Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Institute for Sustainable Food System (ISFS) has officially started the Okanagan Bioregion Food System Project!

What is a bioregion?! The ISFS describes bioregions as areas that share similar topography, plant and animal life, and human culture; they are not just geographical or political areas delineated by lines on a map but are conceptual as well. Bioregionalism adheres to the notion that human settlement and land use patterns must be viewed as integral, functional components of ecosystems rather than as separate, unrelated entities.

The Okanagan Bioregion Food System project is needed because our food system is far from sustainable. Our current Okanagan food system is challenged by issues including climate change and water issues, disruptions in food supply, global economic instability, population growth, resource depletion, and loss of arable land. At the same time, agriculture is struggling economically, farmers are aging and young people are not choosing farming as a career because it is difficult to make a living wage. Re-localizing our food system could address many of these challenges, increase our future food self-reliance, sustainability, and benefit our local economy and community health and well-being.  

The Okanagan Bioregion Food System Project aims to identify what a sustainable food system looks like and how we can get there. The Okanagan Bioregion Food System project is a research project to provide information about:

  • the potential to increase food production and processing for local markets in the Okanagan and Similkameen regions;
  • whether and to what extent increasing local food production could improve food self-reliance, benefit the economy, and create jobs;
  • the potential to reduce some detrimental environmental impacts from food production in the Okanagan and Similkameen regions; and
  • the current policy gaps that hinder such a food system, and proposed policy changes to address these gaps.

The project models a number of future food system scenarios.  The scenarios are then compared to a baseline of data gathered from fieldwork, Census for Agriculture, the Okanagan Basin Water Board, and other sources.

The scenarios represent possible outcomes of choices we make, and evaluate a range of food production, ecological, and economic indicators including: food self-reliance and imports, greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient balances, wildlife habitat impacts, employment, GDP, tax revenue, etc. When compared to our current situation, these outcomes can be used to help understand the impacts of decisions we might make, and how they impact the outcomes we could seek to achieve.

The project will then outlines the necessary policy changes to achieve these outcomes. Indicators will be chosen that represent the unique characteristic and context of the Okanagan.  Examples of indicators that were used in the South West BC Bioregion project were food self-reliance, greenhouse gas emissions, wildlife habitat capacity and food production.  

The purpose of the study is to bring forth data driven information about the food production, resource utilization, environmental stewardship, and economic potentials of a more regionally focused food system.  

The ISFS recognizes that there will always be an export/import based market for agriculture (we all love bananas and avocados!  And other countries love our cherries!!). The goal is to shift from a globally predominant food system to a more regionally based one.  

The Central Okanagan Food Policy Council supports the Okanagan Bioregion Project in principle and will be involved as a stakeholder.