The Economic Impact Of Local Food

CHERYL LYON interviews KATARINA LAAKMANN

“To create a community that you enjoy living in.” With this simple phrase Trent grad Katarina Laakmann captured the essential goal of every climate crisis solution.

Laakmann recently completed her Trent Centre for Community Research-project, commissioned by Transition Town Peterborough. She kindly sat down for a conversation with The Greenzine in a local coffee shop. Her paper ,with the accompanying award-winning poster, focused on this question: “If Peterborough County were to make the transition to 50% local food by 2030, what would be the economic impact?”

Laakmann chose the topic because she aims to expand her education after graduation from Trent University into urban planning. She wants to contribute, preferably in a smaller city, to designing a community that is walkable, has good public transit, access to healthy and sufficient food for all, and other characteristics which will keep the community thriving through climate change. Katarina also shared that she herself has many food allergies, so food is “close to home” for her.

While Laakmann identified many drivers for moving towards local food, her research focused particularly on estimating the economic impact of having 50% local food in the Peterborough area. She found that “a local food system would look very different in terms of cost and oil use.” One example: manoomin (wild rice) − long a food staple to local Indigenous communities. What are the possibilities of harvesting it to a scale large enough to become an integral part of this area’s food economy? KL mused on the expansion of urban farming as “fill in” to complement surrounding rural agriculture’s role in supplying cities, especially in view of her findings of inconsistent crop yields locally in the past few years. A local food hub would also aid the transition to 50 % local food.

Laakmann pointed out how, quite apart from the necessity of lowering carbon emissions into the atmosphere, right now is the window in time for adaptive action. Her studies showed that the growing impacts of climate change are currently “uneven” across the Peterborough area. But they are nonetheless showing up, for instance, in food insecurity, inconsistent crop yields, and mounting poverty which will worsen social class divides. Before the recent food prices inflation, Laakmann’s research foresaw that “price and access will become even more insecure.”

Laakmann pointed out how, quite apart from the necessity of lowering carbon emissions into the atmosphere, right now is the window in time for adaptive action.

Her studies showed that the growing impacts of climate change are currently “uneven” across the Peterborough area. But they are nonetheless showing up, for instance, in food insecurity, inconsistent crop yields, and mounting poverty which will worsen social class divides. Before the recent food prices inflation, Laakmann’s research foresaw that “price and access will become even more insecure.”

Avoiding this dire trajectory is the “big question” her research poses for local decision-making. It’s the kind of question which will affect policies and planning at every level across all areas of responsibility, from households to farmers to municipal governments to economic and social development, and beyond. For instance, Laakmann pointed out, altering long-standing farming practices will take years to implement and the ensuing crop yield diminishment during that transition period will directly affect what is available in grocery stores.

KL’s research revealed that Peterborough grows a lot of food compared to what its citizens consume. A shift to providing 50% of it from local sources means we could feed ourselves. That comes with the big “but”: BUT means we will have to change a lot of things. Our diet for starters.

The “BUT-transition” will be a shift to learning to do without California grapes and avocados on our plates. It will involve building more food supply infrastructure like greenhouses. It will require radically changing our food distribution system away from its long-hauler dependence on fossil fuels. We’ll need to learn how to grow new crops.

Climate change also will throw up novel, very differing challenges. How will farm animals be kept alive during droughts or extreme heat? Through the period of changeover to regenerative and permaculture practices, can the trend of large commercial enterprises companies buying up small farms be slowed or halted, as small farm enterprises find it harder and harder to hang on.

Many of these changes will move us away from how we have historically lived here − our local culture.

Katarina Laakmann is realistically hopeful about the future if we can create a circular food economy that also includes more gifting, sharing, and simpler lifestyles.

In addition to a different, circular economy, Laakmann’s research recommendations include:

  • Collecting data pertaining to local food and consumer habits
  • Giving resources to local food initiatives
  • Working to separate food from oil in the local food system.

When asked how she felt about the future, she replied “contentedness” because she believes that in her lifetime things can change. In these days of climate “doomsayers,” her answer was bracing.

The upcoming generations will reap what is sown today. Good seeds of it are found in Katarina Laakmann’s research. No doubt they will bear fruit in her own contributions, as her generation moves into the chairs of decision-making. They will involve essential actions toward communities we can “enjoy living in” in a climate-challenged future.

To see her award-winning poster for Most Innovative Poster Presentation go here https://www.trentu.ca/community-based-research/sites/trentu.ca.community-based-research/files/documents/4944_Katerina.jpg

Katerina Laakmann’s full research paper titled “ERST-4840H Community Based Research Project#4944 50% Local Food 2030 Economic Impact Report: Eating Local in a Global System” is available through the Trent Community Research Centre at https://www.trentu.ca/community-based-research/.

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