The Minister of Agriculture for British Columbia (BC), Lana Popham believes strongly in the importance of eating locally grown food. As a former farmer on Vancouver Island, supporting those who grow produce and preserve agricultural land in the province are strong motivators behind a number of government initiatives she has helped create.

“It’s not easy to change the course of agriculture,” Popham explains. “It’s a slow evolution that takes time. I liken it to turning around a big ship.” But she is enthusiastic about the future for agriculture in BC and the even greater impact it can have on the local economy and its citizens through the promotion of eating locally grown food. “The more you invest in local agriculture, the more it affects communities in a positive way,” she adds.

The efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture are focused on stability, growth, and increasing awareness. It has a three-part platform to address these challenges. Grow BC is a set of land-based policies that protect food- growing areas and encourage more farming by stabilizing the price of land. Feed BC programs look at issues like institutional buying, encouraging hospitals and schools to spend at least 30 percent of their budgets on food produced or grown in the province. The third component is Buy BC, a program first introduced in the 1990s with great success among consumers. Modernized and updated, it will also use social media to promote the benefits of eating local and address misconceptions, like the belief that it’s more expensive.

Why eating local matters

According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, BC’s production of agrifood and seafood products represented $13 billion in sales, an increase of almost eight percent over the year prior. The province benefits from incredible diversity. The land is divided up into a wide range of bioregions — each offering its own strengths and specialties, from fruit from the Okanagan Valley to the increasing number of organic farms on Vancouver Island.

Popham isn’t surprised by the rising popularity and appeal of eating local. “This is a great time for agriculture in BC,” she says. “We’re seeing consumers appreciate what we have in this province more and more. Restaurants have done a great job highlighting local ingredients, and it’s making a positive impact. We have a perfect opportunity to build on the momentum.”