By Jim Cooperman —
The pandemic has been a massive shock to humanity, and as a result, there may never be a return to the same lifestyle we have always deemed normal. In fact, the disease has exposed all the flaws in our society, and thus, it could become a catalyst for the changes needed to improve our lives. While most of the key decisions are made in Ottawa and Victoria, there are ways that regions like the British Columbia interior can change for the better.
The goal posts are shifting. For too long the mantra of continuous growth has been the driving force in the economy, as if we lived on an infinite planet where more of everything could continue forever. As society slowly emerges into a post-COVID world, the new buzzword is resilience, which communities now desire as they grapple with all the threats to our normalized way of life.
First and foremost are the risks to our food supply since most of it is either imported from the United States and Mexico or is dependent on foreign temporary farm workers. Fortunately, there is an abundant supply of quality arable land in much of the province that has the potential to feed all of us with ample more for export.
However, there are many obstacles that need to be addressed before sustainable agriculture can become a solution. Much of our farmland is underutilized and the costs are far too expensive for young people to purchase land. Solutions could include lease-to-purchase opportunities, cooperatives, and revising the rules to allow for large farms to be subdivided into smaller acreages that would be farmed more intensively.
In addition to providing more opportunities for growing food, we need to revise our diets to include more of the types of food we can grow and store locally. A classic example is the standard head of lettuce, which is a basic staple for most families. While there is no shortage of greens during the growing season, throughout the winter fresh greens can only be grown here under lights. Cabbage is the ideal replacement in the winter, as it stores well under refrigeration and it is more nutritious and flavourful.
In addition to food, fabulous trees also grow in the interior. As the forest industry continues to weaken due to a combination of a declining timber supply and job-killing mechanization, the need for seedlings increases. More tree nurseries are needed, given the demand due to forest fires, pests, and logging.
Tourism, which has long been a key part of the economy, is taking a hit from the pandemic and its recovery may be hampered for a few years until there are fewer risks from travel and more people can afford to enjoy a vacation again. A mitigation strategy could be pursued that would help to expand the tourism season by promoting the many hiking and biking trails, as well as by building more trails.
With so many people now working from home, the nature of work will likely change for the better once we are free from the pandemic. It is possible that many people will want to exit from the cities to live in rural communities, where they can enjoy a healthier lifestyle and more recreational opportunities, and still be able to work remotely via the internet.
Many experts are calling for a green recovery that focuses on investments in technologies and infrastructure that help reduce carbon emissions. Ecosystem restoration is part of the federal plan, and it is possible that funding could be secured to restore more of the Salmon River riparian areas.
Achieving greater resilience would include improving our ability to cope with the stress from climate change and economic malaise, as well as from infectious diseases. Economic and social planning that encourages greater self-sufficiency, better food security, more affordable housing, and a higher level of social cohesiveness would help to ensure that British Columbia remains one of the best places in the world to live.
Jim Cooperman was a provincial forest activist with the BC Environmental Network during the turbulent 1990s. He now focuses on local issues in the Shuswap, where he has lived on a rural property for 50 years. His bioregional book, Everything Shuswap, is a local bestseller.