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  Food Summit studies the question: What'll we do when the oil runs out?

By Suzanne Atkinson - AgriNews Contributor

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  • KINGSTON - The looming peak oil crunch, that time when demand for the world's oil outpaces its production, couldn't deter the community here from optimistically embracing the concept of establishing a local, sustainable food system.

    Led by Local 316 of the National Farmer's Union, consumers, farmers, bureaucrats, activists, students, teachers, chefs and entertainers celebrated the availability of local food-stuffs and continued their odyssey of community action at the Food Down the Road summit on the first weekend in November.

    The warnings delivered to the gathering by high school teacher Rick Munroe were dire. After years of research he has come to believe in the work of geophysicist Marion King Hubbert who suggests that the world is close to reaching peak oil production. Henceforth oil production will decline as it becomes more difficult to extract from the earth.

    Munroe presented his findings, noting that oil is a finite, non-renewable resource which will eventually run out. The belief fuels the NFU's strategy of achieving a local, sustainable food system involving the reduction of food transportation.

    And if one doubted the sincerity of their belief, they need only witness the heart-wrenching presentation of a teary-eyed, Emily Dowling who shared the tale of her community shared agriculture farm. Fighting drought and with shareholders on side, she battled back to provide nutritious healthy produce and a learning opportunity.

    Her tears offered one poignant moment in a weekend of passion, frustration, yearning, discerning, educating, and yes, eating; a time of celebration of what has been accomplished by this Eastern Ontario community, and a chance to take a deep breath as it re-focuses on this mission to feed itself.

    By the summit's end more than 350 people were contributing to a local food declaration, enthusiastic dancers had gleefully kicked off their shoes to dance a jig to Sheesham & Lotus during a 100-mile lunch break, keynote speaker Thomas Homer-Dixon had presented his vision of a renewed civilization and Local 316 of the NFU was a step closer to achieving a community-based sustainable local food system.

    Food Down the Road's interactive Web site had been launched offering consumers the chance to browse on-line before doing their shopping.

    "Look at this," a bubbly Wendy Luella Perkins, chuckled as she demonstrated the web site's search mechanism. "Is this not exciting?"

    Fresh-faced volunteers, many of them under 30, and about 30 children in the play room, brought a vibrancy that exhilarated Perkins.

    "I feel that so strongly. So many of the young folk weren't actually on farms, but they were keen to learn! Most of our team was under 30. And they were passionate and responsible."

    The workshops were led by people living within 100 kilometers of Kingston, Perkins said.

    "I was stunned by how engaged people were. People were passionately talking," she said. They talked about providing a nutritious food system to elementary students and engaging "that level of society to want to have for their children the best foods possible". They talked of bringing more enthusiastic young farmers onto the land and setting a direction for establishing an accessible food system for the community. They talked about peak oil and how prosperous farms assist the farms next door to be prosperous.

    As exciting as the weekend was, it was frustrating too, NFU women's president Colleen Ross pointed out.

    "I've been doing this for 20 years," the 47-year-old said, adding that she recently had been given a gift of fresh ground coffee for her speaking efforts; emblazoned with a product of Canada label.

    "Their job security depends on them never understanding you," she told the food activists of the government she constantly lobbies. "They live in a constant state of duh!!!!

    "Organic farming is about more than just organics. It's about local people supporting farmers," she said, expressing from her own experience, her frustration when a local mill offered less than $100 per ton for organic soybeans.

    "I said what? You're expecting me to compete against Chinese organic soybeans?

    "What you're doing here is actually rebelling against the status quo and there's something really sexy about that," Ross said during the Sat., Nov. 3 kick-off of 15 education sessions.

    "Food sovereignty is about dignity, about respecting indigenous people and their right to their local food systems."

    The sessions searched for local solutions and markets for beef and processing and examined culinary tourism and co-operative food distribution. Growing food in the city, a practical definition of sustainable farming, approaches to attracting new farmers, and food governance also attracted participants.

    Perkins said it was at that moment, addressing more than 300 people, many of whom she didn't know, that she realized the initiative of Local 316 of the National Farmers Union was affecting the community.

    Earlier in the year the NFU's Food Down the Road initiative had included a series of talks on local food sustainability and was complemented by the release of the "From the Ground Up" primer for community action and was supported by the federal and provincial government with $130,000 through the Agricultural Management Institute.

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