Chapter 8: Food, Ecology and Culture

Photo: Seed pots from the dryland agriculture on the Deccan Plateau, India.

Forthcoming: Salt Spring Island sits off the west coast of British Colombia among a smattering of other small islands between the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Today it is a fabled place of expensive real estate, protected from the open ocean and connected to Vancouver by a short ferry ride. When I went there in 2003, it was still a haven for back-to-the-land advocates, more adventuresome retirees and artists. It was also a hot spot of organic farms, seed savers, and entrepreneurs connected to the emerging food movement in North America.

I visited the island the first and only time with a caravan of South Asian and Canadian farmers and political activists in what we dubbed “The Canada-South Asia Exchange on the Future of Agriculture.” With funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) where I worked at the time, 25 people travelled, ate and learned together on a tour of organic farms around Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, culminating in a presentation at the Organic World Congress in Victoria, British Colombia. Farmers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Canada found common ground during the caravan, and compassion for each other. One farmer, a woman from a small village in Bangladesh with a biodiverse farm of her own, remarked sadly about the Canadian farm she was visiting, "You have lost so much." A Sri Lanka farmer, who had harboured great resentment towards "The West" for its exploitation of his nation, said hopefully, "Now I see we have friends here." In this landscape of contrasts, food, ecology and culture were becoming a path of peace.


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