a plan looking at ways the area could be more independent, says the food supply would run out after three days if access was cut off.
“All of our food is trucked in,” says city official Tara Irwin. “We are lacking any self-reliance.”
It’s why one of the objectives of Terrace 2050 is to increase local food production. Along with the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine, the city has begun with a first step of mapping out land now being used to grow food and land that has farming potential in the area north to Rosswood, west to New Remo, east to Chimdemash and south to Old Remo.
“We just want to find out what’s being done where,” Irwin said.
Once that is done the second step is to build awareness of food growing potential in the expectation that local governments will encourage food production and that a customer base can be developed so that growing food locally makes economic sense.
“We get a sense of support from the community,” said Ted Pellegrino of the regional district who, with Irwin, is piloting the
move toward increasing local food production.
A local food revival would reverse a loss in the number of farms in the region.
According to Statistics Canada, farming in the region has declined.
Compared to 134 farms in 2006, as of 2011 there are only 126 farms, the large majority of which are hobby farms, with revenues between $10,000 an $99,999. Only 1 of 5 farms with 1,120 acres or more remains active in 2011 compared to 2006.
Historically, Terrace and area has struggled to establish an agricultural base. “The Greater Terrace area never reached its agricultural importance originally predicted for it,” the Terrace 2050 document reads.
In the 1920s and 1930s, orchard fruits, small fruits and root vegetables grew exceptionally well, leading to the area being called “the Okanagan of the North.” Commercial quantities of apples and cherries were exported by rail as far as the Prairies.
And to this day, vintage fruit trees populate yards within and without city limits.
Hay, poultry, livestock and dairy products were also produced.
These products were sold locally or occasionally in Prince Rupert.
Peak production was in the late 1940s, and residents supplemented their other incomes with large gardens and livestock.
But as the forest industry took hold in the region, offering better pay and shorter hours than growing food did, production declined.
Rising land costs, low prices for farm products and a lack of marketing to sell those products discouraged those who might be interested in a career in farming.
The 1960s saw improvements to Highway 16, making it easier and more efficient to import cheaper productions.
A population boom the same decade resulted in farmland being divided into residential lots to meet demand.
Marketing challenges persisted into the 1970s, the Terrace 2050 report continued. “Local producers were unable to guarantee volume, quality or timing of products for the major stores,” read the document.
Many of these same challenges persist today.
“[The challenge is] a lack of labour, people willing to work farms when they could work less hard in another industry and make more,” said Pellegrino.
“ … Businesses like Save On, they need a steady supply. They need a reliable supply,” added Lynda Gagne, a University of Victoria professor in the School of Public Administration, who is volunteering time on analyzing farming in the region.
“If we’re going to deal with supermarkets, we’re going to need a distribution system.”
But unlike the past, the cheap imported foods may be rising in cost along with the means to get it here in the not-so-distant future.
Gagne said the situation now calls for this area to be producing its own food once again.
“Increasing energy and transportation costs and concern over the impact of greenhouse gases on climate change all work in favour of the localization of food production,” said Gagne.
“Buying local will stimulate the local economy by more than the initial spending on local food through the multiplier effect,” said Gagne.
“The multiplier effect is greater when more and more people buy local because the money spent by one person on local products is then used by the next to buy local products and so on,” she added.
In other words, when residents buy from local farmers, their profits increase and they will in turn spend more money in the same economy, profiting others in the same way.
The creation of jobs is also apparent in the development of local agriculture. Initially with the farmers themselves and secondly, people will be required to work a larger marketing and distribution system.
While there are many benefits to local food production, increasing the tax base isn’t one of them.
The municipal tax rate is 64 per cent for major industry and 59 per cent for light industry, which is applied to the assessed value. The farm tax rate is 36 per cent.
However, when a farm earns revenues over $5,000 a year, the owners have the ability to apply for farm status, meaning the assessed value able to be taxed by the city is much smaller than market value.
As well, an assessment can be lowered further by stage of development of a farm. For example, if it will take several years before a farm results in production there are provisions in the application process.
According to Ron Bowles, finance director for the City of Terrace, the city would not receive a significant amount of tax revenue if more farms were to begin producing here.
Right now, the taxes received by the city are 45 per cent from residential, 45 per cent from business and the remaining 10 per cent is made up of taxes from utility, light industrial, recreation and farming.
But Bowles said that there wouldn’t be a need to choose between new industrial development and agricultural development because there is enough land in Terrace for both.
Gagne added that there is land available that has already been cleared.
“In the shorter term, five to 20 years, we should expect to see already cleared local land suitable for farming being used to its full potential … It currently isn’t,” she said.
In the short term, there is a land limitation based on what has been cleared. “Land clearing is always going to be costly which means that Terrace has only a limited amount of land to work with, at least for now,” she said.
Local food enthusiasts also point to the environmental benefits.
On average in Canada, food travels 3,000 kilometres from ‘gate to plate,’ that is, from place of production to place of consumption. Put another way, each food shipment is 3,000 kilometres worth of greenhouse gas emissions from transport vehicles. Irwin said she thinks that number might be a lot higher in Terrace given that almost all food comes from somewhere else.
Food found in Terrace supermarkets can be oranges grown in Asia shipped across the Pacific Ocean or tomatoes from Windset Farms in Delta B.C., for example, but still both would be shipped from the Lower Mainland.
When growers are not shipping their products over long distances, they can also avoid the use of pesticides, which are not only bad for the health of the environment but for personal health as well.
In the interest of eating healthy, a consumer buying local is able to visit the farm he or she is purchasing from and check out for herself the farm’s practices and protocols.
Finally, as any local producer will confirm, imported foods cannot compete with the taste of locally grown food.
“Most people have no idea what food actually tastes like,” said local farmer Jaclyn Gagnon. “They don’t know what they’re missing.”