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Nova Scotia Food Summit pushes local food 

The state of Maine says 80 percent of its food will soon be local. Why can't Nova Scotia do the same?

This week marks the first Nova Scotia Food Summit. Event organizers say the summit responds to a mounting need to overhaul our "broken" food system---paying homage to local food and wrangling some much needed support for an agriculture sector in crisis.

From Sunday through Tuesday, supporters, thinkers and curious folk alike will congregate at the Old Orchard Inn in Wolfville to talk about restoring a sustainable food system.

As the summit's website explains, "local and global events are putting at risk the security and sustainability of food here, as elsewhere." All this begs the question: Will there be food for the future?

Linda Best is a chair of Friends of Agriculture, the primary organizing body for the summit. She began planning the first of what is intended to be an annual event last fall.

Best is no stranger to farm life, having grown up on a farm in the Annapolis Valley. "This is not the world we grew up in," she says, referencing inflating populations and depleting resources. "If we don't use local, we're going to lose it."

If the capacity to produce food locally is decimated, Best says the province is in danger of a food shortage. "Nova Scotia has something like two weeks' supply of food," a figure which could become all too real in the event of a trucking strike, a border lockdown or even a big storm.

"There are better choices we can make with regard to our food---for our health, our economy, our environment and all facets of our lives," says Best.

The summit's speaker series features 40 heavyweights in the world of food and sustainability, speaking to a range of issues, from how the current food system directly impacts global warming to the relationship between agriculture and the economy.

Big-ticket names include Pete's Frootique owner Pete Luckett, Capital Health CEO Chris Power and Gary Lines, a climate change meteorologist with the Meteorological Service of Canada.

As Best suggests, it may be high time Canada looks south to where sustainable food practices are leaps and bounds ahead of Canada. The United States boasts 59 local food policy councils across the country. Canada has just eight.

In fact, our nearest neighbour to the south is raising the stakes especially high---according to Maine's Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the state "should be able to produce 80 percent of the calories consumed by her citizens by the year 2020."

In Nova Scotia, no such goal exists. These days "we are buying around 20 percent of our food from local sources," says Best. It is a figure she would like to see doubled by 2020.

Despite the harsh realities of the current system, Best is hopeful for a better future. "It requires a concerted effort on the part of every person who eats food," she says.

None of this is to say that consuming 100 percent locally is a realistic goal. But consumers should support local farmers by stocking up on whatever can be produced nearby. "We should be trying to buy at least five percent more [locally] every year," says Best.

The three-day Food Summit costs $175 per attendee and includes five meals, a speaker's series and musical entertainment. There are tours too, at an extra cost. Register online at friendsofagriculture.net.

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