Local food, for local communities – A letter from New Brunswick’s future #8

Written by Stephanie Coburn on July 26, 2019

Collecting hay for the cows in winter. Photo by Louise Livingstone.

July 26, 2040 (New Brunswick)

Dear Friends and Neighbours,

It is a joy indeed to see the work of many years come to fruition. I step outside my door and gaze out over multiple small holdings where once was a single farm family. Where once there was one, now there are five. Together they produce enough food for 50 families, all of whom live within a twenty-kilometre radius.

We’re growing local food, for local communities. As a province, we’ve made such strides in renewable energy and low-carbon agriculture over the last twenty years that the caloric value of the food we produce is many times more the carbon that we use in its production. Agriculture was once one of the most significant contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, but no longer in New Brunswick.

Provincial and federal regulatory systems changed to favour small-scale, local production for local communities. We’ve supported local processing for local markets, instead of favouring large-scale vertically integrated multinational corporations and their contract farms selling to export markets.

Our five farms have fruit orchards for apples, pears, and peaches; we have bushes of raspberries, fields of strawberries, mounds of rhubarb, and black berries and black currents and gooseberries. Blueberries too. One family turns the fruit into juices and jams, cordials, wines, and ciders.

We have an off-grid dairy farm, powered by solar energy and wind power. The cows and goats give us milk and cream and butter and yogurt and cheese.

The leftovers from it all—the buttermilk, whey, and fruit residues—are all sent to another homestead to feed the pigs. The pigs enjoy their rich rooting and fresh air and sunshine from their fielded enclosures.

Nearby, fields are planted in oats and peas to be made into silage for the pigs, the cows, and even chickens in the long winter months.

Companion to the pigs and cows, are those chickens. They enjoy the fresh air, the bugs, and the grass as they move in their small pens across the field leaving droppings to feed next year’s hay crop, which will feed cows and goats and horses all winter.

Our beef farmer specializes in grass-fed beef. As well, she has movable chicken houses for laying hens that run outside as soon as the doors open in the morning to eat grass, chase bugs, and lay their egg with thick orange yolks.

The horses work to yard out the wood from the woodlot in the winter for heating the houses and greenhouses and to cultivate our vegetable gardens.

One homestead produces vegetables for fifty families. It has garden space for outdoor crops in the summer, and a greenhouse that provides fresh produce even in the depths of winter. The greenhouses are heated by geo-thermal energy and passive solar heating, with backup for those cold winter nights from a wood stove fuelled by our own woodlot and horse logger. We send boxes of veggies to those fifty families all year long: potatoes, onions, carrots, squash, zucchini, beans, corn, peas, parsnips, tomatoes peppers, eggplants, pumpkins, cabbage, and broccoli.

The only plants we can’t grow are okra and avocado, but one family is experimenting with them in a greenhouse.

The families in the community all work together in the Fall months to store the bounty of the summer for the Winter months.

All over New Brunswick, there are small farming communities like ours. Communities that produce food for themselves and their neighbours. Instead of sending 96% of every food dollar out of the province for carbon intensive food trucked thousands of kilometres in from California   or somewhere else, we keep our food dollars circulating in local communities.

Our governments—provincial and federal—have stopped subsidizing huge farms, and they now help young people set up their own local food systems. The goals are increasing local food self-sufficiency in a province were climate change has made large systems increasingly unstable and unreliable.

In our larger community of fifty families we have a doctor, a dentist, several nurses, a mechanic, an electrician, a plumber, and several carpenters. They work in and outside our community.

About ten years ago, we started growing hops, and a brewer came to town. We now have local beer, to add to our wines and ciders.

As I sit on my doorstep and think about the last two decades, I am happy we elected people in 2019 and 2020 who had a different vision for what might be possible in New Brunswick. We worked to support local food production and to build local community.

With a vision of self-sustaining communities, and the politics and public policy and tools to help it happen, our province has changed.

Renewable energy is thriving, food is grown locally, and the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have declined.


Stephanie Coburn

Stephanie Coburn is a farmer, gardener, mother, and grandmother who believes that a better world is possible—if we can imagine it, we can make it happen.

In the optimistic spirit of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Message from the Future, this letter is a speculative and fictional look back from the future to imagine what New Brunswick could be like if we could meet our climate change obligations. It is fiction, but it need not stay fiction. Each letter offers a vision of what New Brunswick could be like in the future if the province is able to fight climate change and to achieve the IPCC climate goals.

Read the other Letters from New Brunswick’s Future here.

This series is sponsored by RAVEN, and edited by Daniel Tubb and Abram Lutes. Daniel is an environmental anthropologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and a co-investigator with RAVEN. Abram Lutes is an environmental action reporter with the RAVEN project Summer Institute and a member of the NB Media Co-op Board of Directors. If you would like to contribute your own letter, read the Call for Letters from New Brunswick’s Future and send a short outline of your idea to Daniel Tubb at dtubb@unb.ca and Abram Lutes at abram.lutes@gmail.com

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