SPRINGDALE, NL - Brooke Blanchard of Valmont Academy took first place in the Lions Senior Speakout contest recently held in Springdale.
The 17-year-old from King's Point spoke about food security in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Here is a look at her winning speech:
Hello everyone, judges, audience, fellow speakers. I am here tonight to talk to you about an issue in our province that many of you may not have previously thought much about. Food security is one of the biggest challenges Newfoundland and Labrador is going to face in the upcoming years. The majority of our population today has a false sense of where our fresh produce comes from, and we often look down the street to our grocery stores for sustainable access. However, the truth is that over the past couple decades, our sustainability of food supply has been supported by international trade and shipments.
Did you know, that according to the government of Newfoundland and Labrador and its assessment on food security in the province, out of the 100% of food that we consume, less than 20% is produced here in Newfoundland and Labrador. When you sit down to a plate of cooked supper, do you ever look down at your plate and wonder exactly how far your food had to travel before it finally reached your refrigerator or pantry?
Let us take a closer look using a bag of carrots as an example. Unless you buy locally grown carrots (when they are available), some carrots that are widely sold at grocery stores have travelled roughly 7,450 kilometres; which is precisely the distance from Israel all the way to Newfoundland.
If we begin to look at the "product of" labels on our produce, we begin to realize that much of our fresh produce has been shipped hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres. Cod fish, beef, potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, and much more produce are all available to us in local stores but come from different parts of the world. The startling truth about food security in our province is that it is highly dependent on import shipments. Think about the fact that if the provincial ferries stopped running, Newfoundland and Labrador would only have a few days of fresh produce supply before grocery store shelves would empty.
It is important to realize that access to affordable fresh produce is vital for a healthy population, and by relying on other provinces and countries for these types of foods, we are
putting ourselves at risk. So the next question may arise; "we once grew our own produce nearly a generation ago, why are we now relying on outside suppliers and international trade to sustain a whole province?"
The cost of farming on a large scale in this province is much higher than in other competing import countries. Because of this, it puts local farmers at a disadvantage, unable to compete with lower import prices. The fact that the farming community cannot compete with import pricing means that many have left the farming industry, leaving hundreds of hectares of farm land to become vacant weed lots.
What was once a cultural activity, farming has become less popular as a way of life among younger generations, thus causing us to lose our skills and ability to grow fresh produce even on a small scale. The society evolving into one that thrives on modern convenience has no appetite for the hard, but satisfying, work required for commercial farming today. It is an unfortunate truth that members of our province will one day no longer have the skills to even grow food for their own family.
So how do we fix this food security crisis? Well, unfortunately I do not have the knowledge or the authority to provide you with all of the answers. But, I can tell you this. Living in one of the many rural communities that was once booming with commercial farmers, the vacant farm land and old rusty tractors that haven't been used in over two decades is enough for me to comprehend that merely one solution is not going to bring us to where we should be.
As a province, we need to be creative in the way we tackle this situation and the first step should be reinventing a mindset in the current generation. One way of doing this would be establishing a community perspective on what food sustainability really means. While the province has recently developed and presented a strategy to stimulate the agricultural sector of this province, there still needs to be the development of food sustainability on a community level.
One idea could be promoting community gardens throughout the municipalities of the province. Community gardens encourage interaction among the seniors and youth, and may be the spark to inspire today's generation to reinvigorate the agricultural economy of our province.
Another opportunity to influence youth about the importance of food security would be introducing the importance of being self-sufficient in classrooms. Teaching kids how to be food self-sufficient could be as simple as growing tomatoes in a Grade 3 classroom.
While we all realize that we will never be cantaloupe and pineapple farmers, my biggest point of the night would be for us to recognize the huge potential that does exists in the agricultural industry alone. So, one day if the ferries were to stop running, we would have at least a few weeks before we resort to non-perishable "instant mash potatoes" right out of the box. On your next trip to the grocery store, when you pick up your bag of Prince Edward Island potatoes, I would like you recognize the distance they have been shipped and, most importantly, recognize the fact that we have the ability to grow them right here at home.