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Food Security a Link Between Lower Mainland and B.C’s North in Fight Against Site C

Two days ago, the weather forecast for northeastern B.C. called for snow. And snow it did, at least up on the plateau in places like Fort St. John and Dawson Creek. But there’s one place in the northeast that stayed conspicuously snow-free: the Peace River Valley.

“That is one of the values in the valley,” Gwen Johansson, mayor of the District of Hudson’s Hope told a small crowd at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver this morning. She had gathered with a diverse group of people from the Peace River region to talk about the devastation the proposed Site C dam would cause.
 
 “It is unique and it is an east-west valley, which brings with it a special microclimate, the thing that allows those heat-loving crops like watermelon, cantaloupe, corn and tomatoes and so on, to be grown.”
 
She had brought with her on the plane enough watermelon, both pink and yellow, and vine-ripened cantaloupe for everyone at the press conference to share. She also gave out small jars of honey made from Hudson’s Hope bees.
 
“I watched that produce, watermelon and cantaloupe, be picked yesterday in the field.”

 
Food is one of the main reasons for holding the press conference, and for holding it in Vancouver in particular.
 
“One of the reasons for coming down here to do this press conference is that we find that if we do a press conference for district reporters in the northeast, the information tends to stay up there. We feel a need to try to increase the coverage of our area, especially in the Lower Mainland.”
 
The panel featured numerous voices from the Peace River region, including Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation, third-generation rancher Renee Ardill, chair of Peace River Regional District Karen Gooding and agrologist Wendy Holm.
 
Johansson said that without seeing the place first hand, it’s difficult for people in places such as Vancouver to fully grasp the uniqueness of it. Hudson’s Hope recently recruited a doctor and his wife from Vancouver Island, and they were warned by friends there that they’d have to give up gardening when they move to the north.
 
“People don’t know there’s a world of productivity up there.”
 
Barring taking the whole Lower Mainland on a road trip north, Holm believes the reality of food supply and nutrition in B.C. should be enough to get those in the south involved in stopping Site C.
 
“One of the ways that consumers in the Lower Mainland can connect to this project is over health and nutrition and food,” she said.
 
Fruit and vegetables are the building blocks of good nutrition. Families can do without meat and bread if they have to, but compromising on fruit and vegetables inevitably leads to compromising health, Holm said.
 
Studies have shown that the quality of the nutrition we receive as children is a greater indicator of lifelong health than childhood medical care.
 
Fresh produce costs roughly four times more in northern communities than it does in the Lower Mainland, and this, Holm said, makes for some tough choices at the grocery store.
 
One of the key problems with the 100-year land value assessment that BC Hydro conducted is that it was based on the land being used only for growing canola and grain and being used as pasture. But without flooding or expropriation, that land could be put to serious agricultural and horticultural use.
 
“These lands were undervalued by the BC Hydro process quite dramatically,” she said. “They have the capacity to produce nutrition for a million people per year.” 
 
Holm, who served as an expert witness during the joint review panel hearings, said the province of B.C. imports more than half of the fresh vegetables we consume that could be grown right here in the Peace Valley. Those imports come primarily from California and Mexico, and with the increase in conditions such as drought, soil salinization and erosion, the future of that supply is uncertain. Add to it the continually rising costs of transportation, and the price of fresh food, particularly in the north, is only going to rise.
 
Corn and cantaloupes grow in the garden of Ken and Arlene Boon who are fighting to protect their farm from the Site C dam. Photo by Emma Gilchrist.
 
According to the Statistics Canada, the price of fresh veggies for Canadians has risen nearly 10 per cent in the past year alone.
 
For those in the Lower Mainland, food from northern B.C. would have to travel no further than food from California already does. And for those in the north, fresh food would be on their doorsteps, dramatically decreasing the cost for consumers. 
 
Food is also on the mind of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, which passed a resolution to urge local governments to support sustainable local agriculture. The union also organized a survey on food security in rural and remote communities to better inform provincial healthy eating initiatives. 
 
Panelists at the press conference also discussed the provincial government’s refusal to allow the project to undergo an independent review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, though some said it’s a moot point anyway, as they have no intention of allowing the project to continue.
 
“If we have to, we will litigate,” said West Moberly Chief Roland Willson. “We’ve said that if they get an EA certificate we will file for a judicial review immediately. We’ll go to court and if court doesn’t work we’ll do other things.”
 
The Ministry of Energy and Mines said in an e-mail that it still has no intention of allowing a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
 
“The decision to proceed with Site C is a major public policy decision, most appropriately made by the elected government,” the e-mail stated.
 
Chief Roland Willson addresses the crowd at the annual Paddle for the Peace. Photo by Emma Gilchrist.
 
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said there needs to be stronger recourse for those whose food security is threatened by industrial development and by industrial accidents. 
 
“Food security is a human right. I think we have to go beyond current ways of thinking in terms of liability," he said.
 
"When there is a catastrophe like the Mount Polley tailings pond breach, there has to be consideration of charges and for people to actually go to jail, considering the devastating impact those catastrophes visit on everybody.”
 
Main Image Credit: Hudson's Hope Mayor Gwen Johannson. Photo by Emma Gilchrist.
 

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