Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment
Fisherville, Ontario, Canada
Tel. 416 410-0432, Fax: 416 362-5231
Vol. 17, No. 3, August 31, 2012


This issue of Gallon Environment Letter reviews the local food movement, something that is seen frequently as an environmental initiative. A new book which is implicitly critical of the local food movement has been getting lots of publicity, especially on CBC radio. The GallonLetter team discussed whether we should even give this environmentally controversial book any publicity at all but eventually decided that a response is more useful than silence. You can read our take on this book, and the issues that it raises, in this issue.

Food interacts with essentially all human activity. Though much of environmentalists' focus has been on water, there is a strong case that food is just as essential as water. Though we may be able to survive a little longer without food than without water, in the long run we cannot survive without food and people facing severe long-term food shortages will quickly become unhealthy. We have an article on the food-water nexus and the issue of 'virtual water'. We look at duck-rice production. We review a recent FAO annual report which includes the statement "Thus far, organic agriculture has proven to be a relatively cheap and practical option to address climate instability". Sounds interesting to GallonLetter. We bring you more details below.

There is so much to write about food that this issue is all about food and food systems in Canada and elsewhere. Next issue we will return to our more usual blend of articles but will continue the food theme by featuring issues like food miles and lifecycle analysis of food products. Meanwhile we encourage you to comment on this issue, or on anything else relevant to environment, sustainable development, and business by writing to A selection of letters received may be published at the editor's discretion.



Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu in their book Locavore's Dilemma (see separate articles for Desrochers' talk to the Cato Institute in Washington and for other food issues) seem to have set themselves a paradox with a hypothesis that getting food from somewhere else is the best thing to do.

They say their basic argument is "Locavorism can only result in higher costs and increased poverty, greater food insecurity, less food safety and much more significant environmental damage". GallonLetter observes that except for some food supplies such as high seas fishing which don't "belong" to anybody in particular, most of the food in the world comes from somewhere that is inherently local to those participating in making food available. So if one wants to be as glib as this basic argument is, one can just as easily say that without local agriculture there is no global trade. Instead of this kind of chicken-egg question, global and local communities are surely discussing a much more relevant hypothesis: we need change to make the agri-food system more sustainable so that we as humans can adapt to a changing climate and growing population without destroying the ecosystems which support both humans and other life.

Something vs Nothing

To prove the benefits of localism on some level, one needs to find at least a few solid examples where buying local helps the farmers, the eaters, the economy and/or the environment. In other words, the hypothesis for local food advocates is "There are benefits to buying local food" or "Some Swans are Black". This hypothesis is true if there is one black swan, ie some local food benefits.

GallonLetter notes that research on organic farming is starting to collect data on benefits for sustainability and other data is supporting  economic benefits of local food, which is why municipalities often promote local food in departments such as economic development or tourism and provinces have local/provincial food promotion initiatives e.g. Select Nova Scotia, Mangez Québec, Foodland Ontario, Dine Alberta. (see also separate article on USDA Economic Research Service studies). Nevertheless, data on environmental benefits of local food if it isn't organic is still somewhat sparse. Most people in the local food movement are not against trade even though, in the last few decades, food trade has sometimes appeared to push out local production. Desrochers and Shimizu, the authors of the Locavore's Dilemma seem to be saying that "Buying local food is Bad and only food from a distance is good" or "All Swans are White". The locavores have to prove that there is at least one black swan but the authors have to prove that there are no black swans which is a much more difficult undertaking.

The authors have to keep adjusting their hypothesis, for example by allowing somewhere further along in their book that buying local "in season" might be acceptable but that otherwise consumers should be buying from the other hemisphere. Someone who called into the CBC radio said but then food from the wrong hemisphere is in our supermarkets now. GallonLetter wonders why the authors who espouse free market absolutism should get involved in second-guessing the consumer choice of local food at all.

Moiling for a Slam Dunk

The authors try to make points at least some of which are not supported by more authoritative views on the subject such as:
The author's references and some of their discussions touch on topics that in themselves are often interesting such as on greenbelts, food security, time for food preparation, taste, fraud, and food safety. But just when one finds that one can see some point of agreement with a statement they turn it into something else with a preface, an interpretation, an adjective or all-or-nothing and either-or type addendum or a throw-away line which name-calls actual or strawmen critics of some aspects of globalization. For example, some of the comments are loaded with innuendo and are wrong: for example, they claim that cooperatives are "rarely if ever discussed in any meaningful way" - this is just wrong. This is the UN International Year of Cooperatives. There are more than 200 legally constituted agri-food coops in Canada alone, with some of them being multi-million dollar operations and many more informal cooperatives. The Canadian Co-operative Association provides profiles of various cooperatives in different communities and sectors including those in agri-food and has published a sustainability toolkit as well as an environmental casebook profiling such agri-food coops such  as Organic Meadow Co-operative.

Desrochers has said they received some nasty emails. Most of the people in the local food movement we know aren't likely to send uncivil emails even if they express a difference of opinion. However, if the authors are going to go around name-calling people as crocks, it isn't surprising if someone somewhere, not necessarily the stalwarts, are going to say "Right back at you." But if it were possible to claim we should get our food somewhere else, it would have been better for the authors to get on with making the "Let Them Eat Global Cake!" case (surely an unhappy choice for an ending chapter title on the topic of food, given that the original statement was made in the context of bread shortages during the French Revolution!).

The subtitle of the book is more than a semantics problem. They chastize locavores for promoting local food on the basis of distance the food travels (food miles) which they say is not relevant to the environmental impact of food or any other benefits such as economic and then use a subtitle that is entirely based on distance - the 10,000 mile diet.

Support for this book came from the Mercatus Center in the US, described by SourceWatch as a libertarian group which was founded by the Koch brothers through George Mason University in Montana. The Kochs are known to have funded climate change disinformation projects at other organizations to protect their coal and oil interests. Charles Koch is on the board of Mercatus.

Another View

We doubt very much that it is possible to build a case for all local or all global, all small scale or all large scale agriculture because it is impossible to unravel the interconnectness of the food supply chain not only with respect to food issues but also on others such as climate, geography, politics, energy sources and fuel supplies, water quality and quantity, etc. Even labour for local food is a link between global and local: sometimes it is offshore workers who do the work to produce local food and just as often also provide the knowledge such as which pests and diseases are affecting the crop and how best to deal with them.
Opening speaker for the Canadian Agriculture Policy Conference in January 2012, Al Mussell of the George Morris Centre, an agri-food research organization based in Ontario, observed that "there is a tendency for unilaterism on either side- "camps" that speak only to their own." Instead he recommended an improved policy debate and accessible dialogue: "Farm and food issues are complex and important. No one has all of the answers."

Canada really needs a national food strategy which sets out a roadmap linking trade issues with regional and local initiatives to foster choices towards sustainability: Some of those choices may involve adapting from the status quo, to enhance the good features of the options environmentally, socially and economically, and decrease the negative features, and others may be more fundamental changes. This requires work on a range of issues including a view of the impacts and a variety of market approaches because there is no authority, with some exceptions such as contaminated food regulations, to tell farmers what they can grow, and companies and consumers what they can buy or sell.

GallonLetter thinks that the issue of food and farming is much more important than bottled water, which seems to have gotten more debate in the press. Desrochers has generated a discussion which has often resulted in local food advocates getting some media coverage criticizing his criticism. Also a good thing is some of his criticisms of advocates not to overgeneralize the benefits of local food. But we need to have discussions with less of an appeal to the either-or: local food is good or local food is bad.

Peter Ladner, a former Vancouver City Councillor and author of The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities, wrote in Business in Vancouver in March 2012 about a Food Summit on a national food strategy (an election promise of the Conservatives during the last federal election) hosted by the Conference Board of Canada. The industry-funded Centre for Food in Canada which promotes industrial food was at the podium but Food Secure Canada which promotes more local, ecologically produced food was said to be shut out. Ladner writes, "Securing the safety, supply and affordability of our food is the most fundamental requirement for national security and well-being. It cannot be left to industry lobbyists working directly with government officials consulting their selected researchers and stakeholders - or to kitchen table solutions that ignore international market realities and opportunities. All-or-nothing proposals from either side don't cut it. Get together, people."

Ladner, Peter. Digesting solutions to food industry challenges. Business in Vancouver. March 13-19, 2012.

Desrochers, Pierre and Hiroku Shimiz. The Locavore's Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet. New York, NY: PublicAffairs(TM), a member of the Perseus Books Group. New York, NY: 2012.

Canadian Co-operative Association CCA. Co-ops and environmental sustainability.

Mussell, Al, PhD., George Morrise Centre, Canada’s Independent Agri-Food Think Tank.Welcoming Remarks. January 12, 2012. Second Annual Canadian Agriculture Policy Conference. Ottawa, Ontario: January 11-13, 2012.


One of the authors of Locavore's Dilemma spoke at the Book Forum of the Cato Institute. An official commentator was Gary Blumenthal, President and CEO of the global food and agricultural market analysis and strategy consulting firm, World Perspectives, Inc., with clients include multinational trading firms, food processors, multilateral financial institutions, agricultural financial institutions, commercial banks and hedge funds, producer groups and various governments. He expressed the view that the "locavore concept is greatly frustating" and mentioned the Wall Street Journal as describing Desrochers as a "a gleeful debunker". Blumenthal compared "foodies" both local and organic to "fundamental Islam", rejecting modernity. He said local foodism was exemplified by Obamacare where they were going to make people eat broccoli. It seems odd that Blumenthal who works in markets where money rules (or as CBC's Kevin O'Leary would say, 'One share, one vote - I love democracy') wants to stop people from spending money on what they want to buy.

GallonLetter notes that in much of the Desrochers and Shimizu book, local is often equated with small scale or organic with the implications that such food production isn't producing enough to look at twice. If so, why get so bothered?  Even if the other features said to be associated with local food production (costs too much, takes too long to prepare, is rife with fraud, harmful in terms of food poisoning, etc) were actually real rather than just claimed to be so, the scale is said to be so insignificant.
The local food movement in Canada has had a much higher profile over the last few years, no doubt raising consumer awareness to a certain extent and perhaps even getting more people to eat local broccoli. However, a report by Agriculture Canada on Health and Wellness Trends in October 2011 didn't register a blip on non-store suppliers such as local farmers markets except to say,
"Organic food has become a popular option among those concerned about the environment, and has been championed as a method of sustainable farming. Consumers have become more educated about the ecological benefits of organic farming, and when organics first emerged, the original concept was to support local and small farmers. However, the organic sector has become so successful that mass production is supplying the growing demand for these products. Now, even large companies are introducing organic versions of their most popular products."

Large companies aim for competitive advantage e.g. McDonald's says they use Canadian beef and Unilever advertises Hellman's mayonnaise as being made from Ontario and Quebec eggs (Light Mayo produced in Canada or the US is also from cage-free chickens), and canola from Canadian Prairies. Hellman's web page has a link to Eat Real Eat Local. "Canadian" isn't exactly local but has a similar tinge for many people.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.

Local Food in U.S. Farm Policy

A Congressional Research Service Report on local food in January 2012 observed that:
While there is no established definition of local food, concepts include:
Reasons why consumers buy locally include:
Among the kinds of farm businesses engaged in local foods are:
"direct-to-consumer marketing, farmers’ markets, farm-to-school programs, community-supported agriculture, community gardens, school gardens, food hubs and market aggregators, and kitchen incubators and mobile slaughter units. Other types of operations include on-farm sales/stores, internet marketing, food cooperatives and buying clubs, pick-your-own or “U-Pick” operations, roadside farm stands, urban farms (and rooftop farms and gardens), community kitchens, smallscale food processing and decentralized root cellars, and some agritourism or other types of onfarm recreational activities."

The 2008 farm bill contained only a very few provisions which directly support local and regional food systems but other farm support systems may indirectly provide some support.

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Some say that the local and/or organic food movement is a fad but some farmers have been working for decades to change farming practices and help consumers understand that their food choices can benefit their health and the environment.

For eight years, GallonLetter's editor also edited the Newsletter of the Ecological Farmers of Ontario EFO, which was organized by farmers in 1979 (that's a long time for a fad) and continues to be run by farmers for farmers. For over 30 years, it provided (and continues to provide) farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing around good food and farming, promoting both the health of the soil and of local communities, the practical applications of sustainable farming practices such as cover cropping, crop rotation, planting green manures, composting, soil conservation, timely and appropriate tillage, good livestock management, promoting genetic diversity, and avoiding the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

When we interviewed them for articles a lot of these farmers spoke of the big step necessary to convert to organic because all the conventional wisdom of how to farm was against it - the dire consequences included going broke. In many cases, they or their families were farming conventionally in cash crops, livestock, fruit, chickens, eggs, dairy, vegetables, and they transitioned or converted to organic sometimes after several years of attending EFO or similar workshops such as those organized by the Canadian Organic Growers. There was little or no support from the provincial or federal agriculture departments although more recently that has changed but not much. While their neighbour farmers were visited regularly first by chemical and later also by biotech seed company salesmen with advice, they didn't buy much in the way of such inputs as they are allowed to use only permitted substances as specified now by the Canadian Organic Standards (earlier by individual organic standards organizations) and then only under specified conditions for some of these chemicals. Few of the farm trade shows provided much organic/sustainable farming information. (1)

They often knew that their neighbour farmers regarded them as crazy but on a number of occasions won the neighbours over to organic.

Organic food production has increased dramatically though from a very small base and that in itself is a credit to these farmers, many of whom took a big risk and prospered. While like other farm businesses, some have faced challenges, most we talked to were happy with their decision: the combination with lower input costs and higher prices for organic food meant they were profitable and benefited from other non-monetary factors such as less health risk due to chemicals, and a way of farming which they found more satisfying. One of the dairy farmers told us that as a conventional farmer, he lost some cows despite expensive visits by the vet and after converting to organic, his vet bills went way down and his cow losses were lower. He had no science to tell of why this improvement occurred but it was a benefit.

Some of the younger farmers said that if their only option had been conventional cash cropping they would not have taken up farming so organic farming also helps with succession, keeping the farm in the family. We talked to quite few women farmers, who seem to find organic farming more accessible especially market farming where their skills at business planning, social relations, and marketing gave a farm business advantage. Over time, there also developed related organic businesses such as grain mills, and milk processors, professional organic farm business advisors, and more university researchers. Although small scale farms often can't afford the latest technology, medium-sized organic farms and processers use equipment like any other farm businesses except some of the machinery is specialized e.g. organic farms often have to do more mechanical weeding and some crops like spelt (a type of wheat grown for thousands of years and now of interest as a health food; health, it tastes more nutty than common wheat), need equipment to be dehulled at the miller. Animal welfare is a section in the organic standard. One organic dairy farmer we met had installed a robotic milking machine: the cows could go to be milked whenever they felt like it - the setup was state of the art with chips to identify each cow and with automated cleaning before and after milking. (2) The farmer who thought he knew his animals well was surprised at the schedule the cows chose.

The recession has led to some downturn on organic food prices and some farmers who switched because of higher prices for organic product might convert back to conventional. Consumer demand is critical to those kinds of decisions. Now organic has proven to be a bestseller, the market is becoming dominated by big players, mostly not in Ontario or Canada. Local identity helps some of these local organic food pioneers compete again.
(1) The provincial program Foodland Ontario has linked Ontario Food with organic through a Foodland Ontario Organic logo. In a 2011, it conducted a marketing survey which showed a quarter of shoppers would buy organic more often if they knew it was from Ontario. As of June 2012, 13 Ontario producers and processors are using the logo on their products. At Canada's Outdoor Farm Show to be held September 11, 12, and 13, 2012 in Woodstock, Ontario, the Ontario Foodland Ontario sponsoring again an Organics and Market Vegetable Expo.

Elford, Evan. New Crop Development Specialist, OMAFRA. ON Organic. June 2012.
Canada's Outdoor Farm Show.
(2) For one example of robotic milking see DeLaval.Voluntary Milking System.
Ecological Farmers of Ontario.


One of the panellists in a session on risk perception at the 2nd Annual Canadian Agriculture Policy Conference, held in Ottawa in January 2012, spoke about a pyramid of consumer priorities. The global drivers to trends pyramid that Ted Bilyea of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute outlined had population at the base and income rising to the side. The first three drivers nearest the base listed were food security, then food safety, and thirdly affordability. As income rises drivers listed were taste and convenience followed by health, then sustainability and then ethics.

Risks to food security and food affordability due to rising world food prices are risks which are life threatening. These risks have led to revolutions.

Large companies such as Kraft, Nestle, Pepsico, McDonalds, Maple Leaf, and Danone are said to spend a lot of money on consumer analysis and have a consensus on consumer needs which are that wellness and sustainability are increasingly important to consumers along with affordability and taste.

These corporations are attentive to demand for healthy choices, managing weight, adding fibre, vitamins and calcium to meet consumer needs. Revenues for some of these companies are showing an increasing percentage of revenue coming from healthier foods (even though these sales are often still relatively small compared to less healthy foods).

A slide from Danone at the session described a need for breakthrough models which provide the consumer needs of the pyramid while dealing with inflating costs and producing profit for the company. That would seem to be a more constructive, and appropriuately free enterprise approach, than trying to crush consumer opinion.

Unilever has goals such as sourcing 100% of agricultural raw materials sustainably. Nestle states that consumers are looking at food more holistically and asking more questions: what's in my food, where does it come from and how was it made. Responsible sourcing, family health and wellbeing and environmental sustainability are surely what many consumers are expecting from brands.

McDonald's is committing to buying a specified target of cage-free eggs in the US.

Issues such as emerging diseases (swine flu) jumping from pigs to people, increased mortality from infectious disease, return of old diseases such as polio and tb and antimicrobial resistance, as well as Greenpeace protests against palm oil suppliers destroying rainforests in Indonesia, affect some of the choices of some consumers. Some companies, in GL's opinion the smarter companies, see opportunity in meeting changing consumer demand.

GallonLetter thinks that it is very likely that these and other drivers affect consumer choices for local food here in Canada and elsewhere. Even countries with little food production can change due to pressures such as food scares. Singapore has little arable land. The country's Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority was the first outside of China to identify food, such as milk powder and brand name milk chocolate cookies, with melamine contamination. Since then Singapore has set an agenda for improving its own local food industry's capacity for food safety and for increasing food resilience through urban agriculture.

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The US Department of Agriculture  continues support for, and seeks to link up, various programs related to local and regional foods such as "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food", local food purchases for child nutrition programs, grants from farm-to-school programs, and the People's Garden which is an Administration initiative promoting community and school gardens. Some Republicans in Congress criticize these initiatives for diverting funds from mainstream farming.

The USDA, through its Economic Research Report, has prepared a series of studies on regional and local food markets. One such report, comparing local and mainstream food supply, concluded among other things that:

"Third, relative to mainstream chains, the local supply chains studied in this report appear to retain a greater share of wages, income, and farm revenues within local areas. Differences in supply chain linkages, retail prices, and input costs between supply chain types may determine the relative impacts of consumer spending in the local economy. Of particular interest is the role of supply chain structure in determining the number and types of jobs that local supply chains may create relative to mainstream chains."

Some other observations were:

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One of the benefits of global trade is said to be a beneficial transfer of water from countries rich in water to those short of it. Professor John Anthony Allan from King’s College London and the School of Oriental and African Studies was named the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate. He envisioned that by importing food, water-short countries such as those in the Middle East could take the pressure off their scarce domestic water resources.

One of a number of papers on virtual water by the University of Virginia concluded in 2011 that virtual water transfer often doesn't benefit water scarce countries or people to a degree which would be significant in offseting the growing number of people facing water shortage. Reasons include:
This virtual water paper concludes that "Historically, agricultural trade, a proxy for virtual water transfers has increased exponentially with globalization but the numbers of people experiencing water shortages and the proportion of people experiencing more severe shortages have both increased considerably despite these increased transfers." This doesn't mean there are no benefits to virtual water transfers as some countries can benefit and achieve more food security but it does mean that to achieve the benefits more broadly might require more that just leaving it up to trade.

A couple of other views are that using national or international data may not accurately reflect regional or local water resources used in agriculture. Just because a country is water-rich doesn't mean that where the food is grown has adequate water.

Leaky Exports

The Council of Canadians, the non-profit group, with a focus on protecting Canada's water resources wrote a paper last year on virtual water, saying that this is an important issue to be addressed in policy, "While Canada is often touted as having 20 per cent of the world’s water supplies, in fact it has 6.5 per cent of the world’s renewable water. Many parts of Canada are facing some form of water crisis and nowhere is our groundwater properly mapped. Yet the practice of allowing almost unlimited access to our rivers, lakes and aquifers for commodity, energy and mineral production and export continues without public debate or oversight." Alberta is seen as particularly at risk from virtual water exports because it has just 2% of Canada's water supply but accounts for 2/3 of the water used for irrigation for crops many of which are exported. The US receives the majority of Canada's agricultural exports and the embedded water that goes along with them.

Fraser and Okanagan Areas

Using two water basins, Lower Fraser Valley and the Okanagan Basin in British Columbia, a University of British Columbia study showed that the amount of virtual water in crops/livestock varies with the crop/animal, yields, management practices and climate. Such data can inform decisions about growing different foods and the effect of changes in agricultural land use and management. When 90% of the avaible water is being used, as was indicated for this study, then future growth may be limited by water constraints so water conservation becomes essential.

Some observations (caution based on older data such as from 2001) include:
Mm3/yr - million cubic metres per year
m3/ha  - cubic metres per hectare

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On the topic of "Sustainable, organic, local, and ethical" (SOLE), the anti-locavore book suggests that sustainable development is proposed by "activists and sustainable development theorists" who are leading people on a trip to the past of overwork, starvation and poverty. It involves a description by Robert Paarlberg, a political scientist at Wellesley College (Wellesley, Massachusetts) who has written widely on international food politics including a book called "Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa". Paarlberg is said to see SOLE as a daily reality in sub-Saharan rural Africa where farmers can't afford modern technology so organic is the reason they work from dawn to dusk, with only 4% of the land irrigated; there are no roads so they have to sell all food locally, with no cooking technologies, they spend a big part of the day preparing food. Yields are only a fifth of those of the advanced economies, income $1 a day and one out of three people are malnourished.

In another section in a similar vein, the authors describe the example of a "Japanese farmer, who, on his seven acre Kyushu farm produces enough rice, vegetables, duck meat and eggs, fish and vegetables to feed 100 local families" as "old fashioned subsistence agriculture."

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization defines subsistence as "Subsistence farming: A form of agriculture where almost all production is consumed by the household, often characterized by low-input use, generally provided by the farm."

Takao Furuno: the One Duck Revolution

Apparently there are some subsistence farmers in Japan, including people disaffected by the economic crisis, who spend some of their time farming and some earning a regular living. Takao Furuno is not a subsistence farmer although his innovation is helping subsistence farmers.

He is world famous. Inspired by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, he adapted an organic system for rice production which also raises ducklings which eat weeds and insects reducing both labour and inputs, drop nutrient into the soil, and foster more tiller (1) growth in the rice for more yield by swimming through the rice paddies. The ducks are removed before the rice starts to produce heads because the ducks eat the rice head but not the rice plant. It is in fact a method used for thousands of years in Asia. His contribution is enclosing the field with fences, electric if possible, to protect against predators or nets and breeding a small duck from domestic and wild birds to have sufficient energy to paddle around a lot. The Furuno system encloses the cultivated land, the crops and the animals together at the same time. Direct seeding of the rice rather than transplanting saves additional labour. He received a doctorate degree in agriculture from the Kyushu University, Japan in September 2007 with this system forming the basis of his thesis.

He recognizes that the system is developed for the Japanese natural and economic conditions and invites farmers in other countries to adapt these technologies for their own conditions, describing the method in a 2001 book called The Power of Duck: Integrated Rice and Duck Farming. He was honoured by the World Economic Forum. as a social entrepreneur. His system has been the subject of rice research. The agri-ecological method was found by a study through Poverty Elimination through Rice Research Assistance in Bangladesh to be economically rewarding, higher yield than traditional rice system with 50% higher net return and rice provisioning ability. Labour and pesticide costs are reduced to the rice and the ducks provide another source of income. A visiting Chinese scientist at the Weed Management program at Cornell, a university not known for taking a romantic view on agriculture, writes a few papers every year on duck-rice farming. An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 farmers have adopted the system in the Phillipines, South Korea, Bangladesh and other countries. Some of these farmers are subsistence farmers. Furuno who spends most of the winter travelling to talk about the technology has observed that for small Asian farmers, "We are being destroyed by some aspects of globalization."

Not Subsistence

Without knowing much about Furuno's farm production but knowing our own direct purchases from local organic farmers: a dozen organic chicken eggs are $4 a dozen and one organic duck, a variety which is quite large at 8 lbs, would cost $40. Our scratch pad calculation was that it was probable that each family buys $500 a year giving the farm at least an annual income of $50,000 a year, a whole lot more than $1 a day.

The average Canadian household spent an average of $7,443 a year on food including restaurant meals in 2010 according to Statistics Canada, or on average 14% of annual income; the Japanese spend a higher percentage of their income on food (23% in 2010 according to the Japan Statistics Bureau). The average income of a Japanese household is higher than American but the prices mean the buying power is 60-70% of Americans. On average, Japanese eat fewer calories than North Americans. In an interview, Bill Mollison, considered a founder of modern permaculture, an alternative way of agriculture which mimics nature through natural layering providing multiple services e.g. a tree provides fruits or nuts while also providing shade where it is may be too hot otherwise for perennials and then the tree leaves later add compost to the soil. Mollinson said Furuno produced 7000 lbs of organic rice a year and 2000 ducks with an annual revenue of $136,000 in 2001.

In terms of size, the Furuno farm, originally 7 acres but bigger now as Furuno developed some labour saving methods to reduce the workload which allowed the farm to expand, is not subsistence because it is somewhat bigger than the average farm in Japan. According to the USDA the average farm business is 2 hectares or just 5 acres and to qualify as a commercial farm must make somewhat over $5000.

GallonLetter notes that one of the things that Furuno was very pleased with was the dual benefit of the Integrated Rice-Ducks Technology: both the rice and the ducks become food with a significant reduction in risks from chemical inputs but some rice farmers apparently aren't interested in the ducks as food. After the ducks are removed from the rice paddies, they have to be fed and cared for. In a paper about rice-duck innovation adopted in Hongdong, South Korea, researchers from Switzerland present an excellent discussion of what it takes to make change in a sustainable direction. Farmers see change as a risk and it was only due to demonstrations by a local high school and other knowledge transfer activities over time which proved to the farmers that that ducks could replace pesticides. The farmers only keep the ducks in the rice for one month instead of the two months in Japan. They rent the ducks from a breeder in a village 150 km away and then return them after the ducks have done their paddling and weeding work so the dual benefit isn't realized.
(1) Rice belongs to the family of plants which includes grasses and many of the grains. A rice tiller is a branch which arises from near the base of a rice plant, usually develops its own roots, flowers pollinated by the wind and eventually the rice grains. Like other grains such as wheat and barley, the bushier the plants are ie the more tillers the more (generally) the yield of grain. Corn has been bred not to tiller much so as to produce the grain on the main plant stock.
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In his talk to the Cato Institute, Pierre Desrocher (see separate article) said his book criticizing local food was inspired by his wife who is Japanese and was upset when they attended an event at which a "prestigious speaker" spoke on the ecological footprint and described those who feed outside the local foodshed as parasites with the Japanese being the worse.

GallonLetter notes we don't know who this offending speaker might have been but William Rees, about whom we wrote in the last issue of GL because he won the Blue Planet Award from the Japan-based Asahi Glass Foundation, has several presentations regarding cities as symptomatic of society, saying such things as, in a 2009 talk for a Resilient Cities conference held in Vancouver, "Cities are ‘emergent’ phenomena. Their structure and function reflects the mental models—the beliefs, values and assumptions—of the society that creates them.If a society is unsustainable its cities will be unsustainable...Modern cities have emerged as fractured, incomplete ecosystems that parasitize the ecosystem. For sustainability, cities must become self-reliant, self-producing, complete, regenerative ecosystems e.g. urban centred eco-regional city states." He regards all modern cities as eco-deficit and gave a specific example for Tokyo:
"The Ominous (but all too typical) Case of Tokyo
GallonLetter notes that the word parasite originates from the Greek parisitos which means "one who eats at an another's table." (Canadian Oxford Dictionary) Although offended by the use of the word parasite, in his book Desrochers describes humans as the ultimate invasive species, which is certainly daring as well.

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Here is an example of advice given by one local food advocate, The Foodshed Project based in Sudbury in northern Ontario, which suggests:
Even if one doesn't agree with everything, some of this advice can make one think more about making better food choices wherever the shopping is done. GallonLetter's Editor has never been able to accept that advice about planning a menu before going shopping; we would rather go and see what is being offered, what the prices are and choose depending on freshness or inclination. Then we have a set of recipe-templates which can used for whatever food needs to be eaten in a hurry. We itemize the meal plan in the morning of each day by first looking in the frig and pantry see what needs eating, second checking the garden for what could go good with those choices and third think about what we would like to eat. A frittata is just as tasty made using diced red pepper at this time of year or snow peas earlier. A fruit salad is always different depending on the season. And when it is really necessary to use leftovers (with a guide of using cooked food within three days), inventiveness may lead to such things as a recent chili which included a combo of local market and home-grown hot peppers, fresh tomatoes and leftover kale, which disappeared but must have contributed somehow to what turned out to be the best chili ever. The only sad thing is that not using menu plans and recipes means the tasty result is not exactly replicable. There is also very little food waste from purchased food. People with finicky families have to adopt much different approaches.

Foodshed Project. A Healthy Foodshed. Sudbury, Ontario.


In its 2012 report, the FAO says that most of the food consumed in the world is sourced locally. The world has produced more than enough food to deal with population growth only food isn't available to those who can't afford to pay: "per capita food availability has risen from about 2220 kcal/person/day in the early 1960s to 2790 kcal/person/day in 2006-08, while developing countries even recorded a leap from 1850 kcal/person/day to over 2640 kcal/person/day." Global trade has helped to support food security for those countries where people can afford to pay. Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the places in the world, the FAO report calls Mathusian Islands with among the highest population growth and the lowest income, and indeed in such places, the ability to produce local food is challenged by the "current productivity capacity of the land". Food security depends on availability, access and utilization which differ in urban and rural areas and also by economic status. Urban people have more access to both local and imported food. Those urban dwellers of low income who are part of the urban food production system are more food secure than those who must rely only on purchased food.

Food security is threatened by a range of risks including:
The volatility of prices as well as high food prices in the global market can lead to high income fluctuations for farmers; if they luck out and the prices are down below their production cost at harvest, many have no ability to store the harvest and no access to insurance or savings. With no protection against losing more than they can afford even if they could also gain from higher prices, farmers face too much risk and leave reducing the local food supply due to high volatility in food prices.
Organic Farming

Land organically farmed in 2009 totalled 38 million hectares of land. Areas under organic cultivation tripled from 1995 to 2010. Oceania has more area under organic farming than any other region. Other areas expanding organic lands are Western Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United States. The report details some of the benefits such as contributing positively to food stability and farmer livelihood by establishing soil fertility, well-structured soils, improved water retention, reduced water pollution, protection of biodiversity with beneficial side effects on plant health and nutrients and efficient water use. The report concludes this section with:

"Thus far, organic agriculture has proven to be a relatively cheap and practical option to address climate instability. This option is based on scientific evidence for certain regions and extensive, though not scientifically documented, effective field application. Reports consistently show that organic systems have enhanced ability to withstand droughts and floods and maintain high resilience in the face of unpredictable impacts of climate change.

The deficits of organic agriculture are mainly related to lower productivity. However, the deficits should not be exaggerated. Significantly lower yields, those in the range of more than 20 to 30 percent compared to conventional agriculture, occur mostly in cash-crop-focused production systems and under most favourable climate and soil conditions."

Overall, the amount of land in organic production is miniscule, in Europe in the single digits as a percentage of land use and in the rest of the world a fraction of a percent.

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Like so many other concepts, eating in season has a range of interpretation. Some see it as merely a matter of sourcing: e.g. strawberries from the farm markets when they are available or some of the time they are available and strawberries from imported sources other times or when it is convenient. For others, the concept involves both a change of sourcing and a change of menu, resulting in certain foods not being eaten during all 12 months of the year.

The change of menu approach means that once asparagus season is over, for example, one doesn't eat asparagus again because it isn't available locally. Instead one follows the flow of local food. The reason is that this a way to increase the amount of local food consumed. Here in southwestern Ontario the local food supply is varied and ample bringing different tastes and variety but in other regions, seasons can be longer or shorter supplying a different range and quantity of food.

Efforts to Produce Food Available Longer

Unless business is really good in season, profits all year around are really a prime objective so it is not surprising that commercial operations want to be the go-to point all year around not just in season both for local and if possible also for the export market. This is articulated by the Norfolk Fruit Growers, a cooperative which has a retail store in Simcoe, Ontario , "Today's consumers expect crisp, juicy apples twelve months a year, regardless of where they live. ...Through the years our industry has undergone many revolutionary changes in how we grow, treat, handle much and market our apples. One thing, however, remains constant and that is the Norfolk Fruit Growers' Association's dedication to providing top-quality Ontario apples to our fellow Canadians and to the rest of the world. Over 90 years of expertise, respect for consumer concerns, and a never-ending diligence to improve our product are testament to our success, both now and in the future."

There isn't a market farmer we know that doesn't work at extending the season. They plan their plots and their seed purchasing so they plant and replant to keep the supply fresh and pickable. The William Dam Seeds Catalog near Dundas Ontario, for example, says for Spinach Culture: "Sow outdoors from early spring to late summer. There are different varieties for spring and fall culture than for summer culture." Some commercial growers we have visited have transplants on hand such as eggplant which might not ripen before the first frost but they plant when they get space because of the sales potential if the frosts are later. Others grow early and late greens in unheated hoop houses. Row covers for day-neutral strawberries (a type to extend the strawberry season beyond June when early strawberries no longer produce) sometimes help to extend the picking for some weeks. Some add processing such as pickling, jams and jellies or baking such as fruit pies which can be frozen. It is commonly said that on average about 80% of a raw food's lifecycle impacts are in production. Storage of local food to extend the season means that food that would have gone to waste can continue to be sold so that those production impacts don't go to waste: storage and processing may go against the concept of "in season" but seem to be a natural progression for scaling up local food production.


Greenhouse growing is said to be bad for the environment because of high energy use. GallonLetter wonders though whether we should avoid dismissing the potential of greenhouses to extend the season until more work has been done on reviewing the operations to improve their environmental footprint. One of the benefits of greenhouses is that glass ones last a long time and can grow a large quantity of food using much less land than fields. We've seen various methods to reduce energy loads in the winter e.g. one greenhouse operator has separations so only parts of the greenhouse are heated. Instead of heating during the dead of winter, the local Fisherville Greenhouses here shuts Christmas and restarts in the spring when the heating requirements are much lower still producing tomatoes several months before field ones are available locally.

Buying local food doesn't mean that the environmental, health and economic benefits automatically accrue just because we want them to but just as in improvements towards sustainability of other economic sectors, the status quo can change but it may take work.

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Local food is more than fresh fruits and vegetables but this is probably the category most people think of in relation to local food in season. Japan's Statistics Bureau says Japan's present food self-sufficiency rate is the lowest among major industrialized countries, and Japan is thus the world's largest net importer of agricultural products but when it comes to fruits and vegetables Japan is more self-sufficient than Canada. For example for 2008, Japan was 79% self-sufficient in vegetables compared to Canada's 59% and 39% self-sufficient in fruit compared to Canada's 17%. As previously mentioned, most of Japan's farms are small in acreage and most cities have farm units within their boundaries.

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A literature review prepared for the Alberta government in 2010 discusses ecological footprints related to agriculture. Some observations are:
A 2006 study of Scottish diet indicated that a variety of diets including diet meeting Scottish nutrient standards, organic diet, 100% local food and vegetarian all reduces the food footprint between 15%-35%. Most of the impact on the diet footprint is from meat.

According to the authors, ecological footprinting is a limited indicator in that it is difficult to operationalize ie adapt to measurable outcomes on a regional or local scale, tends not to be specific enough to where the environmental impacts occur and doesn't account for certain ecological practices e.g. protecting wetlands or reducing pesticide use which are not easily measured by the tool. Just like other metaphors including perhaps GallonLetter thinks, food miles, ecological footprinting is a powerful way of communicating but not so good making the change needed for achieving more sustainable results.

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After issuing an RFP earlier this year the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority TRCA approved entering into a lease agreement with Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Centre for "the purpose of establishing the Toronto Urban Farm that will develop a locally based, ecologically sustainable and economically viable agricultural enterprise on TRCA land at Black Creek Pioneer Village." The farmland is 8 acres at Jane St. And Steeles Ave. owned by TRCA but originally leased to the City of Toronto for the Toronto Urban Farm. In 2011, the City of Toronto announced it wouldn't be providing funding for the farm and turning the property back to TRCA.

The TRCA evaluated the proposals on five criteria:
Everdale Organic Farm and Learning Centre is a teaching farm located in Hillsburgh, Ontario that grows food as well as engaging in farming education. Everdale will consider how to make one acre available for community use as gardens. Among a number of strengths including a 10 year track record of organic farming was Everdale's partnerships. Partners are going to include among others FoodShare which provides programming on healthy local food, York and Ryerson Universities which will provide urban farming internship for credit and Housing Service Corp to use the farm to help launch urban food related businesses in the low income community.

One of the founders of Everdale is Wally Seccombe who is also a Chair of Everdale, a sociology professor, a long time member of the Toronto Food Policy Council and an articulate spokesperson for local organic food. In 2007, he wrote a paper for discussion on why and how to ensure Ontario is able to continue to produce food. One of the issues is that of land conversion. Every year Canada's best farmland is lost to low-density urban sprawl. Between 1951 and 2001, the Central Ontario region lost 49% of its farmland to the Greater Toronto Area. From 1966 to 1996, Ontario lost 1.5 million hectares of farmland to non-agricultural uses. Ontario has over half of the best farmland in Canada. Class 1 soils have no significant limitations for use with crops. Seccombe writes, "On a clear day from atop the CN Tower, you can see 1/3 of the Class 1 farmland in Canada."

The Toronto Urban Farm is part of The Living City Vision of TRCA, which is "a broad vision that can only be achieved with the help of our partners and the community as we aim to build a foundation of healthy rivers and shorelines, regional biodiversity, sustainable communities and business excellence"

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. Index to Authority Meeting. #2/12. Toronto, Ontario: March 30, 2012. and
The Living City Vision.

Seccombe, Wally. A Home-Grown Strategy for Ontario Agriculture A new deal for farmers, A new relationship with consumers. Toronto, Ontario: Toronto Food Policy Council, 2007.


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