The Local Food Paradox

Food security and local supply systems have been a long time focus at VIEA and will be the subject of a key-note speech at this year’s 'State of the Island' Economic Summit.

farmer in a field with cows
Scott DiGuistini is the cofounder of Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt in the Comox Valley. The licensed Island Good company sources milk from local grass-fed dairy farms to produce its artisanal yogurts. Photo: Jeffrey Bosdet.

More than a year and a half into — and coming out of — a global pandemic, it is increasingly clear that the big question looming over us might be something like, “What now?” How do we sustain ourselves and live sustainably in an increasingly unsustainable world?

It comes as no surprise then that the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance’s (VIEA) most popular project to date is Island Good. The Island Good product brand was initiated in 2018 to help shoppers identify locally sourced products. It’s an initiative that has made sense from day one — during the six-month pilot, Island Good increased sales by an average of 16.4 per cent. Nobody needed to be convinced of the logic in following this course, focusing on sourcing locally made products. Today there are more than 160 companies proudly sporting the Island Good label.

Food security and food autonomy has long been discussed on Vancouver Island, given the realities faced as an island community, with alarmingly limited food production. The pandemic was a reminder of the fragility of food supply systems and our overdependence on global supply chains for a broad range of manufactured products, with consumers still questioning reliability and feeling the effects of cost increases.

The recent report issued by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows a critical global heating threshold of 1.5 degrees celsius may be breached far earlier than previously expected. The landmark study warns of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding. A key temperature limit could be broken in just over a decade.

The impact of climate change on agriculture is one of the many considerations that the Canadian agri-food industry must take into account to future-proof the industry. Other considerations include disruptions to how consumers shop and buy food as the line between food service and retail blurs.

By examining food cultures, trends and climate change more closely, Economic Summit keynote speaker, Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, “the food professor,” from Dalhousie University, will engage in an open dialogue about food systems opportunities for the Island and discuss the topic of the local food paradox.

The paradox, Charlebois says, is that although 79.5 per cent of Canadians are willing to pay a premium for locally grown produce, only one in four of them consider the origin of their food important. A recent study by Dalhousie University casts light on the value and cost of local food in Canada. The definition of “locally grown” is up for grabs across the country. In the Atlantic and Prairie provinces, local is understood to be food grown within provincial boundaries, but consumers in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec are more likely to consider only food grown within their region to be local.

“Most of us will pay more for locally grown food and will respond so during a survey but few are actively looking for opportunities to do so,” says Charlebois.

Given that coming out of the pandemic, many Canadians may be faced with smaller personal budgets and that most consumers are already price conscious, if not price-driven, when it comes to food shopping, Charlebois cites that for 47.8 per cent of Canadians, the price of fruits and vegetables is the most important consideration when choosing produce.

Given these factors, the question is: what and how big a role should government play in supporting local food producers, increasing domestic production, and lowering the cost of locally sourced foods?

Island Good has proven to be a wonderfully successful and important idea. Now, we ask, what more must be done and who will partner to expand this endeavour? Going forward, it is imperative that we secure access to local products in which all consumers have full confidence.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois will be a keynote speaker at this year’s VIEA ‘State of the Island’ Economic Summit. His presentation is titled It’s Good to Produce Goods — It’s Getting Complicated Out There, and That’s a Good Thing! and takes place online Thursday, Oct 28, 8:30 9:30 a.m. Visit for details on Summit panels and speakers and how to register.