Green MLA for Kent North, Kevin Arseneau, is calling for genuine action rather than talking around the topic of food security.
Hours before the election was called, the department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries announced a new project to strengthen the province’s food system while improving food self-sufficiency.
The government’s announcement failed to highlight clear commitments or plans, and Arseneau says it’s time for genuine action on food sovereignty in New Brunswick.
“Food security has been a hot topic, politically, since 2015 when David [Coon] brought the first food security bill in the house,” Arseneau said. “The Liberals took a position on it, but didn’t actually do anything. The PC government started talking about it more during the pandemic because we were putting pressure on them. Government after government says they’re for it, but nothing ever follows.”
As a farmer himself, Arseneau brings an important perspective and voice to the conversation around food security and food sovereignty in New Brunswick. He said advocating for food sovereignty means fighting for the right to good quality, culturally appropriate food, for everyone.
“Farming is the web of our rural communities. On the east side of New Brunswick farms are disappearing, and on the west side farms have grown bigger, toward monoculture, which is having many different impacts on the foundation of our rural communities.”
Arseneau has made a point of consulting with other farmers across the province to ensure he is representing their needs and concerns. Last winter on his provincial tour he met with farmers from six different localities.
One of the greatest challenges for small farmers in New Brunswick is the lack of scale-based regulation, Arseneau said. The province’s current one set of regulations causes problems for small farmers.
“We cannot expect small family farms producing 100 per cent for the local market, to follow the same regulations as people that export internationally,” he said, adding that reform is needed to regulations that currently “give away agriculture and the processing side of agriculture to big industries.”
Arseneau suggested that one concrete action the provincial government could take is to implement scale-based regulations for farmers in New Brunswick.
Another challenge facing small farmers in New Brunswick is access to local markets and food distribution. Arseneau said the government should help stimulate the food sector by buying quotas of local food. Schools, senior care homes, hospitals and government departments should buy local products to support local farmers and build a stronger market.
As well, the government should change the name of the ministry.
“It should not be Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries anymore, it should be Agriculture, Aquaculture, Fisheries and Food. We need to put that food lens on our ministry of agriculture,” Arseneau said.
“Right now, successive governments use the ministry of agriculture as an economic development tool. Looking at food sovereignty means looking at strengthening communities and social conditions for food producers. Economic development must be included, but it can’t be the only focus.”
Information gathered by Arseneau during his provincial tour helped shape the bill he tabled in June, to ensure the province creates and maintains a sustainable, self-sufficient local food industry.
Unfortunately, the provincial government’s response was less than ideal. Arseneau offered to share his findings with the agriculture minister but the minister never reached out.
“They are usually more interested in the big scale exporting farmers and that becomes again an unbalanced approach to what agriculture is.”
While uptake by the government on food security motions and bills introduced by the Green Party in the Legislature has been minimal, lots of work is happening at the grassroots level. More people are beginning to ask questions and recognize this as an important social and political topic.
If grassroots activism continues to push, change will start from the ground up, putting pressure on the government to act.
Arseneau said 10 years from now, he hopes to see every community having not only one farm, but multiple farms to support their area. Even though we are starting from producing only eight per cent of the vegetables we eat in the province, he believes we can see that percentage increase through effective policy and engagement with New Brunswick’s small farmers.
Hannah Moore is a recent graduate from St. Thomas University, currently working as a Food Security and Regenerative Farming Reporter for the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick.