On a beautiful fall afternoon last week, I took the kids out to the Mackay Apple Orchard on the Kingston Peninsula. We picked a couple of bags of apples and played on the beach overlooking the St. John River; the kids even stripped down and went for a swim.
And as always, Chas Mackay wanted to talk a little politics. Specifically, he wanted to discuss his idea for the incoming Agriculture Minister in the Brian Gallant Liberal government, which will be sworn in Oct. 7. I turned on my iPad and recorded his two-minute pitch (you can watch it above). Mackay wants the new minister to buy food produced here as an example for people in the rest of the province.
“Maybe he could get other people doing the same thing, and he’d also have a better feel for his job,” says Mackay. “Agriculture doesn’t need money to promote food. We need a face, and that face is the Minister of Agriculture.”
In our interview, Mackay cited some statistics he’d read in an article years ago. He read that if we increased our consumption of local food by 10 per cent, we would create 3,000 new jobs. I couldn’t track down those stats through web searches and conversations with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick and the provincial Department of Agriculture.
Most food came from here 40 years ago; almost none does now
But I did find an article that cited numbers which illustrated the province’s movement toward consuming mostly imported food. In the 1970s, 75 per cent of the food we consumed was produced in the province; now, 95 per cent of our food comes from outside the province.
In recent years, there has an increased emphasis on supporting local growers and producers. The Conservation Council has an ongoing Buy Local campaign, and is building an online directory of local food resources in the province. There are also a growing number of farmers markets and small stores that feature local food, and businesses like Real Food Connections that connect consumers with local producers and producers.
The provincial government has also launched its own Buy Local Initiative and made “value-added food” one of six priority growth sectors. Of course, this strategy was developed by the outgoing Progressive Conservative government, so we’ll have to see where it ranks with the incoming Liberal one. The Liberals did commit to developing a local food and beverages strategy to help growers and producers in their election platform (page 18).
Of course, for the purposes of this post, Mackay is mainly interested in the Minister setting a personal example for people to follow. He even suggests that the minister’s spouse help advance the cause by publishing on a web site recipes using mainly New Brunswick ingredients. Mackay says this most likely would be the wife of a male minister, and he may ultimately be right given that only four of Gallant’s 27 MLAs are women.
I’ll start cooking local now, get a jump on the Minister
But more men are assuming responsibility for cooking these days, including me – a stay-home-dad and, for better or worse, the primary cook in the family. I’ll take up the challenge before a new minister is even in place. For the next month, I’ll do an audit of our family’s food shopping habits, and see how we can eat more affordable, local food grown and produced here.
I have what I need for many desserts with 10 pounds of apples from Mackay’s farm. I’ll hit nearby stores, markets and our community garden plot for everything else I need, and let you know how it goes. I may even share a recipe or two with you.