FOOD INDEPENDENCE IN THE CITY REQUIRES INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE SUPPORTED BY NEW TECHNOLOGY
Food consumption patterns in cities such as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are unsustainable on many levels. We depend heavily on imported products from hundreds and thousands of kilometers away, with its associated environmental and social costs. Additionally, our food tastes do not sufficiently incorporate local Indigenous knowledge, but rather are based on knowledge of food and locally unsustainable consumption processes imported by settlers. Many of our societal health problems are related to consumption of unhealthy or inappropriate food. At the same time, Indigenous knowledge of food practices that will conserve food and land related resources, supported by technology development, are now available as solutions.
Developing sustainable food systems requires a range of different solutions. One part of the solution is to learn from local Indigenous knowledge keepers about which items can be grown in which conditions and what quantities can be consumed sustainably over the long term. Many of the foods we eat can be grown in ways appropriate to maintaining ecological and social balance, while providing sufficient food for consumption. The Indigenous community in Toronto, for example, the group Naadmaagit Ki (Helpers of the Earth), has been removing invasive species, planting Indigenous fruit bearing plants and trees along waterways and in public parks to ensure future generations benefit from this renewable resource, and to ensure Toronto is a more resilient city when there are disruptions to our current food supply system.
Another part of the solution is to utilize existing and emerging technology to conserve water, land and nutrient resources required to grow food. Technology is currently available to monitor growing conditions for plants and provide the right amount of water or nutrients, therefore conserving resources. Circular processes, such as combining aquaponic fish farms and greenhouses, where the waste from one process provides nutrients to the other, are in development by the St. James Town Community Co-op. Innovations include Rain Gardens being implemented by the Toronto Green Community to conserve water resources. Moreover, information technology solutions such as blockchain can be utilized to provide reliable information on the food supply chain, enabling customers at any point in the chain to be more knowledgeable and discretionary consumers of food. Consumers can be more reliably informed and decide if food purchases are local, organic, grown by organizations such as not-for-profits, worker owned cooperatives, rural or urban farms owned by women, and Indigenous communities, or combined requirements. Consumer choices supported by more reliable information will necessitate more sustainable and socially just food system practices.
Developing a sustainable food ecosystem in cities and regions such as the GTA therefore requires the application of Indigenous knowledge, conservation of resources, and application of new information technology developments. The options available to grow sustainable food need to include public spaces, community gardens and green walls as growing spaces. There are enough water and nutrient resources available if we conserve, reuse and recycle. And finally, there is an existentially necessary body of Indigenous knowledge of food and land that continues to be shared, by respecting the requirements of Indigenous knowledge keepers and following the appropriate protocols for use of Indigenous food and Indigenous knowledge.
I am grateful to the following local Toronto community-based food and water related organizations for sharing their knowledge over time, and they welcome your support: