The Tofino Community Food Initiative believes Bert Demeria Memorial Park could be a solid growing space for a community food garden, but the town’s municipal council isn’t so sure. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Location an issue for food growing project in Tofino

Tofino council declines to commit Bert Demeria Memorial Park.

The Tofino Community Food Initiative hopes to increase the West Coast’s food security by launching a community-run food garden, but the town’s not sure where to put it.

During their March 12 regular meeting, Tofino’s municipal council reviewed a letter from the Initiative’s program co-ordinator Leah Austin asking them to support the TCFI’s efforts to engage with residents around the possibility of planting the food-growing project at Bert Demeria Memorial Park.

“The aim of this five-year project is to provide local, fresh, and healthy produce to residents of Tofino through a small-scale, community-run, organic agriculture initiative,” Austin wrote. “The Tofino Community Food Initiative is a grassroots volunteer-led group that was formed in 2009 with a mission to bolster local food growing on the west coast, foster food security, and improve food literacy.”

READ MORE: Farm and Garden Show coming to Tofino

Austin said Bert Demeria Memorial Park was identified in the Coastal Addendum to the Alberni Valley Agricultural Plan as a feasible location.

“Today I am asking for support to engage the neighbourhood to potentially create a year-round sustainable food growing system for the neighbourhood,” she said. “I acknowledge that food growing can be controversial and I am asking that we open up to the idea of food growing on the coast so that we can become a little bit more food secure.”

She noted December’s storms caused multiple power outages on the West Coast including a four-day outage in Tofino, which decreased local food stocks. She also cited Clayoquot Biosphere Trust’s Vital Signs report statistics that suggest food costs are roughly 12 per cent higher on the West Coast compared to other Vancouver Island communities.

READ MORE: Cost of living going up while wages are going down in Tofino and Ucluelet

“I’m hoping that you’ll support the TCFI to engage the neighbourhood in consultations to create a food growing space that is not only abundant but also beautiful and will be a benefit to the entire community and the neighbourhood,” she said.

“As a five-year pilot project, we hope to create a successful model to replicate in other coastal areas. However, if it does deem unsuccessful, that we can dismantle and return the park to its original state.”

Council seemed supportive of the sustainable food production project, but was not convinced Bert Demeria Memorial Park was a suitable site.

Coun. Britt Chalmers noted local kids enjoy playing at the park and asked how much of the space would be taken up by the proposed project.

Osborne said details like that would be discussed during the community engagement process and added that district staff should be involved in that engagement.

Coun. Al Anderson questioned whether enough due diligence was done to identify the location.

“I would like to see some sort of comparisons with other district lands that might be suitable,” he said.

“If this is the most suitable place, then it should be supported specifically, but I just don’t see a lot of process that went into identifying this as the spot.”

Coun. Dorothy Baert said she was “very supportive” of the efforts of the TCFI, but that residents have already raised concerns about the park being used for a food-garden.

“There was really substantial resistance to the idea that was based on a number of very acceptably logical reasons,” she said. “The fact that they haven’t been [addressed] and that that engagement at the community level hasn’t happened prior to [TCFI] coming to council for support is troubling to me.”

She added the park could host other uses as well and said she would need to see a broader assessment of the site before backing the food-growing project.

“Whether this particular piece of property is in the mix or not remains to be seen. But, I’m sorry I can’t support the request at this time. I think there’s too many threads that are dangling,” she said.

Coun. Duncan McMaster agreed.

“Maybe there’s interest. But, I would hate for the neighbourhood to think this is almost a foregone conclusion,” he said.

Coun. Andrea McQuade suggested the district should be involved in any community consultation that takes place.

“The food initiative bringing us information from the community is great, but I think that it has to be met at some point with measurable metrics from the district that we collect,” she said. “I’m in support of food initiatives and food security, but I’d just like to see a more measured approach on information collection before we move forward in a meaningful way.”

READ MORE: Lack of security: why Vancouver Island food production is on the decline

Council agreed to ask their staff for a report on any other current plans for the park before determining whether to engage with community consultation around a food garden.

“I don’t hear anybody saying no to the idea of a community food pilot project, the question is about the location,” said Mayor Josie Osborne. “Let’s get an update about the location first and make sure that we’re not sending the wrong message to the community and then go from there.”

READ MORE: New community food forest gets planted in Tofino

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