By Scott Nixon
Special to Advance-Times
VARNA — The first in a series of meetings to discuss the concept of a local sustainable food system in Huron County was held last week in Varna.
Presented by consultants Mary Ferguson and Ryan Turnbull, the goals of the meeting May 8 were to “create a unified understanding of a sustainable food system in Huron, bring learning from other rural areas engaged in sustainable food system efforts and build momentum and leadership for a sustainable food system in Huron County.”
Ferguson said the work will involve creating a current picture of Huron’s food system and seeing who is interested in seeing it go further. One of the jobs is to define what sustainability is, she said, adding Huron is a net exporter of food.
“If we’re eating Chinese peas, does that make sense?” she asked.
Ferguson, based in Kimberley, Ont., was hired by the Huron County Health Unit for the project and said she has done a lot of work on food policy.
Work so far has involved interviews with local stakeholders interested in a sustainable food system and Ferguson said she and Turnbull will be in Huron County frequently seeing what people are interested in.
“To have a sustainable food system, you need a plan,” she said.
During their presentation last week, Ferguson and Turnbull provided a profile of the county and its population, explaining that Huron is one of the most agriculturally-productive regions in the country, while unemployment is lower than the provincial average.
Gaps in the local food system have been identified as accessibility, transportation, local processing and local distribution.
Ferguson said matters dealt with in the study will be what the local food system looks like, what the missing pieces are, who the key players are and how they fit within the system.
Food policy is defined as “the area of public policy concerning how food is produced, processed, distributed and purchased. Food policies are designed to influence the operation of the food and agriculture system.”
Examples of food policy provided at the meeting include a food charter, farmland protection, municipal planning, guidelines for sustainable food production, supporting the local food distribution system, an agricultural development plan and emergency preparedness.
One thing the group will look into is whether Huron County residents want to start a food policy council, which would consist of representatives of various parts of the local food sector who would look into the existing food system and make recommendations for improvement.
Exeter’s Deb Campbell, a committee member, said there was lots of energy shown by the 40 participants at last week’s meeting.
She said access to transportation in Huron is “a huge issue,” and another challenge in the county’s food system is the small population.
“Who knows? Somebody might come up with a brilliant idea,” she said.
Campbell explained that sustainable food is the greater understanding by the consumer to look for and ask for reliable food.
Regarding a sustainable food system for Huron, Campbell said there are simply some products we don’t grow here because of weather.
“It’s hard for us to have a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables 12 months a year. We don’t have that kind of climate. So we do have to rely on some imports, but let’s be reasonable about it.”
She said the cost of local and organic foods are also issues as some consumers will buy cheaper imported foods.
The group already has plans to meet again to work on the project.