Whistler 2020 off the ground 

You say potato, I say global food crisis?

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All this talk about a global food crisis has many folks hungry for solutions. In Sea to Sky Country, we are on the cusp of a movement to deal with this crisis on a local level with some serious collaboration and cooperative locomotion.

We’ve got movement on positive solutions and the seed has been planted in fertile Sea to Sky soil, with many good examples on the ground. At Whistler-Blackcomb, the baked organic Russet potato you chow down next winter in the Roundhouse or Glacier Creek will have been grown at Across the Creek Organics in the Pemberton Valley. Pemberton’s Economic Development Commission is working on developing a local food brand and strategy. The Pemberton Festival is hosting a local Farmers’ Market during their event. The Whistler Farmers’ Market will open June 15 and the Whistler Community Services Society’s Community Greenhouses are growing with a new greenhouse at Alpha Lake Park ready to go.

Now that organic foods have become an international business and more and more bulk organic produce is shipped thousands of kilometres, the organic label alone won't help local growers compete. The most important word to stress now is “fresh.” No matter who grew it or how well it was grown, some long distance produce is a week old by the time it gets to Whistler — local is freshest. Whistler’s enlightened restaurants and eaters have been and are eagerly seeking out local produce in season.

“Where possible, we will certainly be taking a more local approach,” says Randy Jones, Whistler-Blackcomb’s GM of Food and Beverage and a member of the Whistler2020 Food Task Force. “With the Russet baked potato product, this is the first time we have gone to a local grower up front at the beginning of the growing season.”

Across the Creek Organics will supply Whistler-Blackcomb with 25,000 pounds of Russets through this innovative, local deal which could be the first of many as Pemberton producers are working hard to find out what, and when, local products can be featured on the menus of Whistler restaurants.

The Whistler2020 Food Task Force I am lucky enough to be part of held a meeting this March and at that time I learned there were enough potatoes in Pemberton’s roothouses to give half a million folks 50 pounds of potatoes each. Pemberton has got land, farmers and production, and we’ve got plenty of consumptive capacity in Whistler.

“We’ve just started to scratch the surface on the potential of our local food system,” says Alexandra Ross, Pemberton’s Economic Development Officer. “We have a lot of history here as a farming community and we have a lot of production capacity. We need to work all the farmland we have as farms. Then we really need to work on getting some food processing plants here to make the entire scene organic and green.”

B.C. Agricultural Land Commission stats reveal the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District contained a total of 27,126 hectares of land in the Agricultural Land Reserve at the end of 2006, however not all of this area is in farm production. A 2007 B.C. Provincial Government report entitled "B.C.'s Food Self Reliance" estimates that B.C. produces 48 per cent of all food consumed in the province. Of food that can economically be grown in B.C., we’re 56 per cent self-reliant. The projected provincial population increase to the year 2025 will require significant increases in food production in order to maintain B.C.’s current level of food self reliance and the real opportunity seems to be with what we can produce here, rather than what we have to import.

These food facts and the dirt under her fingernails have inspired Pemberton farmer Anna Helmer of Slow Food Cycle Sunday and the Pemberton Farmer’s Institute to organize a public forum to build local capacity and understanding on these food issues. Set for Aug. 14 at Millennium Place in Whistler, the evening event will bring together a panel of producers, public and food policy folks to discuss “The Future of Food in Whistler and Pemberton.”

With a focus on opportunities designed to offset challenges, Helmer says the forum will bring folks to a shared table in order to add value to our evolutionary local food system.

“The choices we have to make now with our food are really difficult and it’s not going to be one person standing up and shouting about it… it’s going to be the whole community united with one common goal. If we are going to move the food system in a direction which is healthier for us and the planet we need to make that choice right now,” she says.

The Whistler2020 Food Strategy, developed by a task force of mostly Whistler and Pemberton representatives is part of our local solution to the global food problem. Watch for the launch of the Food Strategy web page on the Whistler2020 website Canada Day. Oh potato, we stand on guard for thee.

To learn more about “The Future of Food in Whistler and Pemberton” email annahelmer@hotmail.com or to get involved, visit www.whistler2020.ca .

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