“I would say that if the village perishes India will perish too… Industrialization on a mass scale will necessarily lead to passive or active exploitation of the villagers as the problems of competition and marketing come in. Therefore we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use.”
Leaders from Canada and the USA gathered to learn how local rural economies and the social fabric are devastated by the outsourcing of food production. The Institute for Local Self Reliance summarizes key studies that examine the impact of large retail chains and the benefits of locally owned businesses.
As consumers ignore their local farmers in the interest of cheap industrialized food from afar, they put their local farmers and processors out of a job. As local farmers specialize in global commodities and compete on economies of scale, they lose their fair share of the food dollar, down to 15.8% according to the USDA.
The family farm is swallowed in consolidation with the consequential depopulation of rural Canada and the loss of services and infrastructure. StatsCan reports a drop from 87% rural population in Canada in 1851 to 19% in 2011.
But it does not have to be that way. At the FFFF conference this weekend, keynote speaker Michael Shanon presented compelling data in a case study where a mere 25% shift of food purchases to 18,000 new jobs, generate more than $500 million annually in wages, and $120 million in state and local taxes.
The challenge is to rebuild the local food economy in an era of high land prices, pressure from developers, the loss of processing and handling infrastructure, and the disappearance of small town food entrepreneurship. The FFF conference, while viewing the complete complexity, focussed on a common challenge – access to capital.
In Canada, we celebrate the many programs that seek to rebuild the local food economy from coast to inland to plain. In Québec, the “Fonds d’investissement pour la relève agrocole” (FIRA) is an innovative cooperation between government and private lenders to support new and young farmers with innovative financing schemes.
In Ontario, Farm Start develops new small farms and includes a training component focused on farm financing and business development. Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have developed interesting investment programs with tax incentives to invest in local food and farming. Innovative work is underway to help costal fisherman to connect directly with consumers and increase the financial viability.
In our era of rising energy and transportation costs, big business meltdown, and growing consumer awareness, local food businesses are enjoying a big explosion in popularity. And where people lead, governments will follow as we see the recent introduction of the Local Food Act in Ontario.