Ontario environment minister voices concern over climate change, food supply

Ontario's minister of the environment and climate change says North America should look at a continental food security strategy to prepare for the effects of climate change.

Depending on California for produce could become a liability, says Murray

Alan Hayashi watches as workers load boxes of cabbages onto the truck for shipping at his farm on in Arroyo Grande, Calif., in 2014. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (The Associated Press)

Glen Murray has been thinking a lot about where his broccoli comes from. 

Ontario's minister of the environment and climate change said he's becoming increasingly concerned about food security and the extent to which Ontarians rely on California for vegetables and fruit, especially in the dead of winter.

"Prior to the California drought it was not on my radar screen," Murray said. 

Murray was keynote speaker at a Canadian Climate Forum conference in Ottawa Friday, where he showed slides demonstrating the worsening effects of drought in the golden state in recent years. Yet even as they drain aquifers, farmers in California are increasing production of water-intensive crops such as almonds and pistachios because those crops are lucrative, Murray said.

"We have some real challenges because our economy doesn't naturally lend itself to good, sustainable decisions in food," Murray told his audience. "And this, I think, starts the need for a continental food security strategy."

The idea is still in the early stages, said Murray. So far he's pitched it to colleagues in Quebec and California. When he heads to the United Nations climate change conference in Paris at the end of November, he says he'll be looking to see how other countries are dealing with food security.

We have some real challenges because our economy doesn't naturally lend itself to good, sustainable decisions in food.- Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray

But there may be homemade solutions too, either through research into drought-resistant crops or input from farmers themselves, said Murray.

"We depend on imports for a lot of food we could produce here," said Murray. "So I think talking to the agriculture and food sector here would be critical."

Farmers soil, carbon experts

Don McCabe certainly wants the province's 37,000 farmers to be consulted. 

As president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, McCabe sees farmers as experts on soil and the carbon cycle. 

"Let's have a dialogue, folks," McCabe told the forum in Ottawa. "Because time is short. And I really don't have time to wait for you to catch up to where agriculture is today in Canada."

Don McCabe gives the perspective of a farmer during a conference on food security and climate change in Ottawa. (Kate Porter/CBC)

McCabe is a farmer from Lambton County, and a big advocate for an agricultural approach to climate change issues. He's also a Canadian representative to the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture. And he's a member of the Climate Action Group, which advises Ontario's environment minister on climate change.

Included in the conversation about climate change, says McCabe, should be the rapid development of the rich farmland that surrounds cities, often to accommodate acres of single-family homes. 

"Is that sustainable?" he asked.