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VIU planting the seeds of our local farming future?

There are more than 150 types of garlic. Only three or four types are easily available commercially. -
There are more than 150 types of garlic. Only three or four types are easily available commercially.
— image credit:

Consider everything that goes on between getting food from the farm to the fork.

The study of food systems is  complicated. But it is something Jenny Horn — a PhD in Rural Studies and honorary research associate at Vancouver Island University — said more people are becoming knowledgeable and concerned about.

“People are starting to figure out the corporate model isn’t healthy but they don’t know what to do about it.”

Understanding food systems was the main focus at VIU’s day-long symposium on food security in the Cowichan Valley. The late-October event was sponsored by the new VIU@Cowichan Innovation Lab. Local food activists, farmers and food producers, university faculty, students and the public explored the challenges and solutions to developing local food security.

“We invited the community to come and learn about community movements and organizations around food in the Cowichan Valley. It was an opportunity for people to listen to themed panels with representatives from these organizations. People can then follow up and become more active in the local food movement.”

Attendees heard panels speak on four topics: agriculture education and research since the 1980s; biodiversity and conservation; ways local producers and consumers get together more readily; and imagining food in the midst of an uncertain future.

Horn said we have moved away from diverse food production and toward predictable cost-driven foods, which puts us at risk if any one of our few food options is eliminated.

“For example, there are over 150 varieties of garlic. Commercially you can only get your hands on three or four. It makes it precarious if one of those types of garlic becomes prone to a pest and we’re not able to produce it in the same way. We’re better to have 150 types.”

Horn believes conversations like those that took place at the symposium will guide us back to a place where food systems are healthy, diverse and considered.

“In the past we were capable of producing more than we do now. How do we begin to work together again to move back toward self-sufficiency? Having informed producers and consumers. People hear about it but they don’t know what that all means. If they hear someone present on heritage breeds and get interested, they can then become involved in that movement.”

Horn said her personal objective is to increase the number of farmers and help to retain existing ones. She’s hoping the VIU Cowichan campus can help make this happen. Horn said there is a regional plan in place for the campus, which will unfold during the next five years.

“We are an evolving resource. Our role is to determine where we fit and what the university can do to move the local food movement forward and maintain a healthy food system.”

“We want people to look to VIU for ways in which they can become more involved and learn about food.”

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