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#MomLife: Look beyond the shortages and shorten the supply chain

Time to plant the tree and grow our own
MomLife-SupplyChains-AMCullen
A.M. Cullen: "There’s a popular Chinese proverb that says, 'The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now'. We can’t go back in time and localize our food chain to solve our shortages problem right now, but we can act now to better prepare for disruptions in the future." (Illustration by A.M. Cullen)

Mamas, if you’re like me, you may have been getting creative with dinners these past few weeks. I was out shopping last night and came home with what felt like a “challenge mode” for meals this week. And I’m not the only one. Social media has been flooded with photos of empty shelves. Even politicians are chiming in. The easy answer floating around out there is to blame the vaccine mandates slowing down the truckers. But it’s a little more complicated.

Wave of labour shortages 

Yes, there have been some delays in deliveries due to the trucking vaccine mandates. Like every other profession in Canada right now, there is a small percentage of workers who are refusing to get vaccinated and that is resulting in challenges for some crossing the border. But 90% of truckers are vaccinated, so it can’t be the only reason.

What’s more accurate is that it’s a by-product of the aggressive fifth COVID-19 wave ripping though the United States and Canada. With the skyrocketing number of cases, there have been labour shortages in all sectors (including food processing and truck driving) with more workers getting sick or having to quarantine because of exposures. Yes, as the Freedom Convoy is arguing, vaccine mandates may not be helping with tomorrow’s truck deliveries, but they are in place to reduce the shortages in the long term. And that’s where we have to set our sights on: the long term.

Road trip with no end in sight 

We’re driving down a long stretch of highway with a cranky minority screaming in the back seat, “Are we there yet?” Any road tripping parent will tell you that whining won’t get you there any faster. The tricky part with this trip is we don’t know when we’re going to get to our exit. We don’t know when the pandemic is going to end. And we can’t just pull over on the side of the highway, rip off our masks, say “we’re here!” and pretend we made it to Disneyland. So, what do we do? 

As painful as it is, we’re all crammed into this station wagon together. Though some of us are sitting in the bench seat looking backwards and daydreaming about the pre-pandemic days, most of us are looking forward and recognize the long road ahead.

We all hope that the mass infection rate of Omicron will normalize this coronavirus’s antibodies into the population and with it bring a sense of normal back into society, but we can’t cling to that promise. This is a very intelligent virus that has a huge number of mutating spike proteins that can impact various different types of cells in the body, and it is spreading and mutating in multiple species across the planet. We know this is not your common cold. The long and short of it is, no, we are not “there yet.” Chances are that this road trip may last a couple more years. And that’s a hard reality to face for some.

Supply challenges in the ‘New Normal’ 

On our road trip, the pit stops may be barer than before. Between the chaos of COVID and the other looming threats like climate change’s extreme weather and our antibiotic resistance breeding future superbugs, we can safely predict that occasional food supply disruptions are here and most likely going to be part of the “new normal.” But does that mean we’re destined to a lifetime of playing produce lottery every time we go shopping? It shouldn’t.

As Jeff Mayer at North Peace Secondary would say, it’s time to ‘grow our own.’ Literally. I see these new challenges as an opportunity to re-evaluate where we get our food supply. We need our cities to invest in localizing the food supply chain. It’s a win-win: fewer empty shelves and fewer carbon emissions. For us in Fort St John, we have an abundance of growing space, but a limited growing season. We have so much potential to provide for our own community and the technology to do so is right at our fingertips.

Check out Cubic Farms 

Much of our produce comes from out of country. Why? Recently, I’ve been reading more about shortening our supply chain and came across a nifty Canadian company based out of Langley called Cubic Farms. Their product offers an automated indoor growing technology that uses hydroponic farming that can be used to grow produce and livestock feed – anywhere (even in our –40C winters). Inside one of their systems, you can grow 1900+ heads of lettuce per week! Imagine if the City of Fort St. John invested in just 10 of these? They could literally supply the entire community with greens all year. Not only does this type of technology cut out the growing unpredictability of long supply chains, but it also protects our produce from the increasingly common extreme weather that Canada has been experiencing.

A city’s effort to localize isn’t new 

A community’s collective effort to provide year-round produce isn’t a new idea. The French have been doing it for centuries. Since the 1500s, neighbourhoods around Paris would employ intensive gardening practices creating fruitful green spaces to supply produce for the people all year. Utilizing raised beds, cold weather protection, companion planting, and crop rotation, French “Maraîchers” (market gardeners) would produce high yields in small spaces.

Today, an awesome Vancouver-based company, Front Yard Farms, applies the same knowledge. Instead of sporting a (usually heavily fertilized) lawn in front of your home, their service helps you and transforms your front yard (or any unused space) into a food providing garden – and they offer to maintain it for you. 

Get in touch with your green thumb 

Not a farmer? You don’t need extensive hydroponic systems or a personal gardener to have fresh produce year-round. There are tons of ways to grow a kitchen garden all year and the internet has a wealth of knowledge to get started. Learning about plants that thrive in your climate is a great way to start. Consider creative spaces to grow from patios to walkway bordering beds and check out protective practices to help your plants survive our winters.

Time to plant the tree 

There’s a popular Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” We can’t go back in time and localize our food chain to solve our shortages problem right now, but we can act now to better prepare for disruptions in the future. Why ship lettuce 1500 kilometres from Washington when we could grow it here in town?

Have a green thumb? Had any success with a food garden? Share your tips for gardening in the north in the comments below! Together we're better! 


A.M. Cullen lives and writes in Fort St. John. Are you parenting in the Peace? Send in your questions, topics, or suggestions for #MomLife to cover at momlife.ahnfsj@gmail.com

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