Dave Carlson is worried about development encroaching on his Burnaby farm land.
Carlson, who runs Common Ground Community Farm, is part of the new generation of farmers making a go of it in Burnaby's Big Bend area. His farm is part of the approximately 600 acres of land in the city that is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Recently, the city began turning North Fraser Way into a through road, he said, and came four metres onto the farm property and dumped road preload material onto it.
"You should see what the front of the house looks like. It's like a war zone out there. It's like a big preload gravel pit," Carlson said.
That is one of the reasons Carlson was glad to hear about a ground-breaking regional food system design and planning project being proposed by Kwantlen Polytechnic University researchers and other educational institutions.
"I'm glad someone's taking the initiative to protect our food sources," he said.
"If it takes Kwantlen to be the people to come and bring it to the cities to make it happen, I think that's awesome."
The project is very intuitive in terms of local farmers' needs, according to Julia Smith, who runs Urban Digs Farm in Burnaby.
"The most interesting thing is, what they're proposing is what we're discovering we have to do anyway," she said. "We're a new farm, obviously, and what we're finding out is that, though we set out to be more self-sufficient, we're actually finding that it takes a community.
"In order to make this economically, environmentally and socially viable, we do have to work with other industries, other farmers, and look at building relationships and links in all of these areas," she said.
Representatives of the project recently asked the City of Burnaby to participate in and support it.
Kent Mullinix, director of the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, spoke to council about the project at the Jan. 14 council meeting, and council asked staff to prepare a report on the project and Burnaby's possible involvement.
"This has not been done before, not to this extent, not this thoroughly, not per the dimensions that we are doing it," Mullinix said in a follow-up interview with the NOW.
Mullinix, along with his colleague Arthur Fallick and teams from five other educational institutions, is working on the three-year project, which would develop a regional food system design and implementation plan for southwestern B.C.
The Kwantlen team is also working on an identical project in the Yukon.
The teams have already undertaken two years of planning on the projects. The Yukon project is fully funded, while more than half the funds needed for the $1.5 million southwest B.C. project have been raised.
Thus far, nearly $600,000 has been contributed by the six universities involved, $300,000 was donated by the Real Estate Foundation of B.C., $50,000 was donated by Vancity, and municipalities in the region have agreed to contribute more than $100,000 in total; one-third is in in-kind contributions.
The potential benefits of the B.C. project include contributing to the regional economy, creating small to medium-sized businesses, creating jobs, providing food from local sources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving energy and reducing waste production, Mullinix told council.
The project would include five regional districts - Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Squamish-Lilloet, Powell River and the Sunshine Coast.
Mullinix is asking Burnaby and other municipalities to participate by recognizing the merit of the project, assigning a liaison to work with the research team and represent the interests of the municipality, and to contribute $4,000 each year for the three years of the project.
Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said at the meeting that he had served on Metro Vancouver's agricultural committee in the past and the issue of local food systems had been discussed extensively.
"There's a steady decline in terms of the ratio of the food that's currently produced locally and consumed locally versus what's coming in from outside the province," he said. "It's unfortunate the B.C. government hasn't been overly supporting local agriculture."
Coun. Pietro Calendino also spoke in favour of looking into the project.
"I do my food shopping all the time, and I know that every year, you find your food coming from farther and farther and newer countries," he said. "It contributes to the greenhouse gas effect and also the cost."
Mayor Derek Corrigan, who is chair of the regional planning agricultural committee, said Metro Vancouver had also received a presentation on the project.
"It is interesting, and I am a little concerned that the commitment by the provincial government and the agricultural land commission has not been solidified, because I think they are the major players in any consideration of how we operate a regional food system," he said.
Corrigan added the issue of food security, and locally sourced food, is a complex one.
"It's always nice to be talking about local food production and food security, but it's the kind of conversation that comes up when we say, 'Well, what if there's a massive catastrophic earthquake and we depend on ourselves,' in order to look after our agriculture," he said.
Global agriculture is also an important part of the world economy, Corrigan added.
"When we look at how these food systems are working, I don't think there's anything really simplistic about it," he said.