Tuesday, April 13, 2010


In a preindustrial age I can imagine Victoria as a city state like Venice or a principality like Monaco, but most often a polis like ancient Athens. A city state like Athens was not a stand alone city like Venice but the chief town of Attica. The chief citizens of Athens were farmers with estates in the surrounding area. Athens was a defensive point situated around the Acropolis, which might be translated as High Town. If transnational civilization collapses Mt. Douglas would be an excellent place for an acropolis. Like Athens, Victoria would need a strong navy to prevent invaders from landing on its extensive shores. Like Athens, Victoria does not have the most fertile soil and would have to depend on trade and the skills and expertise of its citizens.
The point I am trying to make is that the Victoria region has the feeling of a small country. The mountains march down to the sea at the Malahat cutting us off from the rest of Vancouver Island so that it becomes a natural border. Below that border, the geography of our hinterland is remarkably diverse and a bit confusing, what with hills, lakes, inlets and rocky coastlines. Yet it also has flat areas and fertile creek bottoms. The central part of the Saanich Peninsula is a plateau. Looking out at the fields from Stelly's Cross Road, a Saskatchewanian would feel right at home.
And on West Burnside Road, the rolling hills and meadows resemble horses heaven. In other words, just a short drive from downtown is the countryside, and a beautiful countryside it is, too. Our local farmers can't really compete with the big commercial farmers on the mainland, but many of them try. Strangely, Victoria lacks a large farmers market ala Pike Place in Seattle or Granville Island in Vancouver. That remains my biggest beef with Victoria. We need one. I know just the spot for it, too, but that's for future posts.
As a hotbed of trendy leftists ideas the 'locovore' craze finds a ready home here. A few government bureaucracies like to promote the idea, providing grants for such as community markets. And the plaint is that Big Agriculture is to blame for the unavailability of local products in the big grocery chains.
Personally, I think government regulations are a big part of the problem. Canadians are very fond of cozy arrangements, and one of the coziest of arrangements goes by the name of Marketing Board. We have all sorts of those in Canada. What they do is keep prices up by preventing too much competition which would force farmers to become efficient. We have egg marketing boards, dairy marketing boards, wheat marketing boards and probably lots more I don't know about. In order to sell these items in Canada a license is needed, which becomes your property and can be bought and sold, and the value of which relies on how much the holder is allowed to produce of the commodity. Naturally, by restricting the supply, both the price of the commodity and the value of the license is kept artificially high. This makes it very expensive for young farmers to get started and reduces the incentive for a farmer to innovate or learn to serve a specialty market. It is actually illegal for Western Canadian wheat farmers (but not Eastern Canadian farmers) to sell their grain on the open market. Farmers have been sent to jail in Canada for selling wheat! A producer of cheese in the Fraser Valley lost a long court case after being sued for having the temerity of buying milk for his product from a farmer without a milk license.
But of course, the holders of licenses do well and will fight tooth and nail to keep their privileged semi monopolies, and they have the money and influence needed to keep the politicians in line.
Those restrictions in the market fall on the primary producer, and to keep a lid on competion among processors of agricultural products a multitude of new labelling restrictions were introduced a few years ago. Ostensibly for safety and other justifications it became necessary for value added processors to attach a label listing nutritional information. Not a problem for larger manufacturers who could afford to submit their products to an independent laboratory, but many smaller, home-based concerns suddenly found themselves forced out of business.
So much for locovores.

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