Food security a top talking point in COVID-times: Fernie Food Action Strategy

The strategy coordinators have recommended potentially allowing chickens, vegetable plots and encouraging water collection

file photo

A little over ten years after City of Fernie councillors voted against allowing backyard chickens within municipal borders, the hen debate could potentially be making a comeback as part of a wider discussion on food security.

As a result of community engagement, the folks of the Fernie Food Action Strategy have made three provisional recommendations to the City of Fernie on ways to enhance food security and make it easier for locals to sit pretty when it comes to access to healthy food and a healthy lifestyle – among them, potentially allowing chickens.

This time though, the debate which appears to come around every few years is part and parcel with talk of a wider understanding and appreciation of food security – the Fernie Food Action Strategy also recommended encouraging the collecting of rainwater, and encouraging the use of yard space for vegetable plots rather than lawns, as well as increased access to community gardens.

“Food security is definitely a way more common topic in conversation these days,” said project co-coordinator Dawn Deydey.

“It has been a constant conversation, and it seems with the current COVID climate and food security, people are definitely standing up and paying attention to whats going on with our food systems,” she said.

Deydey said that the aim of the strategy isn’t to “reinvent the wheel” but to gather ideas from other communities and gauge whether they could work in Fernie.

“We’re looking to move towards having a more resilient local food system.”

More research and data from the Fernie Food Action Strategy will be released in March, and there will be more community engagement in the future, along with another presentation to the city council.

From the community engagement done already, most respondents said it was hard to identity B.C. produce, while 44 per cent said they didn’t know any local food producers or how to buy from them.

Chickens are just a part of a wider debate – though it’s a topic that comes up every few years. In 2011, City of Fernie councillors voted down efforts to allow chickens, with one councillor remarking at the time that for Fernie to remain a bear smart city, chickens wasn’t something that could be permitted. Community feedback at the time had been (slightly) for allowing chickens.

WildSafeBC coordinator, Kathy Murray said that chickens were indeed very much a bear attractant, although Fernie was doing pretty well in 2021 compared to 2011 thanks to ongoing efforts to reduce attractants and raise awareness.

“Fernie has actually come a long way over the last ten years,” she said, but added that no system was perfect at reducing attractants.

“Apple trees, backyard chickens, composting – these are a huge responsibility when you live in Grizzly bear country. WildSafeBC don’t take an official position on whether or not backyard hens should be approved or not, but it’s really more that it has to be done in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner, and part of that is making sure its not attracting dangerous wildlife,” she said.

READ MORE: Parks Canada, Calgary Zoo work to conserve butterflies in Waterton Lakes
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