BC in 2025 – Where’s our Food?
by Guy Dauncey
First Published in Common Ground Magazine, November 2003
It’s Thanksgiving in 2025, and the table is loaded with fresh, organic produce. And as anyone who has lived through the trials and tribulations of the last seventeen years will know, that’s saying something.
We used to take fantabulous quantities of food for granted. We lived in an edible paradise – as long as you didn’t think about the hunger from free trade and open markets, that were destroying small farms and bankrupting farmers around the world.
And then came the double crunch of 2008.
The price of oil had been rising steadily since 2000. By 2007 it had reached $50 a barrel, due to turmoil in the Middle East and the growing concern that the world supply of oil was about to peak. In 2008, when a secret report leaked out that Saudi Arabia had been exaggerating its reserves for years, the price shot up to $80 a barrel. That was bad news for motorists, but it was much worse for farmers, who had to pay sharply increased prices for the nitrogen fertilizer they depended on to produce their crops.
The second crunch came when heat waves which had characterized the early years of the century delivered a whopper. Throughout July and August of that year, European countries from France to the Ukraine sizzled under temperatures in the 40s, causing turmoil in the hospitals, frying the crops, and reducing Europe’s grain harvest by 60%. For every 1°C degree in the optimum temperature, the yield falls by 10%, so the six degree increase caused a 60% reduction in yields.
With the world’s grain reserves depleted almost to zero from seven years of consecutive shortages, the futures markets went crazy, pushing the price of wheat, rice and barley to record levels. The grim reality of our condition was finally sinking in at dinner tables all around the world. The old industrial regime, premised on cheap oil, whose leaders had been willing to start wars and undermine democracies to keep their grip on power, was collapsing.
It was the psychological feeling that an era was ending, as much as the increased prices of food and gasoline, that set things in motion. It was like the fall of the Berlin Wall, 19 years earlier. In residential streets throughout Vancouver, an urban agriculture revolution began, as people tore up their lawns to plant vegetable gardens. Neighbourhood Garden Associations formed, as neighbours learnt from neighbours how to compost, how to store water, how to deal with pests, how to mulch, how to build cold frames, how to keep chickens, how to grow winter vegetables, and how to exchange a regular toilet for a composting toilet. Boulevards turned into community allotments filled with leeks and tomatoes, and on weekend evenings that summer, neighbours started closing their streets to cars, laying out the tables for community banquets. There was an aliveness in the air, and a can-do spirit that overcame fear and uncertainty, and spoke of the potential for enormous change, if people continued to cooperate and share in this manner.
Out on the farm, from Vancouver Island to the Peace, conventional farmers knocked on the doors of their organic farming neighbours, seeking their advice as the price of fertilizer rose. It was the large farms which practiced monoculture over large areas that were hit the hardest by the heat. On smaller organic farms, where there was a variety of crops, the farmers were able to manage the heat by heavy mulching, and the use of shade-sheets. It took a lot of labour, but the wages were there, and a flood of young people left the cities, happy to live and work in the fields, where they discovered the romance of hard work, shared music, and falling in love under the long summer moons.
As the impact of that summer played out at the global level, developing nations forced a rewrite of the world trade rules, backed by an unprecedented worldwide campaign by citizens. The new Fair Trade Rules allowed protectionism for vital services such as food and water for heavily indebted nations, and required countries such as France and the USA to phase out their agricultural subsidies. They also sealed the fate of GM food by affirming the right of nations to say no to GM imports.
The heat is still coming, but with a full table, and full hearts, there’s more hope on the menu than despair. Perhaps sustainability wasn’t such a crazy dream, after all.
Guy Dauncey is the author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society Publishers, 2001) and other titles. He lives in Victoria. www.earthfuture.com