More local food production opportunities a priority in OCP update

·3 min read

At the regular council meeting of April 6, a Food Security Assessment report was presented to mayor and council as an information item.

The 46-page report outlined the importance of local food assets, agricultural land in the Merritt area, indigenous and traditional food systems, as well as accessibility of grocery stores; all with the intention of creating greater food security within the City of Merritt.

Food security is defined as “A situation in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice”.

The main focus of the report was to include the key concepts for food security into the Official Community Plan (OCP) which is undergoing some long overdue updating.

"The OCP has historically been focused on land use, almost exclusively about land use," said City CAO Sean Smith.

"But with this iteration of the OCP we're working hard to broaden and, quite frankly, modernize the OCP to develop policies that would be more well-rounded, and ultimately build a better community that is going to be one everybody desires to be 20 years from now. And part of that is making sure there's opportunities for food production right here in Merritt."

In relation to food production, Mayor Linda Brown made reference to the fact that there was no specific mention of abattoirs in the report, something that local meat producers have frequently requested as a high-priority component of their operations.

"They're in desperate need of an abattoir for the Nicola Valley area," said Brown.

"And what I'm hearing, especially from the small meat producers association, is that they plan for about three years when they bring cattle or big animals in, and if they can't take them to get them slaughtered, they're not going to be producing. There's a lot of them now talking about not doing it because they have to wait, sometimes over the winter, to take their cattle and any other animals in, which means they have to feed them over the winter and it's a cost that cuts into their bottom line," continued Brown.

"It's important that we look at supporting an abattoir or some method where local ranchers can actually get their beef slaughtered, whether it be on site or at a local butcher, wherever. They need to have that local ability."

According to the report, there are some startling statistics which indicate that the City of Merritt and its residents are not food secure, despite more than 600 hectares of agricultural land in and around the city, and the ability to exceed 100% self-sufficiency if regional farms and farmers were included.

"Many people and households in Merritt are food insecure," reads the report.

"Average income in Merritt is 17% lower than the rest of the province at $74,977. With 35% more than the BC average of homeowners in Merritt spending more than 30% of household income on housing, coupled with 42% more unemployment in Merritt as compared to the rest of the province, food insecurity is likely a significant challenge facing many residents. The Nicola Valley Food Bank has experienced a 75% increase in membership in 2020 compared to 2019."

Councillor Travis Fehr was in favour of incorporating the suggestions in the report into the new OCP, and felt it was "very timely" as food security has come to the forefront following the supply chain interruptions and empty shelves Merritt saw at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're seeing, I think, just the beginnings of when we really start to recognize how vulnerable and fragile our food security is, worldwide... thinking about how we manage our food security locally is going to be increasingly important, so I'm happy to see this come forward," said Fehr.

Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald