Opportunity in local food, conference told

N.L. stats show plenty of room for farm, research investment

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on October 8, 2015

Poor quality or no produce on store shelves? No access to traditional foods? No food for sale at all in a small community? Obesity due to overeating and a reliance on fast foods?

It all ties back to a need for strengthening the local food system, said Kristie Jameson, executive director of the non-profit Food First NL (formerly Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador).

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 Jameson was addressing a gathering at the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association (NEIA) NewLeef 2015 conference, at the Holiday Inn in St. John’s Thursday morning.

“First of all, we are incredibly dependent on outside food sources. We’re producing only approximately 10 per cent of fresh vegetables that are available from provincial wholesalers,” she said.

She highlighted the rising average age of farmers (now 55).

“For every 10,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, there’s 14 fast food outlets and there’s only three grocery stores. So the types of food you have more readily available to you are the more highly processed, less-healthy options,” she said, pressing a message that there is simply space and demand for more local.

It means business opportunity (Jameson connected here with some of the NEIA members in attendance), in growing, processing and selling local foods.

When talking about strengthening the food system, another speaker at the ongoing conference spoke directly to farming produce.

Adrian Unc, an associate professor at the Grenfell Campus of Memorial University of Newfoundland, encouraged a look beyond easily accessible statistics on farmland acreage and any attitude that this province is not worth agricultural study.

He highlighted past studies of soil conditions, temperature and precipitation levels to show Newfoundland and Labrador cannot really be easily compared to other places.

He brought up records showing years of data and the number of days areas of this province and Nova Scotia have spent above the five and ten-degree Celsius mark, with this province proved much colder, as just one example.

He suggested real potential to grow the agricultural sector going forward, if the money is there for research and then strategic investments, where there is scientifically proven potential.