When Ari Derfel heard the news earlier this week that landslides and flooding had isolated Vancouver from the rest of British Columbia, the general manager of Kootenay Co-op in Nelson did a quick mental scan of the store’s inventory. of groceries.

“Common wisdom generally says that a grocery store or city has three to five days worth of food if they cut out, and it’s been an interesting experience to test that theory – it seems we actually have more,” he said. “It turns out that we have pretty impressive resilience.”

Six days after an unprecedented storm destroyed roads and left much of the Fraser Valley, BC’s barn, under water, the store is only running out of some fruits and vegetables that are not grown locally. But they still have eggs, chicken, butter, meat, bread and pasta, which means there is little chance that the city of 10,570 people will go hungry in the next few days.

Not all stores have been so lucky. In recent days, viral photos have surfaced on social media of empty shelves at grocery stores like Save-on-Foods, Safeway and Walmart, from Prince Rupert to 100-Mile House, as consumers rush to shop for premium items. necessity and suppliers struggle to divert food shipments. Speaking at a media event on Wednesday, Prime Minister John Horgan implored residents to avoid panic shopping as supermarkets and the province scrambled to restore disrupted supply chains.

“Please don’t hoard items. What you need, your neighbors need too,” he said.

A study commissioned last year by Metro Vancouver found that about 78 percent of British Columbia’s food typically transits the region on its way to smaller communities across the province. With broken bridges and piles of rocks and muddy trees blocking all major roads out of town, many stores have been unable to restock for days as they find alternate supply routes through Alberta or the US.

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In Prince Rupert, the shelves of the two main grocery stores were empty Thursday when sushi chef Dai Fukasaku went to get a can of heavy cream. It was a drastic change to the scene a few days earlier when he walked down aisles filled with produce and dairy during his weekly grocery tour to restock his restaurant.

While he said stores have already started restocking their shelves through other distribution centers, the experience encouraged him to make next week’s menu almost entirely with local foods like carrots, beets and seafood. He still has no “clue” of what those dishes will be, but is eager to spend the weekend preparing them for his restaurant on the pier.

“I want to challenge myself with vegetables from local farmers [because] local food security is one of the things I’m working with. ”

Others in the region will likely face similar culinary challenges, hinted Kitwanga farmer Jacob Beaton. Located between Terrace and Smithers in a remote area about 1,400 kilometers north of Vancouver, his farm has been inundated with local residents looking to bolster their food supplies.

“It was quite nice this time,” said Kootenay Co-op general manager Ari Derfel. “We’ve been living in a year of emergencies and this time, seeing people come in and get what they need and not freak out has been a bit reassuring.”

Over the past week, you’ve given away roughly 1,000 pounds of potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and some veggies. Seed potatoes for next year and enough food to feed your family through the winter is all that’s left in your cold room. Rather than worry him, however, the demand on his reserves reaffirmed his belief that more must be done to bolster regional food security.

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Derfel, the manager of Kootenay Co-op, echoed Beaton’s concerns. While his store and others across the province have been able to find alternative routes for their supplies, climate change means that catastrophic weather events, or pandemics, are almost inevitable in the years to come. Communities, grocers and food producers must start preparing for these disruptions, he said.

“Now we can more easily see where exactly the vulnerabilities are,” he explained. “I think that’s where we are going to put a lot of energy and resources [alongside] people who are already working on it. ”

For example, the region currently lacks a local distribution system, and most stores bring their stock from urban centers such as Calgary or Vancouver.

A better approach would prioritize the dispersal of more food warehouses in the communities of the region to supply local stores and strengthen the regional food processing infrastructure. It would also help redirect federal and provincial farm subsidies that currently help large export-oriented farms to support small and medium-sized local farms focused on national markets, he said.

Still, these changes won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, he’s glad that shoppers in his small mountain community have refrained from emptying fruit and vegetable shelves and milk-filled coolers during a difficult time.

“It was quite nice this time,” he said. “We’ve been living in a year of emergencies and this time, seeing people come in and get what they need and not freak out has been a bit reassuring.”


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