By Bryan Gilvesy
As we packed up our family under inclement skies, bound for Foodstock, our expectations were low. The weather had turned harsh and the site was reportedly calf deep in mud that some early arrivals had already been stuck in. Besides, how important of an issue could the loss of farmland to a mega-quarry be to the general public in rough economic times?
As it turned out, with nearly 30,000 in attendance, Foodstock became for us a moment in time where everything had changed and nothing would be the same again. Something was crystalized that day on the Melancthon farm, something we did not think was in the public consciousness. Suddenly, the stakes were higher than they had ever been before. Not because this would be the first quarry ever dug, but because for the first time nearly 30,000 wet and weathered souls understood exactly what the stakes were.
The Foodstock protest was complex. Not only was there a concern for the loss of highly productive farmland, but people understood that the destruction of that land meant the loss of an important filter for our drinking water supply, the loss of our ability to feed ourselves securely into the future, the loss of lands that could help us mitigate and adapt to climate change, indeed the loss of an important life support system.
When it came time to climb onto the stage for our brief address with Lauren Baker from the Toronto Food Policy council and my co-chair at Sustain Ontario, Karen Hutchinson, it became crystal clear: this was a defining moment. Foodstock was led by Chefs, make no mistake, but you would be mistaken in thinking the protesters of Foodstock were there for an elitist dining experience.
No, the conversations revolved around clean water, healthy food, biodiversity, food security; items that were clearly considered to be public goods. The assemblage placed a high value on these public goods for two reasons. First, large corporations backed by an American hedge fund were proposing to make immense profit by consuming these public goods. Secondly, the ramifications were for forever, the loss of public goods was permanent.
At Sustain Ontario, we’ve long advocated for creating a food and farming system that would sustain us for the long haul; one that would link environmental health to healthy food to healthy societies. The 285 member organizations of Sustain Ontario have built the necessary linkages along the environment, farming, food and health continuum and have created an understanding of how food connects us all.
We have the ability to redefine our values when it comes to food and farming. And the place to begin is to value things in the first place, not only when they are threatened. Just because something is priceless does not mean it is worthless. The people who attended Foodstock sent a clear signal: its time to value all the benefits from sustainable food and farming and incorporate those values in our policy and planning decisions. Foodstock has elevated this valuation from an idea to a populist movement; Sustain will continue to work to drive the messages home. The best is yet to come.