On October 19th, I rearranged my day delivering CSA boxes in order to go to Bouctouche for the Liberal government’s announcement on the Local Food and Beverages Strategy. The whole thing didn’t last more than 15 minutes, and when it was over, I asked myself if maybe the first couple minutes I had missed had been particularly revelatory since nothing of great importance was said while I was there. After asking a few other people, I finally realized that the announcement did not clarify the content of the strategy, its objectives, the timeline, or anything else beyond the fact that Minister Doucet thinks the local food movement is “cool”.
Almost two years ago, the National Farmers Union in NB rallied behind a Green Party bill that included a plan to see a higher percentage of local products in public institutions such as schools, hospitals, and seniors’ homes. The bill had precise deadlines for the implementation of the different objectives, and mandated an evaluation of the consumption of local products in NB. When the bill was defeated by the Liberals, they said it was because they could do better. Yet here we are almost two years later, after multiple consultations, with a strategy that includes nothing but a couple deadlines and very few new concrete objectives.
It is not yet a missed opportunity, but without additional funds, energy, and interest on the part of the Gallant government, the logo Minister Doucet presented will be used for nothing more than a couple of t-shirts that will quickly end up at the Salvation Army. That being said, it is also easy to imagine the opposite – with a public campaign touring the province the way the Wellness campaign did, the logo could reach the level of visibility required to make its use attractive to NB farmers. There also need to be limitations on the logo’s use – it can’t be spread too widely in an attempt to build recognition or we will end up finding it on products from away that happen to be sold at our farmers’ markets.
The only goal within the Local Foods and Beverages strategy that was also in the bill proposed in 2015 is the goal to increase the percentage of local products consumed in school cafeterias in NB. It’s the most important of the listed objectives, yet also the least detailed. There is no information on when or how – which is especially important since the Francophone South School District has just lost its partnership with the producers in the south-east through Terroir Food Agroalimentaire (TFA). If we need to start somewhere, it should be by reinvigorating and renewing this agreement as the District, through the Réseau des Caféterias Communautaires, was recognized across the country for this work. Despite its success, the government is letting the program crumble.
There is still hope. The National Farmers Union in NB recognizes the potential that exists now that New Brunswickers have a single unifying logo in their hands. If we use it with pride, and if it can become associated with rigorous high standards, then it will help us on the path to food sovereignty. A logo alone or a few points in a strategy will not have a big impact, but as the tools of a larger vision for a renewed food and agricultural system, I am confident that the strategy might even bring us the recognition that the Francophone South School District received.
Co-owner, La Ferme Terre Partagée
Board member, National Farmers Union in NB