UBC Farm Hosts Eight-part Webinar on Food Systems and Climate Change

COVID-19 has impacted food systems, but speakers say consumers can help

The UBC Farm will host a final webinar in the series on Food Systems and Climate Change Aug. 20. (Submitted/ Caroline Chiu)

An eight-part webinar series put on by the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (CSFC), the B.C. Food Web, and the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at UBC (LFS) hopes to answer fundamental questions on building resilient food systems during COVID-19.

The pandemic has brought vulnerabilities in communities around the world to light. Food inequalities, global access to food, and climate change are a few of many worries among researchers.

Failing supply chains are leading to waste and food shortages, causing farmers and ranchers to suffer. Economically marginalized populations are struggling, and food accessibility is becoming more uncertain, researchers found.

People are starting to see nations retreating from the global system of food production. However, smaller-scaled, community-focused farms were able to adapt quickly, inspiring the speakers who hoped to find a way to foster self-reliance in B.C.’s food production system.

On July 25, 110 attendees participated in the one-hour webinar, “A Food System in Crisis: Climate Change, COVID-19, and Opportunities For Change” which focused on a conversation between Sean Smukler, Kent Mullinix, and Kirsten Hannan about how people can support sustainable food systems in B.C.’s economy.

Smukler is a Chair in Agriculture and the Environment and Associate Professor in Applied Biology & Soil Science at UBC Vancouver. Hannan is a Systems Agro-Ecologist for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Summerland Research and Development Centre, and Mullinix is Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

“Food system sustainability is the foundation of human sustainability. We must bring forth a sustainable food system to facilitate a resilient future,” says Mullinix.

They hope that strengthening agricultural food resilience will help in climate change adaptation. This could be achieved by working with farmers to find ways to monitor, protect, and enhance biodiversity and the availability of ecosystem services. Food, fibre, fuel, and timber production, greenhouse gas mitigation, and water quality and quantity regulation are all important components of this process.

“Despite the fact that we are producing more food globally than ever before, 1.2 billion people are food insecure,” says Mullinix, adding that he feels that “there needs to be a shift in Western thinking by listening and supporting the relationship to the earth.”

“I’m suggesting that we belong to the land, not the other way around,” he said.

Hannan also brought up concerns about the reliability of B.C. water supply.

“There are a lot of threats to our food security, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these stresses,” they said.

“What COVID has really identified for all of us is how fragile the food system is overall, and really the various points all along the food value chain from the farm all the way to the fork,” says Smuckler.

While the panel asked critical questions about the future of food security, the subsequent webinar hosted on Aug. 5  and called “Eating Close to Home: Fostering the Local Food System” explored some solutions.

“The nice thing about food is that it is very individual and you have a lot of agency. It’s up to you what you eat,” said Lenore Newman, one of the speakers.

She adds that a crucial part of the solution is implementing policy.

“Find farms that grow and produce food with values that align with your own and then support them with your dollars. For small-scale farmers, this can mean the difference between staying another year afloat or going under, so I can’t emphasize this one enough,” says Emma Bryce, another speaker.

Questions about food accessibility within the BIPOC community arose, but speakers struggled to answer.

“I think it’s quite telling that all of us paused when this question was first asked and didn’t know how to answer it. I think that it’s really reflective of our relationships, and I think that there is a lot of work that we need to do,” says Bryce.

The UBC Farm will host its last webinar in this series on Aug. 20. To participate in “Farmers: Lessons Learned During the COVID-19 Pandemic” visit the website to register.