Food For Thought: Food Sovereignty

In our last article, we explored the concept of food security—a state in which everyone has safe and reliable access to nutritious food. However, to make this into a reality we must look at the various intersecting issues and components of food security. One such idea is food sovereignty, a model that creates a localized food infrastructure that can exist outside of the traditional food supply chain, creating reliable access to fresh groceries.

a table full of bright vegetables

What is Food Sovereignty?

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, you likely heard talk of the global supply chain. Microchip delays, cars stuck in ports, that random widget you needed took EONS to get. During COVID this was due to lockdowns, labour shortages, and a whole list of additional challenges. If you experienced one of these delays, you’re well on your way to understanding the concept behind food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty puts the emphasis on giving individuals and communities control of the food systems they rely on such as agricultural and animal farming systems. It’s a concept rooted in the idea of depending less on the global supply chain and more on what’s available in our own backyards. It’s “think local”.

Essentially food sovereignty is food systems built and sustained by the people, for the people. It's closely tied to food security, or the concept of having reliable, safe, nutritious, and affordable access to food supplies. You can learn more about food security on our blog. 

Remember back in 2021 when the Ever Given ship got stuck and blocked traffic through the Suez Canal for days? According to the BBC, that blockage halted almost $9.6 billion in trades or roughly $6.7 million every minute the canal was blocked! Oil prices leaped, it took months for everything to get back on track and the repercussions of that one ship blocking one canal was felt around the world.

One ship. In one canal. That’s all it took to send a whole supply chain into chaos. While we were fortunate to not have this disaster affect our food systems on Vancouver Island our food systems are not that much stronger.

A birds eye view of Ever Given ship stuck in Suez Canal.

In June 2023, Highway 4 on Vancouver Island (the main highway to Tofino and Ucluelet) closed due to wildfires. The already remote communities were essentially cut off from the rest of the Island. It took weeks for the highway to re-open and required essential vehicles to navigate difficult and partially unpaved logging roads to bring food to the area. The road, not being designed for tractor-trailers, even caused at least one truck to flip over.

One of the biggest ongoing challenges to Vancouver Island’s food systems is that we live on a big rock in the ocean! A vast majority of the food we eat at the grocery store, restaurants, and your neighbourhood coffee shop are all coming on trucks from the Lower Mainland. If you’re an Islander, you’re no stranger to BC Ferries and the cancellations and ferry costs are leading challenges to our local supply chain.

So, what can we do about it? How can we build a food system that is rooted locally?

Lettuce rows on farm

The Principles of Food Sovereignty

There are seven core pillars of food sovereignty:

  1. Food is for People: Food is more than a commodity. The right to food must be at the center of policies.
  2. Builds Knowledge & Skills: We need to build on traditional knowledge and pass it on to future generations while rejecting technologies that jeopardize or contaminate local food systems.
  3. Works With Nature: Optimize ecosystems and improve resilience through sustainable farming initiatives and biodiversity.
  4. Values Food Producers: We need to support sustainable livelihoods for farmers and those involved in production and harvesting work.
  5. Localize Food Systems: Reduce the distance between food providers and consumers and reduce dependency on corporations for food and seed.
  6. Puts Control Locally: Place control over food systems into the hands of local food providers and reject the privatization of natural resources.
  7. Food is Sacred: Food is a gift of life. It cannot be commodified.

What Does Food Sovereignty Look Like?

There isn’t a hard and fast definition of a successful food system that’s rooted in food sovereignty. The whole concept is to build a system that works specific to a region. What might work in a coastal town won’t work for a prairie city. That being said, there are several local initiatives on Vancouver Island that are rooted in food sovereignty practices:

  • Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture: The organization stewards 83 acres of land in North Saanich and works with emerging growers, researchers, community members and regional farmers to build a resilient and sustainable food system.
  • Community Supported Agriculture: Chat with your local farmer and you will probably hear about their CSA program. CSA boxes are direct-from-the-farm boxes that you purchase in advance of the growing season. A CSA program allows the farmer the capital needed to grow for the season while also having a dedicated customer for the crop once it’s ready for harvest. You can’t get much fresher!
  • BC Seed Security Program: Organized by Farm Folk, City Folk – The BC Seed Security Program is designed to create food sovereignty by working with farmers and home gardeners to build a resilient seed supply. Locally bred seeds are the key to being able to withstand the province’s varied growing conditions

At BCause, we believe supporting local is a great first step towards food sovereignty. Our BC-based vendor catalogue as well as our local charity partners are something we are proud of. Shop the link below and explore what our amazing LOCAL community has to offer. 

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