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Have You Ever Grown a Damn Cauliflower? Musings on the True Cost of Food...

Posted by Julia Smith on

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've no doubt heard about, and probably seen for yourself the rising cost of food. As the Canadian dollar plummets, the price of food, particularly imported food is increasing. It has shone a spotlight on how dependent we have become on food that isn't being produced locally. Everyone is up in arms about $7 cauliflower. But have you ever grown a cauliflower? If you have, I bet you're not balking.

It is time for some true cost accounting when it comes to the food we eat. The price that we pay at the till should reflect ALL the costs associated with the production of that food. But more often than not, the true costs are hidden. In Canada, we end up paying a lot of these costs in tax dollars and health care costs. The social safety net picks up the tab when farm workers are not paid a living wage. Diet related diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease and the costs associated with treating them, are rising proportionately with our consumption of "food like substances." Our air and water pay the price for our overuse of fossil fuel, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. "Real" food is expensive because these issues have been addressed and in turn, factored into the price of the product.

Take the much maligned $7 cauliflower for example. Having experienced first hand what it takes to grow a nice head of cauliflower organically, $7 seems like a deal to me. A cauliflower plant requires 5 square feet per plant, needs to be started from seed then transplanted 4-5 weeks later and then takes another 3 months to mature. It needs to be watered and fertilized, weeded and when the heads appear, you need to put the leaves over them and secure them to prevent the sunlight from causing the flower (the head of cauliflower you eat is actually a flower) from going to seed. Cauliflower is fussy and prone to pests & disease. It is a notoriously difficult crop to grow and extremely labour intensive ($$) to grow sustainably. At the end of 4 months of pampering & babying, if you are lucky, you get to harvest ONE head. That imported head of conventional cauliflower may be priced about the same as a locally grown organic one now but it STILL isn't priced in a manner that reflects its true cost. There's a lot more to it than the exchange rate. 

Food costs what it costs and you're going to pay the price one way or another. When you buy food that was grown in a manner that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable, you are paying not only for the food, but for clean water, health, social justice and food security. These are costs that must be paid so you can either choose to pay them at the till or you can pay them in your taxes, health care costs, disaster relief costs associated with climate change events like wildfires, droughts & floods, and mortgage the future of generations to come. 

There is no better time to make some fundamental changes to the way we eat. We get the food system we deserve. Why don't add a local farmer to your list of "essential services" along side your dentist, mechanic, lawyer, yoga instructor, etc? Surely the food you put in your body is at least as important. 

Three Places to Start

  • Join a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture programs are a great way to get started. There are so many great local farms offering everything from veggies to eggs to meat to fish & seafood. You'll get the best quality food, keep your money in your local economy and help to grow a sustainable food system in your community. Here's a list of some local options. 
  • Stock up! Pickle, preserve, freeze and dehydrate the bounty of the local harvest so you can eat local all year long. (Sign up for our newsletter... we'll be announcing a special CSA program to help you with this very thing soon!)
  • Plant a Garden. What better way to combat rising food prices than growing it yourself? There are some things that make more sense than others to grow in small space. High value, perishable items like salad greens that can be grown quickly in a small space make a lot of sense. Pumpkins, not so much ;)


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