The Central Okanagan Food Policy Council asked the City of Kelowna election candidates some important questions on the topic of food security.

Here is who responded from the City of Kelowna: Gail Given, Ryan Donn, Luke Stack, Wayne Carson, Gord Lovegrove, Colin Basran and Brad Sieben (Brad’s answers will be posted ASAP!)

Thank you so much to these candidates who took the time to answer our questions on this important topic.

Here is what they had to say!

Question 1: Across BC, only 5% of the total land base is available for agriculture and much of the farmland is underutilized. As reported by the City of Kelowna in the Agriculture Plan, 55% of land in the ALR is not actively farmed. Further, only 40 % of the population eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables. Greater availability of locally produced fruits and vegetables may increase their consumption and contribute to a healthier population. How would you utilize the role of Councillor/Mayor to address agriculture in the interest of food security and public health?

Gail Given: As a current sitting Councillor, I am pleased to have been able to support the recent update of the City of Kelowna Agricultural Plan.  This document is firmly in support of protection of Ag land and in ensuring this resource is protected for future food security. My role is to ensure that my decisions moving forward align with the direction contained in the Agricultural Plan.

Wayne Carson: Make it clear ALR land is not for development, work with local food stores to implement a plan to get the “waste” yet safe and edible food thrown away daily by these retailers to the people that need it.

Luke Stack: While serving on Kelowna City Council I supported the adoption of the City of Kelowna “Agricultural Plan.” This is a forward looking plan that protects and promotes farming in the City. This plan works in cooperation with the ALR and protects 55% of the City land as farm land. Council has also taken action to ensure that illegal uses are not taking place on valuable farmland. We have had to take firm action end practices that are damaging agricultural lands.

“Council recently endorsed a new Agriculture Plan to provide clear direction for the 55 per cent of the land base zoned for agriculture (almost 12,000ha of which 8,600ha is in the Agriculture Land Reserve).   Recommended actions highlight opportunities that the City can achieve through the Plan’s implementation strategy. Ultimately, the Agriculture Plan, provides clear policies that serve to protect and promote agriculture while preserving the character of the City of Kelowna.” City of Kelowna Web site

Ryan Donn: Thanks for the question. I have made this easy link to our new ag plan as it showcases the support that this city council has offered on this topic:

Action items include:

  • Explore opportunities to better match tax rates with farm land production activities.
  • Develop a Healthy Food Strategy for Kelowna
  • Investigate and support opportunities for alternative ownership models for farmland for the purpose of increasing production levels on farmland.
  • Investigate opportunities for pop up markets to sell local produce and associated updates to the Zoning Bylaw as described in the Increasing Local Food Access White Paper.

Gord Lovegrove:  Clearly we need to support our farmers in their quest to deliver the best quality in local fruits and vegetables to our tables, our public health and our local economy depends so much on this 100 Mile diet, as per the City’s Agricultural Plan. And it is so sad to hear that so much land is not actively farmed. I come from a farming family, and I have many friends in the agriculture industry, including the Bal family, the Day family, and others. The need for Short Term Seasonal Farm Worker Housing is critical; we must do everything we can to expedite approvals and make it affordable; it is only used during growing/harvest season – May to October – why can’t we bring in ATCO trailers as a short term solution while we work this through as part of a larger stakeholder consultation? Moreover, lets involve the City’s public agricultural advisory committee at the START of the process, and have councilors sitting on it to hear directly from our farmers – our local experts – as well as staff and academic and resident stakeholders. More affordable housing means more affordable local produce, which then can be more competitively sold at our Farmers’ Markets, our School cafeterias, our Gospel Mission, our Food Bank. In the longer term we need to pursue market incentives to activate un-used farmland; take for the example the large farm, beautifully arable land next to Springfield Road between Trinity Baptist and Mission Creek Alliance Churches, why is that lying fallow??!! Come on Kelowna, we can do better! Surely at least a community garden could be created there to feed families living below the poverty line, like Mamas for Mamas does at Helen’s Acres (way to go Koa and Shannon!). If the current owners won’t farm it, and haven’t for decades, perhaps it’s time to ‘use it’ or ‘lose it’? I can see the day when our Food Security compels City Council to expedite such valuable farmland in the interest of Community safety, under the auspices of our BC Expropriation Act.

Colin Basran:  If re-elected for a second term as Mayor, I along with council would champion agriculture in support of both food security and public health by ensuring the implementation of the new Agriculture Plan. This plan was created through extensive consultation and input from stakeholders across the community.

The new Agriculture plan provides clear policies that serve to protect and promote agriculture while preserving the character of the City of Kelowna and to meet the vision of “Kelowna as a resilient, diverse, and innovative agricultural community that celebrates farming and values farmland and food producers as integral to our healthy food system, economy and culture.”

Additionally, we are in the first phase of our “Healthy City Strategy” and plan to complete the “Healthy Food Systems” theme area alongside Interior Health. This is a long-term, integrative plan that focuses on healthy places and spaces, community health, and quality of life for all Kelowna residents which includes ensuring a healthy food supply that is as locally produced as possible.

Key actions found in the Agriculture plan that address Food Security and that I support include:

  • Developing clear policies that serve to protect and promote agriculture
  • Identifying opportunities to strengthen farming as an economic driver

Key action found in the Agriculture plan that addresses greater Public Health through access to fresh fruits and vegetables that I support include:

  • Increasing the amount of, and access to, locally grown and produced food

  • Building resilience in communities against rising costs of food and risks from climate change.

As mayor, I would continue to champion the implementation of the recommendations found in the Agriculture Plan and look for additional new and innovative ways to support agriculture and access to local products for residents of Kelowna.

I will also continue to champion the development of our Healthy City Strategy so that all community residents have access to sufficient, safe, healthy and culturally acceptable foods produced in a manner that promotes health, protects the environment and adds economic and social value to our community.

Question 2: 14% of people in the Okanagan are food insecure, meaning they do not have enough money to buy food.  The root cause of food insecurity is poverty and in the long term requires income-based policy responses from higher levels of government.  As a decision maker for the City of Kelowna, what would the City’s role be in address food insecurity and poverty?

Gail Given: The City of Kelowna in conjunction with Interior Health is in the process of developing a Healthy City Strategy which contains 6 theme areas.  One of the themes to be developed is Healthy Food Systems.  Upon completion this document with guide staff and council on best practices in the area of food security.  In addition to this policy work, the City has a granting program available which may be accessed by social agencies providing food.  Personally, I have been very supportive of Kelowna Food bank, Salvation Army, Faith Reaches (a multi denominational group supporting the Food Bank) and Helens Acres (a project by Trinity Church to grow fresh fruit and vegetables for the Kelowna Food Bank).  Finally, as a Councillor you have the opportunity to lobby other orders of government to address the poverty issue.

Wayne Carson: See the answer to question 1.

Luke Stack: Local grown produce, including community gardens, provide people access to healthy food. I have supported the expansion of community gardens in local parks. I have also encouraged farmer’s markets in multiple locations in the City.

Ryan Donn: Our role is to take a leadership role in the area by working with the ALC to ensure we are not only preserving our ag land but working to ensure that we set policies and grants that encourage production. One amazing example of a community partner doing some tremendous work in this area is Helens Acres by Trinity Church. Take a moment to read about it. It will blow your mind how brilliantly collaborative this project is. Seeing projects such as this supported by city/COF grants is a great thing.

Gord Lovegrove: A system-based solution is needed. For example, what if we created more community gardens, and, provided help to these poverty stricken families in the way of training, and caretaking of their gardens? This is what successful programs do in the Netherlands, including re-connecting children to nature, which research has shown reduces ADD in kids, as well as providing for cheaper and healthier food! The City has many park reserves that could be used in this regard, along with many community service groups and volunteers, not to mention parks maintenance staff, and farming partners who would gladly help out to build goodwill and connections across our community. We just need to activate and mobilize our human resources in a positive and respectful way that invites everyone to the table, and helps our low-income families. Feed a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime!

Colin Basran: The first step at the municipal level of government is to make sure that every resident, regardless of income level or the stage they are at in life, have an affordable roof over their head. We are committed to making this happen with the roll-out of our Healthy Housing Strategy which has 19 actions to densify our 5 town cores and ensure diversity in housing.

To address food insecurity, we have the new Agriculture plan which lays out steps and recommendations for us to follow to ensure every resident has access to affordable fresh produce that is locally grown.

Finally, I and council have been able to form excellent working relationships with senior levels of government – both provincial and federal allowing us to lobby on behalf of the residents of Kelowna for funding to support projects. Through our relationships that we’ve built, I’ve been able to champion both levels of the government to do more for poverty reduction

Question 3: From supply inputs to consumer purchases, the local food system is a significant driver of the local economy. Some municipal governments support economic development through event sponsorship, buy local campaigns and also engage with community groups in the interest of economic development.  What do you see as the role of government to support agriculture production and food system sustainability as an economic driver in our community?

Gail Given: Through my role as director on RDCO and on Economic Development Commission I know the value of Agriculture to our economy.  The sector is well supported by an EDC contractor whose main focus is to provide support directly to the Ag industry. This is done through site visits, business planning, succession planning etc.  This program has received Provincial recognition as best practice in support of agriculture and is fully funded at the local government level. I will continue to support work of the EDC in support of Agriculture.

Wayne Carson: See the answer to Question 1.

Luke Stack: Once again, adopting a comprehensive City wide “Agricultural Plan” addresses all these issues. I am proud of the City’s Agricultural plan and fully endorse it.

Ryan Donn: Actions from the ag plan include:

  • Expand programs such as Farm to Flight at YLW to highlight local food and beverage products.
  • Evaluate an Agricultural Signage Program to raise awareness and appreciation for agricultural areas within the City.
  • Identify opportunities to increase YLW’s air cargo service, which could potentially provide the opportunity to ship local agricultural products to additional market.
  • Amend the OCP to include new policies that protect and enhance farmland.

Gord Lovegrove: I absolutely agree that local government – Council – should support ‘buy local’ campaigns, and, as I noted above, work with our local farmers to make them as competitive as possible using market-based strategies not subsidies. Moreover, food system sustainability is integrally linked to sustaining our quality of life, because we cannot afford to compromise our 100 Mile diet. Our local farmers are our food security, not distant farmers from the US; we must think strategically, long term, as populations grow and demand increases, our local farmers are the ones who will support our local residents. The embodied carbon footprint of long distance shipping is too high, resulting in long term global climate change impacts, as well as short term traffic congestion, trucking, and air quality impacts.

Colin Basran: The role of municipal government is to convene local stakeholders to come up with a plan to bolster agriculture production and our food system sustainably. This will allow this sector to continue to be an important economic driver in our community. Through our new Agriculture plan, I will work with Council and community stakeholders to ensure the actions that the city is responsible for are implemented.

Key actions that we can take at the Municipal level:

    • Investigate and support opportunities for alternative ownership models (e.g. farmland trust) for farmland for the purpose of increasing production levels on farmland. This is important due to the high cost of purchasing land in the valley – especially for farmers who are just starting out.

  • Expand programs such as Farm to Flight at YLW to highlight local food and beverage products.

  • Investigate opportunities for pop up markets to sell local produce and associated updates to the Zoning Bylaw as described in the Increasing Local Food Access White Paper.

  • Not only protect our farmland but ensure it is being used for it’s intended purpose – growing food.

We will also play a supporting role to bolster sustainable agriculture in our community!

Question 4: Climate change and its impacts are becoming more apparent globally and locally through changing weather patterns, such as the 2017 floods.  The global food system and prevalent agriculture practices contribute to Greenhouse Gas Emissions. What role do you see local government officials having in addressing this challenge?

Gail Given: I believe local governments role is to stay versed in emergent and best practices.  Particular advancements in “waste to energy” may provide solutions in this area. Fortis projects that are capturing and converting methane to usable energy would be one example.  Tree chipping programs etcetera are also helpful on the climate change front (versus burning), as well creating soil amendments through composting to add to the production capacity of soil will support a stronger food system.

Wayne Carson: We must educate and inform our farmers of new practices and techniques needed to offset the climatic changes that have led us to the current dilemma we find ourselves in.

Luke Stack: I am not really qualified to answer this question. I do not know enough about the agricultural practices to provide meaningful comment.

Ryan Donn: We recently approved a climate action plan I won’t link it here but you should be able to easily find it. As our biggest GHG polluter I feel that the main step I want to advocate for in this regard is a new Electric car strategy so we can fly forward at massively reducing our GHG from our vehicles or city buses.

Gord Lovegrove: Clearly, the phrase to keep in mind is to act locally, while thinking globally. The City of Kelowna has a Climate Change Plan that I and many other technical experts, as well as residents and businesses and farmers had input into, including significant ways to reduce our community’s greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, in the past two months, your City Council chose to back off on what I considered a very strong plan, citing lack of progress, and no longer targeting our Provincial GHG reduction targets. Our recent UN IPCC report, and the subsequent Nobel Prize winners in Economics, urges us to act now and take drastic action to curb our carbon-based Business-As-Usual (BAU) approach to targets, so we cannot be backing off we need to get tougher, or we will imperial our 100 Mile Diet and our Food Security. For example, the smoke this year impacted our tourism, the floods impacted our homes – our farmers are still tallying impacts on cherry and apple and grape crops and wine quality. Research suggests that the economic cost of not curbing our GHG emissions far outweighs the costs of taking action, by a 3:1 ratio! Do our current leaders, who just backed off our Climate Change Goals, have what it takes to reconsider and implement tougher measures? Check our for my short and long term solutions that I would push for toward more effective greenhouse gas reductions while also preserving a thriving local economy and agricultural industry.

Colin Basran: Kelowna has suffered deeply from the impacts of climate change, with the increasing intensity of fires and floods that have cost homeowners, businesses and our local economy millions of dollars. We have a moral and ethical responsibility to take strong action to reduce Kelowna’s emissions.

Through extensive community consultation during the Imagine Kelowna process and through the recent updating of Kelowna’s Community Climate Action Plan, the City has set realistic and pragmatic short-term goal and ambitious long-term targets, to put Kelowna on a low carbon path that will slow absolute emissions growth, 4% below 2007 levels by 2023 (28% per capita), 25% by 2033 (50% per capita) and 80% by 2050 (90% per capita).

It is critical that the City stays the course on this plan to ensure a high quality of life in our community for future generations.  

The majority of Kelowna’s greenhouse gas emissions, 55%, come from transportation, 36% come from buildings, and the remaining 9% comes from waste. With energy, waste and resource costs rising, the good news is that there is a significant economic opportunity as an outcome of implementing this plan.

Agriculture does play in a role in mitigating the effects of climate change and operate sustainably. Encouraging residents to “Buy local” is key in reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by shipping food long distances.

Question 5: Food Policy Councils support local government on developing and implementing food security related policy.  There are municipalities across BC and Canada that support food policy councils with funding and/or in kind support.  As an elected official, how would you integrate their work into your community?

Gail Given: I think it will be critical for the food policy council to be working closely with City staff as they develop our Healthy Food Systems strategy and the supporting policies.

Wayne Carson: I am not interested in funding directly but some in kind support would be an acceptable approach.

Luke Stack: I support the work of the City of Kelowna Agricultural Advisory Committee. This committee provides input to Council on Agricultural matters.

Ryan Donn: I think that various food council initiatives are already supported by the city through our COF grants. For example the okanagan fruit tree project offers a great example of a well supported food sustainability group that is supported by municipal funding.

Gord Lovegrove: This is wonderful, and I would push to have a Kelowna Food Policy Council rep or two integrated into the City’s Agricultural Advisory Committee, as a key stakeholder. This I see as another local ‘expert’ in addition to a councilor, staff resource, local farmers, residents and businesses – connection our community. We need to have a fully informed and engaged discussion table, where we can respectfully represent and hear and appreciate the needs of each stakeholder group. In my over 25 years experience, I have seen countless times that this is the only way to successfully collaborate towards a practical and sustainable win-win community-focused solution.

Colin Basran: Food Policy Councils are an interesting idea! As an elected official, I would encourage any local “Food Policy Council” to apply for one of the City of Kelowna’s “Social development grants” which would help the council find success! When we create community plans on any topic, we always welcome every community member and stakeholder at the table to help us develop and implement policy.