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Food prices too low, says farm expert

03/09/2012 08:35 EST | Updated 05/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Canada as a society needs to start spending more money on food, a meeting of farmers was told in Charlottetown Thursday.

Av Singh, a specialist in organic and rural infrastructure at AgraPoint in Nova Scotia, was speaking at the P.E.I. ADAPT annual general meeting and conference. Singh said at current prices a small-scale agricultural approach is not going to work. He feels Canadians would be willing to spend more on food if it was thought of as more than simple sustenance.

"We need to make food a more integral part of our community," said Singh.

"When it becomes a more integral part of our community we realize that food can also be part of our entertainment. It's nice to come together and have social meals together, it's nice to come together and shop together, it's nice to come together and cook together."

Singh said that doesn't mean throwing out the satellite TV, just expanding how people think about food.

Traditional knowledge being lost

Singh said farmers are also losing the knowledge needed to make small-scale agriculture work.

With fewer farmers working larger farms, knowledge that has been built up over generations is lost. Singh is working in Nova Scotia to connect new farmers to some of that knowledge.

"What I'm noticing a lot with a lot of our new entrants into agriculture is that they are trying to get a better understandding of some of that tradional knowledge that we have in our area," he said.

"One of the things I really try to encourage when I have a new entrant come to a particular area is to go and visit that farmer who has been farming there for many generations."

Part of perserving that knowledge is saving your own seed, rather than buying from dealers every spring. Singh said P.E.I. farmers do a good job at saving seeds from potatoes and barley, but not when it comes to vegetables.

Singh said plants that have passed through generations in a particular area have the best chance of thriving.

"When it comes to vegetable production we want to have ones that can respond to climate variations," he said.

"Reconnect to that idea, reconnect to the importance of that whole philosophy, that being that a real right of a farmer to be able to collect seed."

Having plants that can adapt to local conditions may become increasingly important as the climate changes.

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