Food council seeks to engage government in urban farming practices

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While the defense of food is a trendy topic these days, few people are willing to step up on a local level to seriously engage in pursuing an ethical, green agenda.

However, a new organization called the Alberta Food Policy Council is doing exactly that.

Paul Hughes, an outspoken Calgary-based green activist and one of the group’s main founders, said progressive, sustainable farming is the name of the game.

“We firmly believe that local food equals local jobs,” said Hughes, adding the group is committed to environmentalism as good business.

Although the health and environmental benefits from local, organic produce are known, the Alberta council takes it further, by maintaining the economic gains to be had from small, urban gardens are too good to pass up.

“We’re trying to tap into the research that’s already been done, not reinvent the wheel,” added Hughes. “Just take what’s out there and apply it in an Albertan context.”

The Alberta council was partly established as a way around the Calgary council, which fell to the wayside after it was entangled in municipal bureaucracy during its extensive contact with various committees at the City of Calgary, said Hughes. Hughes also said the council was at a standstill with its initiatives.

Chelsea Pratchett, who helped with the Calgary Food Policy Council with Hughes in 2008, said she thinks the new council is definitely needed.

“We need more people who are realistic about what we can accomplish as citizens and as a grassroots movement on a policy level,” she said.

Evan Woolley, communications advisor at the City of Calgary’s Office of Sustainability, said a committee is currently making an assessment of the Calgary food system, whose results will be taken to a municipal council next spring. He stressed that the committee is made up of a diverse cross system of people in the food system.

Pratchett said she hopes the new council will remain light-footed, and “able to work with the province rather than under the province.”

Paul Hughes

Paul Hughes, a founder of the Alberta Food Policy Council, says the province needs progressive, sustainable farming practices.
Photo by: Connor Bell
Hughes added the new council still plans on extensive contact with municipal governments throughout Alberta.

“There just isn’t a lot of work out there for sustainable foods right now and that’s a place where we want to see government get involved, starting to create incentives,” he said.

With the City of Calgary being the largest landholder in the city itself, Hughes said he feels a lot of that space could be better used for food.

“There are literally thousands of acres of land that are just empty and would be suitable for this,” he said. “Tax opportunities, employment and training go along with that.”

Hughes said he wants the Alberta council to help local legislators to make it easier for small-scale technology such as greenhouses and new gardening methods, to become available to more people in more places.

“If we can extract oil from the sand, I’m sure we can start to advance the technology for extending growing seasons to six months,” said Hughes.

On their website, the council cites increased food security and accessibility for urban centres as a key part of their policy, with assistance for small producers and farmers in more rural areas.

Urban agriculture isn’t the only thing the Alberta council plans to tackle in the future. Hughes said it’s going so far as to hire a researcher, whose job would involve “expanding the economic potential for local food systems” and helping the Alberta council create the arguments to support local initiatives.

While that position is open for now, there is still no shortage of help, said Hughes, as the group will rely on other councils for initial support from the network of around 150 food policy councils throughout North America.

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