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Green MLA proposes solutions to increase NB’s food sovereignty during COVID-19

by Josh O'Donnell

April 9, 2020

Green MLA proposes solutions to increase NB’s food sovereignty during COVID-19

Fredericton – MLA for Kent-North, Kevin Arseneau, has been working to ensure that New Brunswick farms are supported and able to increase production for the 2020 season so that New Brunswickers have a stable food system and supply here in the province during this global pandemic.

Green Party Leader, David Coon, brought Arseneau’s proposal to the Cabinet Committee on COVID-19 which led to the creation of a committee by the Department of Post-Secondary Education and Labour made up of staff from the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, as well as farmers, food processors and others.

“This committee is a good first step, but it’s not going far enough, it needs to be have all-party representation and should have included the only elected farmer in the Legislature.  We have a fragile food system in the province, we produce only 3% of what we eat overall. Although we must support all farmers, fishers and harvesters, we must direct our efforts to our weakest links: especially annual fruit and vegetables but also grain, and livestock,” says Arseneau.  “The province’s biggest weakness is fresh vegetables and fruits.  We import 92% of the vegetables and fruits that the province consumes, much of that from the United States.  These are seasonal crops that need to go into the ground very soon, given the window of opportunity is quickly closing that’s where we need to focus our time and energy right now.”

Arseneau proposed concrete actions government needs to urgently adopt to ensure the integrity of the province’s food supply this year.

Supporting agriculture: stabilize and increase agricultural production

  • Establish a non-partisan task force including representatives from all parties, experts from civil society and experts from the New Brunswick Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries.
  • Subsidize a portion of the wages of agricultural employees by introducing a $4 per hour wage premium for agricultural workers.
  • Stimulate the local recruitment of farm labour by allowing people who wish to do so, such as retirees, unemployed people, or students to be trained and paid to work on a farm for the summer season without penalty on the benefits received.
  • Offer interest-free loans and increase the percentage infrastructure investment grants to farms that want to increase production under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP).
  • Subsidize community supported agriculture baskets (CSAs) for families in need, food banks and community kitchens.
  • Ensure a fair price, a plan to buy back the surplus (if necessary) by mandating that our public institutions, supermarkets and distributors buy NB products.
  • Recognize farmers’ markets and farm stands in the list of “essential services”.

Victory Gardens: grow food wherever possible

  • Encourage individuals to plant gardens in community gardens and at home and develop materials explaining the specific precautions to be taken in the face of physical and social distancing.
  • Develop training videos in partnership with small farms to increase the chance of success for individuals growing their own food.
  • Allow front yard vegetable gardens in all municipalities.
  • Assist ornamental greenhouses to convert to vegetable production.
  • Convert municipal ornamental gardens into market gardening spaces, as much as possible.

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