Edible Resource – Extraordinary Food, Tremendous Opportunities

Food Production and Economic Development in Nova Scotia 

Nova Scotia was the only province in the 2011 census to show an increase in the number of farms. A total of 3,905 farms were reported, 2.9% more than in 2006. Agriculture directly employs over 5,800 Nova Scotians and another 10,500 work supporting the industry beyond the farm gate. Taking into account the 58,000 other Nova Scotians who work in the food service sector, farms and food businesses provides employment for approximately 13% of Nova Scotia’s work force.  

The farm gate value of agricultural products in NS in 2011 was $595 million supporting a food industry valued at $2.3 billion. Agriculture in Nova Scotia is currently producing less than 20% of the food consumed in the province. With a modest economic multiplier of two to three cycles, a 10 percent increase in local food purchasing, production, and processing would generate millions of   dollars in new economic activity in the Province. The development of local food systems is a logical strategy to improve community and provincial economic vitality.

But there are challenges which must be addressed in order to fully realize the benefits of increasing food production in NS.

Global commodity agriculture, with externalized costs permitting lower prices, has undercut local horticulture and animal agriculture. Subsequently, over the last 50 years the rapid decline of primary production and the resultant loss of infrastructure has undermined the raison d’etre for many rural communities. Loss of food-related income affects every facet of rural NS directly and the rest of the province indirectly. Nova Scotia cannot reach its full potential without addressing the food-related issues that are evident in many socioeconomic reports.

There are many obstacles for farmers and other entrepreneurs, finance being arguably a lesser one, as in some instances programs provide money while regulatory hurdles delay or disable progress. There are inconsistencies that cause similar projects to be treated differently. Economic opportunities may be delayed or lost when timely assistance is not available.

Farmers in particular, but also some food entrepreneurs, are not always treated with the respect accorded other professionals. Farmers responsible for research and development and analytical thinking, production and productivity, data collection, finance and statistical analysis, communication and marketing, labour and human resources, time management, animal and human health,  and so on, should be given credit by bureaucrats and the public for their abilities. Few corner office occupants could navigate an agricultural business successfully, yet small farms are too often characterized as sunset enterprises, inconsistent with the knowledge economy.  Nothing is further from the truth. Application of cutting edge technologies, smart economics and modern marketing techniques are elevating food production to its proper place in a new and vibrant economy for Nova Scotia.

Food is the world’s biggest industry but there is little understanding on Hollis and Main streets that we’re missing opportunities to multiply food dollars locally and internationally. There are tremendous opportunities to sell succulent, nutritious Nova Scotian products at home and beyond. Nova Scotia (and Atlantic Canada) should be “the designation”, the brand, that sells our succulent, extraordinary, healthy foods to residents and tourists, and abroad. Primary and value-added production needs to be envisioned, ensured and rebuilt to augment rural economic development around food.

FarmWorks is providing a sliver of the solution by helping to facilitate agriculture and food production through money, mentoring and marketing. Many Nova Scotians have recognized the potential of farmers and food entrepreneurs by investing close to half a million dollars in less than two years in FarmWorks. Nova Scotian entrepreneurs, driven by personal goals and desire to support other local business, are benefitting from the encouragement, mentoring and support provided by fellow Nova Scotians. But this is just part of the solution. Wise policies and recognition by governments that support is required for the food producing entrepreneurs who are here, or who may come here, is crucial to the future of the rural – and urban – economy of the province. Effective support starts with recognizing skills, identifying gaps, providing missing ingredients, and celebrating successes.