By Surfrider Pacific Rim Chapter Manager Lilly Woodbury

It’s wild to think that it’s only in the last century that we’ve become dependent on food travelling from all over the world. Previous to this, we were mostly sustained by the fruits of our surroundings, what grew without our interference and what was cultivated by our own and neighbouring hands. Now, on any given day, we are most likely eating food produced by people and landscapes unknownst to us, maybe not even aware of what region our food comes from unless we read the packaging. This disconnection has spurred many consequences, from the erosion of our personal health to the degradation of all of the earth’s systems.

Like the poisonous apple in the fairytale of Snow White, a vast amount of food consumed by the world has been tainted, through genetic modification, the use of chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides, and the addition of harmful additives and antibiotics. On the flip side of this, food is not always a byproduct of an abundant planet like it used to be. Sadly, it is often squeezed from eroded soils and animals, and through its production, processing, and transportation, our industrialized food system only continues to worsen the state of the systems needed to grow healthy foods. To add to this situation, an overwhelming amount of food now comes wrapped, packaged or strapped to a wide array of plastics. A recent read of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle inspired a deeper search for local solutions to these issues, as Kingsolver states: “Locally grown is a denomination whose meaning is incorruptible. Sparing the transportation fuel, packaging, and unhealthy additives is a compelling part of the story, but the plot goes well beyond that.” Lucky for us, we can understand this provocative plot through this coast’s own local food movement.

To learn more about the resurgence of the west coast’s local food movement, Surfrider caught up with Leah Austin, a Community Coordinator for the Tofino Community Food Initiative (TCFI). The TCFI is a “not for profit community group that formed in 2009 when a bunch of dedicated individuals decided to lay down their shovels and set about dispelling the myth that it is near impossible to grow food on the West side of Vancouver Island.” The TCFI is a major player in growing this movement on the west coast, providing education to students and the public, running agriculture initiatives, offering workshops and events, supporting neighborhood nodes of food growing, and working with the District of Tofino to create more edible gardens in public spaces.

With a duck in hand, Leah explained how local food is one of the key answers to eradicating plastic pollution: when we pick, serve and sell food fresh from the earth around us, we eliminate the need of sentencing our food to plastic confinement so that it can survive travelling long distances. Thus, growing and processing our own food is essential to combatting plastic pollution. When going to markets or local health food stores, we can also bring in our own containers to stock up on what we need. Similarly, as seen with the TUCG Box Program, the boxes the food is provided in can also be taken back and reused. Leah also pointed out that in a local food growing system, there is a need for communication amongst members so that excess portions can be shared. This too also facilitates the equitable distribution of food, and again, eliminates the need to package food in plastic and/or throw food out.

By growing local food, we also work to eliminate food waste. When we grow food ourselves and rely on food grown from farmers we know, we are more likely to honour the time, energy and connection behind this sustenance. With a strong local food movement also comes increased composting opportunities, as compost is an essential aid for nurturing rich soils. Ironically, in Canada, 31 billion dollars worth in food is thrown out annually, which is equivalent to 40% of the food consumed. What gets thrown out along with this food? A whole lot of plastic. According to Stats Canada, “food packaging waste comprises approximately one-third of all Canadian household waste, and only 20% is recovered for reuse and recycling. Unfortunately, food waste and plastic waste are connected and both have been increasing over time.”

Like all system change efforts, youth are key to seeing that changes can be sustained over the long term. The TCFI know this well, as they just planted a food forest at the Wickaninnish Elementary School, an exciting addition to the school’s garden which they also revitalized, of course, with the assistance of all students! Both of these projects get students involved in and excited about the food growing and harvesting process, a skill that has been lost amongst many individuals in the western world since becoming dependent on imported and packaged foods. Students learn how to eat right out of the garden, and the fresh taste and fun of this gets the kids hooked. Want to get your kids to eat their kale and veggies? Send them to a garden patch! TCFI is also working with Ultramarine to create stepping stones for the food forest out of plastic marine debris that has been removed from local beaches through Surfrider clean ups. This plastic is finding a new use, but perhaps it is also foreshadowing the future, where plastics are relics of the past, just like fossils found in sedimentary rocks that we also walk on. This is what a bright future looks like: people harvesting food where they live, and where they are an agent in co-creating and co-managing healthy food growing ecosystems.

To claim back and reskill our green thumbs, we also need education and trainings made available to all ages. This month, the TCFI is organizing the West Coast Farm & Garden Show at the Tofino Botanical Gardens from February 22nd to 24th. This multi-day event is plush with workshops, presentations, an off-the-grid dinner event, film event, a farmer’s co-op, and seed swapping table! This is our region’s opportunity to learn more and get involved in the local food movement, with workshops on growing food, beekeeping, composting and food preserving! Presentations and discussions on local food systems will also give attendees the chance to dig deeper into this topic, and will help folks gain a more critical eye for understanding the world of food and our active place in it.

As the Tofino Community Food Initiative teaches us, rising above plastic pollution, and many other forms of pollution mentioned earlier, comes with taking back our rightful powers to grow our own food and using our diverse skills to make what we need for our local communities. While reflecting on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Leah expressed, “food is pleasure, food is connection”; local food fosters stronger connections within communities, and a stronger connection with the earth. At the end of the day, it is these relations we need to heal in order to prosper: our relationship with ourselves, amongst each other, and with the planet. These reasons exemplify why growing local food is a necessity, and how our path to sustainability needs to include local, organic, ethical, and plastic free foods. Fortunately, the path here has already begun, and is waiting for us to dive in hands first.

To learn more and get involved with the Tofino Community Food Initiative, visit www.tofinocommunityfoodinitiative.com