Monday, November 30, 2009

Growing Wheat on Vancouver Island

Eat Magazine has an interesting article in this month's issue about growing wheat on Vancouver Island. Actually they will be covering this over this and the next two issues. I experimented with growing wheat in 2008 and did not find it particularly useful project.

There is something romantic about being able to buy bread that has been made from locally grown wheat. You can buy local wheat at For Good Measure Bulk Food in Cadboro Bay for a price of $3.30 to $4.40 a kilo - a lot more than the less than $10 I pay for 10 kg. It is not only expensive, growing it locally is not a good use of the land.

You can buy bread made with local wheat at Fol Epi, True Grain in Cowichan Bay, The Roost and Wildfire bakery.

The problem with wheat is that does not produce a lot per acre, one should expect to harvest about 2.5 tonnes per acre. This is not unreasonable in areas where the land can not be readily used for other crops - such as on the prairies. On Vancouver Island this does not make sense.

An acre on the Saanich peninsula could produce the following:
  • 20 tonnes of tomatoes
  • 12 tonnes of strawberries
  • 20 tonnes of apples
  • 3 tonnes of grapes
  • 25 tonnes of carrots

Growing wheat on this land makes no sense for best use of the land, the farmer's business or food security. We have land here that con do so much more.

In the distant past wheat was grown here because we did not have the transportation infrastructure to move the wheat around as easily as today. To move back to growing wheat means moving backwards in how we use the land.

Wheat stores well and transports well, you can move it in bulk by train. Tomatoes, apples, berries and other fresh crops do not travel nearly as well and require trucks. Each kilo of wheat that is grown here displaces the potential of close to eight kilos of produce. Each train car load of wheat we grow here means we need about 20 semi trailer loads of produce to be trucked here from elsewhere. This means local wheat has an interesting impact of CO2 emissions through the loss of local land for other local production.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Not Really about Good Food

There has been an ongoing rumour that McDonalds does not use Canadian beef, or at least uses a lot of beef that comes from rain forest deforestation. This is not true at all. Mcdonalds is one of the single biggest purchasers of beef in Canada. They buy 29 000 000 kilos of beef each year.

There seems to a desire out there to believe that McDonalds is some horrible corporate citizen because they are such a big corporation. Certainly the food they sell is hardly good for you, but so then is a burger and fries and a mom and pop greasy spoon. In many ways McDonalds is better than most fast food restaurants - they make it easy to know the nutritional information for their products

The internet rumour continues on and on, new people keep perpetuating it. It seems there is visceral hatred of such a successful fast food operation. Because McDonalds is the biggest, somehow they must be evil.

I have no love for McDonalds but I impressed with how they run their business. They make a product that is consistent globally. In fact their Big Mac has been used as a measure of how well currencies compare in values. Normally currencies are evaluated using the relative cost of a basket of goods to arrive at what is called Purchase Price Parity. In 1988 the Economist started with the idea of the Big Mac index as a joke, but it turns out to be a very good measure of PPP. McDonalds can make the same Big Mac in 120 countries.

Consistency is important to the company. Not long ago I bought a quarter pounder in Tsawwassen on the way to the ferry. Once I was in the line up I found the burger to be cold, the cheese was unmelted and there was a lack of condiments. I phoned the restaurant and they offered to replace it. I explained I was in the line for the ferry and could not get it. They said they would have a credit for me for a new burger whenever I came through again. About five months later I was going through the drive through and said I had this credit. With no fuss they either found the note of the credit or just gave it to me.

I have also seen what the company can do for teenagers interested in learning to be leaders of teams of people. They allow 15 year olds to be promoted to shift supervisors if they show a desire and ability. I am hard pressed to think of many other venues where a high school kid can get some real responsibility in their lives.

I know the downsides of the food. I have watched Morgan Spurlock's movie Super Size Me and I loved it. I let my kids watch it and they took to heart the message that fast food is not good for you. But at the end of the day there are times when I am on the road and do not have the time to stop to eat somewhere. It is at moments like that I get the McDonalds food.

There is a place for McDonalds and their food.