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Rules and reality

It’s hard not to have a soft spot for farm families attempting to participate in the local food movement. For one thing, they put a fresh face on farming, as many are younger than the greying statistical demographic of Canadian farmers.

That said, it’s much easier to partake in a 100-mile diet living on the coast of British Columbia or Florida than it is in Manitoba. You have to give credit to the people seeking to buy locally produced foods and the farmers attempting to deliver it for trying to make the concept work on the cold and sparsely populated Prairies.

In this regard, “deliver” appears to be the operative word. This week we bring you the story of the Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative, which is attempting to connect consumers with southwestern Manitoba farmers by taking orders through a website and then pooling delivery to customers in Winnipeg and other locations.

It makes environmental and logistical sense. Why put several partly loaded trucks on the road when one will do? Why not take advantage of the Internet?

They’ve been offering all sorts of things, including fresh eggs, poultry, meat products, jams and home canning. You could call it a farmers’ market on wheels — except according to provincial regulations, you can’t.

Collectively connecting with the customers over the Internet doesn’t meet the definition of a farmers’ market, and because they are delivering, they don’t meet the definition of farm gate sales. As a result, they’ve been told to stop offering two of their most popular items — eggs unless they have been graded, and poultry unless it has been processed in a provincially inspected facility, neither of which are available within a cost-effective distance for these suppliers.

Home-canning recipes must now be sent for assessment by the Food Products Development Centre at a cost of $150 per recipe.

Rules and regulations are all well and good. We fully acknowledge, as do the members of this co-operative effort, that food safety is paramount and cannot be taken for granted in this day and age.

That said however, sometimes pragmatic exceptions are in order, especially when technicalities are the limiting factor. Other legislation allows for exceptions, such as when proposed residential or commercial development doesn’t comply with existing zoning bylaws. Variances can be obtained after a hearing process.

If Manitoba’s pending regulatory framework is truly “outcome based,” as provincial officials say it will be, there must be some means by which these entrepreneurs can demonstrate they comply with the overarching goal of food safety.

More from the Manitoba Co-operator website: Local is good, but it’s not good enough when it comes to marketing

The inspectors tasked with enforcing the rules should have clear guidelines to work with, not poorly defined grey areas. But there must also be a review process that allows vendors who don’t fit conventional models to make their case.

If home canning is safe enough to be sold at a farmers’ market, why can’t it be delivered to a customer who has placed an order for it? It only makes sense for products going to the same destination to travel on one vehicle as opposed to several.

We hope a reasonable balance can be found. Instead of ruling how it can’t be done, the goal should be determining how it can.

After the winter we’ve just had, it’s hard to take the increasingly dire global warming warnings seriously. But the evidence is mounting and even though many of us have stopped denying the probabilities, many of us remain in denial. We are doing very little to change how we contribute to the problem or taking measures to adapt. Agriculture is no exception.

As the recent IPCC report spells out, even those who aren’t confronted with hurricanes, flooding or tsunamis will feel the effects due to the interconnectedness of the global economy.

Now a new study points out it isn’t just declining yields we need to be concerned about; it is also declining nutritional content in key crops.

Researchers with the University of California-Davis have demonstrated that elevated levels of carbon dioxide inhibit plants’ assimilation of nitrate into proteins, indicating that the nutritional quality of food crops is at risk as climate change intensifies.

Earlier studies have shown that protein concentrations in the grain of wheat, rice and barley — as well as in potato tubers — decline, on average, by approximately eight per cent under elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Based on our dietary dependence on these crops, they estimate overall protein availability could drop three per cent. That’s a reminder that when it comes to the effect of climate change, farmers — and their customers — can be the most affected. They need to do their part in addressing the problem.

About the author

Vice-President of Content

Laura Rance

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at [email protected]

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