Township of Langley 2017 Farm Tour – Economic Forum on the Road

On September 20th, The Township of Langley and the Agricultural Advisory and Economic Enhancement Committee hosted a 2017 Farm Tour Farming Outside the Box’ – Economic Forum on the Road. LOCO was invited to be a guest speaker to kick off the day. Here’s the text of Amy Robinson’s talk:

LOCO supports stronger communities by developing the local economies that underpin them. We know that economies that distribute wealth fairly and put people first build the strongest communities, so our mission is to do applied research of the policies and practices of a fair and just economy.

Our work is to measure and promote the benefits of independent businesses, growers and manufacturers, help identify economic and policy challenges, and work towards a better local business environment where independent businesses can thrive. LOCO runs a consumer buy local campaign province wide in partnership with municipalities and business groups, conducts community research projects, promotes a local sourcing directory, is developing a community impact measurement assessment for businesses, and organizes events to connect local suppliers.  

I appreciate being invited to today’s event since farming is so close to my heart. My parents grew up on farms in Southwestern Ontario in Harriston & Palmerston – two small towns 12 kms apart. Almost everyone worked in farming. If you didn’t farm, you worked in the supply chain of the auto industry. I spent every holiday of my childhood visiting these towns. On these trips my mother would drive us around buying buckets of honey from local farms and maple syrup and apple butter from a mennonite farm stand to take back home to Ottawa. Growing up, if I bought my father a gift, it better damn well say “Made in Canada” on the label – the livelihoods of the people he loved depended on it.

I founded LOCO to promote the benefits of independent businesses, farms and manufacturers. Economically, they circulate money spent with them many times in the local economy, supporting good jobs and livelihoods. Local businesses purchase services and products from other local businesses, amplifying their economic power. So buying local is a proven way to improve our local economy. Many studies prove this. LOCO’s Power of Purchasing research and another 2013 study showed that on average, 46% of revenue from local independent businesses is recirculated locally, compared to 18% of purchases at chain stores. Each consumer shift of 1% of spending can increase BC’s workforce by 3100 jobs and send $94M in wages to BC workers. BC’s farms are overwhelmingly independent – 98% are family-owned [1], so buying from local farms supports our farming neighbours and their workforce in the community. It’s also part of a growing industry that accounts for about 62K BC jobs and generates about $12 billion a year in revenue [2].

There are an overwhelming number of good reasons to buy local and yet local growers, manufacturers, and other businesses face some significant challenges. The overall market share for independent retailers Canada-wide is declining, but BC retailers have the third lowest market share in Canada (slipped to 33.7% recently). In manufacturing, we are losing jobs at a dizzying rate. In Feb 2015, Canada recorded the 2nd lowest rate of manufacturing jobs recorded since Statistics Canada began tracking it in 1976. Farmers also face significant challenges. In 1973, BC farmers produced 86% of the small fruit & vegetables consumed in BC, but now produce just half that. A recent KPU report found that in Southwest BC, we spend $8.6B/year on food annually, but increasingly that money does not stay in the local economy because it is spent on imported food or in businesses who don’t buy local grown products [3]. BC farmers are aging, and are not being replaced by a younger generation. According to Stats Canada, BC has the largest percentage (61%) of farmers over 55 years old, and the lowest percentage of farmers in other age categories in all but one category (it’s 50-54 years and we’re 2nd lowest, after Atlantic Canada) [4]. The real estate market is also challenging local farmers. It’s estimated that only 28-50% of farmland in Metro Vancouver is used for agriculture, and if foreign ownership increases that’s likely to get worse [5]. Former independent Delta MLA Vicki Huntington’s research showed that between 2010 and 2015, 317 parcels of ALR land were sold to foreign owners – most from the US, followed by several EU countries [6]. It’s increasing prices too-in the last several years the average acre of farmland in Richmond and Delta jumped 2.5 times, from $540,000 to $1.3M per acre (but had been as high as $1.6M per acre). Farmland sales hit record highs after the implementation of the foreign buyers tax on residential properties, indicating that global capital is shifting to compete with local people for farm properties. This is at a time when we need more young people to move into farming, most will find it nearly impossible to enter farming in a region where the price of land often puts ownership out of reach of everyone but established farm families with good succession plans. Farmers are getting priced out of the farmland that is crucial to BC’s future food needs.

We are at a pivotal time in BC’s history where we will either find a way to work together to address these challenges to turn the tides or slowly lose our food security and farming as a good way of life. I heard that the theme of today is “Farming Outside the Box”, and we will truly need to think out of the box to find workable solutions. Policy changes and other measures are needed, and we must also increase demand for local products.

LOCO has been working to drive demand for BC’s local products by consumers and in local business supply chains. Our BCBuyLocal campaign launched BC Buy Local week 5 years ago in the effort to illuminate the market of BC Businesses, and BC Products for consumers, many of whom report that they prefer BC and Canadian products for their economic benefits. Our campaign has proven to increase consumer awareness. This year our annual survey of independent businesses across BC reported that 56% of businesses found some positive impact of buy local campaigns in their area. It also found that 71% find that public awareness of the benefits of supporting locally owned businesses has increased in the last year (up from 52% in 2016). We need to take the campaign to the broadest audience possible to keep driving awareness and increasing sales, and this year in preparation for BC Buy Local Week will be working to expand the number of communities we partner with across the province. We’re proud to have the Township of Langley as a partner and thank them for their continued support and promotion of the campaign.

We are also working to increase business purchasing of BC products and services through our new Community Impact Assessment. We are measuring the amount of local purchasing by local businesses, educating them about opportunities to shift their spending, and promoting their stories on our bcbuylocal.com website. We recently had the opportunity to measure and promote the supply chains of local farms and farm markets in Ladner, and it was important to hear the stories that ground all the statistics about the benefit of local farming in the real life impacts of committed people. All of them purchase 90-100% of inventory from local producers, and buy 90-100% of their services like banking, accounting, IT, and marketing, from other local businesses. They also strive to be excellent employers. One highlighted their commitment to providing jobs for students in their farm market and above average wages for new immigrants working in their fields, and were proud to have diversified their crops in order to provide year-round employment, rather than having to lay people off in the off-season.

For me, their stories drive home the need to think out of the box for new ways for all of us to work together to support local farms and the businesses that buy from them. That starts with getting to know the benefits they provide, and helping them overcome their challenges, and we must all do that by first hearing their stories. I always feel at home on the farm and am so thankful to the Township of Langley for providing the opportunity for us to do that by meeting some of Langley’s  local farmers today.

[1] BC Dairy. Resolution #4: Buy Local. Stats from 2011 Census of Agriculture: British Columbia Highlights Accessed 18-Sep-17 from https://bcdairy.ca/milk/articles/why-should-you-buy-local

[2] BC Dairy. Resolution #4: Buy Local. Stats from 2012 British Columbia Agrifood Industry Year In Review Accessed18-Sep-17 from https://bcdairy.ca/milk/articles/why-should-you-buy-local

[3] KPU. 2016. The Future of our Food System. Accessed 18-Sep-17 from http://www.kpu.ca/sites/default/files/ISFS/SWBC%20Project-Future%20of%20our%20Food%20System%20Report%20Summary_web%20version.pdf

[4] Stats Canada. 1991 to 2011. Canadian Agriculture at a Glance. Accessed 18-Sep-17 from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/96-325-x/2014001/article/11905-eng.pdf

[5] Vancouver Sun. 2017. Speculators target B.C. farmland after foreign buyer tax introduced for residences. Accessed 18-Sep-17 from: http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/farmland (2013 report=28% of farmland in Richmond, Delta, Langley and Surrey was not used for farming) (September 2016 report=50% Metro Vancouver farmland is used for agriculture)# 

[6] Delta Optimist. 2017. What we know about foreign ownership of BC’s farmland. Accessed 18-Sep-17 from: http://www.delta-optimist.com/opinion/what-we-know-about-foreign-ownership-of-b-c-s-farmland-1.13289240

About Amy Robinson

Speak Your Mind

*