Meet ATN Access—a non-profit based in London, Ontario committed to empowering individuals through technology and skills development. They advocate for inclusive environments, prioritising adaptability, and believing in the intrinsic value and unique strengths of each individual, a philosophy which is deeply embedded in all their work.
As a recipient of the Food Systems Champion award, the organization is dedicated to improving food security and fostering community wellness, with particular attention to serving individuals with disabilities.
Furthermore, ATN Access strives to effect positive social change by integrating job-related and wellness-related skills into their food system initiatives. By providing individuals with the tools and resources to develop essential culinary skills, they create opportunities for personal growth and empowerment, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive society.
One of their initiatives is the “grow-your-own” greenhouse project, a program that embodies ATN Access’s core value of adaptability. This initiative is about more than just gardening—it seamlessly integrates education on food nutrition and literacy into their programs, leading to positive change and healthier lifestyle choices. Moreover, the initiative empowers members of the community by providing the necessary resources to start their own herb and vegetable gardens at home, provided free of charge.
ATN Access further demonstrates their commitment to inclusivity through their wellness-oriented “Be Well” program and plans to expand their “Adaptive Cooking” program. Their philosophy—emphasizing the importance of the work process alongside the outcome—reflects their dedication to fostering a healthier, more inclusive society. ATN’s impactful contributions to the local food system underline their well-earned recognition as a Food Systems Champion.
Keisha Joseph, a dedicated member of both the MLFPC and the London community, has made significant contributions in the field of nutrition and community-based work. After graduating from Brescia University College with a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, Keisha realized her passion for helping people directly and engaging in community-based initiatives.
Keisha found the perfect opportunity to use her knowledge and skills when she came across a job posting for her current role as a Food Program Facilitator at Indwell. Indwell is a subsidized and supportive housing charity that provides housing and support for vulnerable populations, such as those who have experienced homelessness or are living in precarious housing situations, and who may have severe mental health disabilities or substance abuse disorders.
In her role as a Food Program Facilitator, Keisha works closely with the Indwell community to improve food security and food literacy among low-income tenants, making her a shaper of the food system. She facilitates food programs and supports individuals in accessing nutritious meals, thereby addressing the issue of food insecurity within the community.
Keisha is committed to continuous learning and recognizes that there is still a lot of work to be done in the field of food security and support. She believes that additional support can be provided and different levels of education can be implemented to address the diverse needs of individuals. Keisha aspires to establish new and more concrete systems for effectively providing food assistance, and also aims to deepen her knowledge in the field of public health.
Keisha Joseph’s dedication to improving food security and her efforts to support vulnerable populations through her work at Indwell demonstrate her commitment to creating a more equitable and sustainable food system in the London community, making her a Food Systems Champion!
The Middlesex London Food Policy Council (MLFPC) is pleased to inform you that the video recording of our “Know Your Food” event is now online!
The day proved to be enlightening for our presenters and over 100 in-person and online attendees. Read on for a summary of the event including points of interest that emerged during the discussions.
Stay tuned! We will be posting more detailed blogs about the event’s panels in the coming months.
GROW, EAT, UNDERSTAND
On November 5th, 2022, MLFPC welcomed representatives from the agrifood sector, food literacy advocates, and the public to The Grove at Western Fair for a day-long event to explore and exchange ideas about the food system.
The event featured an array of guest speakers and panels addressing three key themes of food literacy: GROW, EAT, UNDERSTAND.
Ray John of the Oneida Nation, a Knowledge Sharer and Cultural Advisor to the London Catholic School Board, set the tone for the event. He asked us to think about and be thankful for the food we eat and the many hands that put their energy into producing and distributing it for the people of Middlesex-London. Our food is the work of hundreds, if not thousands, of people who work in agri-business in the area.
As moderator Lella Bloomer observed, agri-food accounts for more than 1/4 of all businesses in Middlesex County and has a $1.2 bill annual impact, with 7,800 jobs and $290 million in wages and salaries.
The themes GROW, EAT, UNDERSTAND allowed presenters and audience participants to examine the breadth of the food system, exploring developments and challenges in agri-food production and processing; food distribution and retailing; urban agriculture and local food markets; food access and education; as well as raising difficult questions about sustainability and those underserved by our current food system.
The recent impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising energy costs, along with rising food prices, emerged as important concerns during the event, as did the continuing legacy of colonialism and colonial food practices on the traditional Indigenous lands of the county.
While food systems and politics have become increasingly global in scope, the event was a rare opportunity to engage with stakeholders and issues directly linked to Middlesex-London—one we hope to repeat in the future!
“Know Your Food” would not have been possible without the work of MLFPC members and volunteers who put the event together over the course of eight months, with funding provided by the London Community Recovery Network.
The other essential ingredients for the event were the space and resources provided by The Grove and Growing Chefs! Ontario. The Grove is located at the Western Fair District in a facility once earmarked for demolition, but which has now become an agri-business hub and incubator. Growing Chefs! Ontario is one of many organisations that make their home there. Not only did Andrew Fleet, Executive Director of Growing Chefs!, deliver a compelling talk about the importance of food access and literacy for youth and their families; the organization also provided a nutritious lunch for participants and guests. It featured traditional Indigenous and locally-produced foods, including bison chili, kale salad, and apple crisp.
We are so grateful to everyone who helped make this event a success and for the collaborative spirit fostered at The Grove by our moderators, panellists, and attendees!
“Know Your Food” was a unique event, exploring important issues and asking important questions about food literacy.
One of the most challenging questions was: how can we honour and continue to pursue reconciliation with the traditional Indigenous peoples of this land through our food system?
We must continue to ask ourselves and our regional governments these challenging questions. We hope the MLFPC will be a driver of conversations and action that make our food system resilient, sustainable, and inclusive for everyone.
The MLFPC’s goal is to foster connections and knowledge exchange among stakeholders of the local food system. We want you to know your food system and to become invested in it.
So far in our Vote for London’s Food System series, we’ve explored what community food security is and why protecting farmland is important. For our last installment, we are going to talk about how you can support urban agriculture this election.
What is urban agriculture?
Generally, agriculture is the act of using land to produce (grow) and distribute food. You may be more familiar with rural agriculture – think of large farm fields in the countryside. Urban agriculture is much the same, but it happens on a smaller scale within city limits.
Why is urban agriculture important?
Primarily, urban agriculture is important because growing food within a community means food is readily available to that community. Urban agriculture removes barriers to accessing food, such as financial strain and/or a lack of transportation. Since food is immediately available and the price does not include shipping costs, food is cheaper and fresher for community members.
Additionally, urban agriculture has longer-term benefits for you and your community. Since urban agriculture projects happen right in your neighbourhood, you can easily find fresh options that can improve your physical and mental health. Urban agriculture also provides opportunities near your home to learn about food production and food issues. Close contact with how food is grown gives communities the chance to learn about food security and why rising food costs impact both consumers (you) and food producers (growers, farmers, etc.).
Another amazing benefit of urban agriculture is its positive impact on our environment. Planting gardens, cultivating fruit trees, or starting small farms creates healthy habitats for wildlife. For example, planting flowers and growing vegetables provides homes and food for bees. This leads to increased bee populations and more pollination, creating a lush ecosystem (which also benefits your garden and food production). Urban agriculture also helps the environment by cutting down on driving and food waste. When food can be sourced locally, people drive leading to lower carbon emissions. Access to a regular supply of local food means you can buy less at one time which helps prevent food spoilage and in turn, decreases food waste.
Since urban agriculture impacts communities in so many positive ways, our next city council needs to support its growth in London.
What is London’s urban agriculture like right now?
London made some positive changes to our urban agriculture by-laws in 2021. For example, if you have a large plot of land in your backyard, you may be able to build a greenhouse up to 200m2. You can also grow food in shipping containers if you get a permit!
Despite the changes, by-laws still limit what can be grown within city limits, London has a small, but passionate, urban agriculture scene. There are currently over 450 gardeners working within London’s 17 community gardens to provide communities access to low-cost and healthy food. Organisations like Urban Roots London have pushed through the existing red tape to make the most of London’s unused land by growing organic food and distributing it locally, proving urban agriculture can be a successful operation in London. Others see this too which is why The Grove exists; an agribusiness hub in London’s Western Fair District that provides people with the space and resources to make connections and make their ideas for bettering local agriculture a reality. As previously mentioned, London’s urban ag scene is small but passionate, and more forward, pro-urban ag city government will only see the scene grow.
However, there is still room to grow.
What can the London city council do to support urban agriculture?
While London city council is not directly responsible for the implementation of urban agriculture projects, they are in charge of advocating for bylaw changes to the provincial government. This means they can push our provincial government to give more city space to urban agriculture. If by-law changes pass, neighbourhoods could build more community gardens or start other initiatives. The city can also refine land use applications and reduce fees to ease the burden of accessing land approved for urban agricultural activities. (See our citations for specific actions municipalities should take.)
How can I vote for candidates that will support urban agriculture?
How can you ensure the candidate you vote for supports growing food in the city? Use our questions below to gauge your candidate’s interest and knowledge of urban agriculture.
Would you consider urban agriculture a solution to some food security issues?
How do you plan to grow urban agriculture within our municipality?
What urban agriculture initiative are you most excited about and why?
What changes do you think you can make to existing by-laws and programs to expand urban agriculture in London?
Other Actions You Can Take To Support Urban Agriculture
Besides voting on October 24th, here’s a list of actions you can take to support our urban agriculture community and get involved yourself:
Join a community garden and grow your own food. Take things a step further by saving a row and growing some food for the London Food Bank.
Visit the Victory Garden at the Western Fair
Connect with Pollinator Pathways and learn how to plant a pollinator garden
Buy food from urban growers
Join Facebook groups to connect with urban gardeners (FUAL, etc.)
It’s no secret that food prices are increasing. Discount food stores are seeing increased sales and Canadian inflation rates are higher than they have been in nearly 40 years.1 For some Londoners, this may mean tightening budgets, and on others, more severe consequences.
On October 24th, 2022, Londoners will head to the polls and vote for Mayor, City Council and School Board Trustees. It is very important that we elect city officials who support policies that make food accessible to all Londoners. But how do you know where candidates stand on food issues? In this post, we are going to help you prepare to vote for London’s food system by defining food insecurity and questions to ask your candidates.
What is food insecurity?
The official definition of food insecurity in Canada is, “…the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so”.2 Let’s clarify exactly what the definition of food insecurity means:
“Inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet in quality or sufficient quantity of food”. This means folks in our community do not have enough food that is healthy and safe to eat. The biggest reason for this is inadequate income. Households do not have enough money to pay for all of their basic needs which include housing, transportation, and food. A updated report shows that 51.9% of food insecure households have paid employment, but do not make enough money to afford all of their basic needs.3
“…in socially acceptable ways”. This refers to the social and cultural context in which we eat our food. Food has emotional and social meaning – choosing foods we like and eating with others can help us bond with our loved ones and connect to our heritage. When a person is food insecure, they often lose autonomy and can experience social and psychological stress in addition to going without food. For example, people who rely on food banks often have fewer choices when picking out their food. This lack of freedom is frustrating, and can poorly impact mental health. In addition, food bank users may experience shame for using food banks as a result of unfair, negative attitudes society may have towards them.
“…or the uncertainty that one will be able to so.” This part of the definition is very important. The stress and anxiety of not knowing if you will be able to get food can be just as difficult to cope with as the lack of food. Again, the biggest reason people lack access to food is money. Many Londoners cannot afford to buy food after paying for other basic needs. Even when people use emergency food services like the London Food Bank, they are limited to getting food once every 30 days because of the high demand in our community.4
How food secure is London?
When determining a region’s food security level, food affordability is often used to estimate how much money is needed for a household to purchase food. This measure considers how many people live in a household and if they can eat a variety of foods recommended by Canada’s Food Guide. The latest local data from 2019 shows that roughly 1 in 7 households in the Middlesex-London region were food insecure.5 This means their income was insufficient to cover all of their basic living expenses, including purchasing enough food. At a provincial level, PROOF recent 2021 report shows food insecurity in Ontario has risen to 16.1% of households.3 In the past, London’s food insecurity rates have been in-line with those of Ontario. Assuming London continues to follow provincial trends, the potential for an increasing number of food insecure households is troubling, especially in light of rapid increases in food prices and the much slower increase in income.
How can we improve food security in London?
It is important to note that food security must be addressed at different levels of government as each level has different responsibilities.Since food security is tied to income, increasing food security is often the provincial government’s responsibility as they deal with social assistance and set minimum wages. However, our local government also has a role in creating a food secure London. Our municipal government plays a crucial role in enacting by-laws, land use policies, and strategic planning. For example, London city council can support affordable housing projects and help small businesses which ensures Londoners can access stable employment and housing. This leads to more money for people’s food budgets.
In Middlesex-London, we also have a thriving agri-food industry which is an important contributor to the local economy. The region’s large volume and variety of agricultural and farming operations make London an ideal home for these businesses. Currently, food processing and production companies in London employ more than 7000 people in addition to those employed at local farms.6It is important that city council support and protect these sectors of the food system in our region. Londoners benefit from both the local food supply, and the positive impact on our local economy at a community and household level.
Questions to Ask Your Candidates
Ensuring everyone in our community has the ability to purchase healthy food should be a top priority this election, but it may be difficult to know if your candidate is willing to tackle food security issues. Here are some questions you can ask to gauge your candidates’ commitment to address food insecurity in London.
How will you follow through on supporting the affordable housing and public transportation 2019-2023 City of London strategic goals?
What types of grants or initiatives do you intend to apply for to support the further development of our agri-food industry?
How do you plan to attract agri-food businesses and processing facilities to set-up in London which in turn will provide more local employment opportunities?
Will you continue to promote and invest in urban agriculture initiatives as part of the 2019-2023 City of London strategic goals?
Curious to learn more?
If you want to learn more about local food insecurity check out these great resources:
Tarasuk V, Li T, Fafard St-Germain AA. (2022) Household food insecurity in Canada, 2021. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). Retrieved from https://proof.utoronto.ca/
Maintaining health and well-being is a main goal of hospitals and long-term care homes. Incorporating local foods into healthcare institution menus not only aligns with this mission remarkably but can lead to healthier patients and communities.
Benefits of Local Food Use in Healthcare Institutions
There are lots of benefits to using local foods on the menu in hospitals and long-term care homes. Here are just a few:
Increased patient satisfaction and nutrition
Studies show that patients are pleased to hear that the ingredients for their meal came from a local farm, and this can have a positive effect on comfort and meal satisfaction ratings.1
Local foods can also provide better nutrition for patients as they are more likely to be fresh. Better nutrition can lead to quicker recovery rates and shorter hospital stays, which can lessen the burden on healthcare systems.
Stronger support for the provincial economy
Buying local food for healthcare institutions means more business for local food producers and farmers. It also strengthens relationships between managers in healthcare and local farmers, uniting our community.
Smaller carbon footprint
Food travels a shorter distance when obtained locally, which reduces fuel use, carbon emissions, and pollution during transport.
Strategies for Successful Local Food Use
Now that we know why local foods are a great component of healthcare menus, what is being done to encourage and increase local food use in our institutions?
In a 2018 study, Emily Linton and colleagues set out to determine key influences and key strategies for successful local food use in Ontario healthcare institutions.2 They interviewed stakeholders from multiple areas of the food system and revealed practical actions that helped healthcare institutions get more local foods into patient meals.
Here are a few strategies they found were key to success:
Local food lists
If you were a food service manager looking to purchase local food for the hospital, wouldn’t it be easier if you had a list clearly indicating available local foods?
This is the role of a local food list—to group foods grown or produced in Ontario, all in one place. Hospitals and long-term care homes can ask their group purchasing organizations (the organizations through which they buy their food items) to update their food product list to include local foods.
Local frozen produce
Local produce availability can change with the season, but many healthcare institution menus do not. One solution is local frozen produce, which is available year-round.
Using in-season produce
Another solution is using produce that is in season, as it often comes at a lower cost.
Success in the Field: Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care
Local food is being used by healthcare institutions right here in London!
One institution helping set the example is Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care. They buy fresh, in-season produce from local farmers including sweet corn, field tomatoes, and peaches. Beef, turkey, bread, eggs, and some dairy products are also purchased locally.
Mount Hope is also partnering with NOURISH, a non-profit organization, on a project to facilitate buying local and managing food waste.
Knowing the benefits, influences, and strategies to implement local food use is crucial for decision-makers in healthcare institutions to accomplish it successfully. It is important to keep the conversation going to gain new perspectives and innovations to support buying local.
Written by Serenah Jafelice
Trinca V, Duizer L, Keller H. Putting quality food on the tray: factors associated with patients’ perceptions of the hospital food experience. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2021 Jun 25; 00: 1-13. doi:10.1111/jhn.12929
Linton E, Keller H, Duizer L. Ingredients for success: strategies to support local food use in health care institutions. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2018 Sep 1; 79(3): 113-117. doi:10.3148/cjdpr-2018-008
About the Author: Serenah Jafelice is a volunteer with the MLFPC. She has a passion for healthy living and volunteers with various community groups and healthcare charities. She has completed an Honours Specialization in Biology with a Minor in Genetics at Western University. She is intrigued by the overlap between healthy eating, medicine, and lifestyle. She loves communicating scientific information in a way that is easy to understand and helps people better their lives.
Nadine Castonguay, EnviroWestern Garden Executive at Western University, was selected as a Food System Champion in 2021.
Recently, Nadine led the development of the community garden located at Western University. She worked with various stakeholders across campus to organize a new and more visible location for the EnviroWestern Garden and took care of the land from watering and weeding to managing student volunteers throughout the summer. You can learn more about her positive impact on the local food system at mlfpc.ca/foodchampions.
Q: What drew you into doing work in the food system?
A: My passions for food and the environment collide. I wanted to create a system on campus to facilitate knowledge generation and dissemination where the community could come to understand the complex dynamics of our food including the links between the economic, social, and environmental elements of how food is sourced.
Q: What do you like most about your food system work?
A: My favourite part about food system work is the actual production of something that provides us with what we need to sustain human life. It’s crazy that we can produce outputs that contain nutrients that allow us to thrive. I appreciate that without the food system, we would not survive.
Q: What works well in Middlesex London to support your work?
A: I appreciate that there is a growing community of individuals who want to see more organic and locally sourced food available. There is a market of opportunity for new businesses to venture into sustainable agriculture.
Q: Are there local challenges that make your job more difficult?
A: There are significant barriers for new farmers such as increased land prices, the lack of knowledge around the definition of sustainable food production, and what it looks like to have a sustainable food production operation.
Q: What would you like to see in our local community to strengthen our food system?
A: I would like to see a greater emphasis on allowing individuals to grow and produce their own food in the city. For example, having more rooftop gardens, increasing the number of community gardens, and developing agricultural opportunities in neighbourhoods within London.
For this first segment of our food and culture project, we will be interviewing the owner and chef of Momos at the Market, Yam Gurung. Momo’s at the market serves healthy but delicious traditional Nepalese food at the London Food Incubator and the Western Fair’s Farmers Market. Specializing in Momos (meat or vegetable-filled dumplings), this restaurant has been serving London locals for over 12 years.
Yam, born and raised in Nepal started his culinary journey around the age of 8-9 years old. By age 12, he had left home to start cooking in restaurants and has worked in the food industry ever since. After working in multiple restaurants, Yam felt inspired and motivated to help fellow new immigrants get situated comfortably in Canada. Upon reflection on his own experiences, he wanted to provide new immigrants opportunities that are not always readily available. One essential value for Yam in creating Momos at the market was providing new immigrants with training and adding to their skillset in preparation for future employment. Yam has made it a point to treat his employees with respect, regardless of their cultural background or duration of time in Canada, including fair payment of employees.
Yam’s food philosophy is simple: sell what you eat. He would not sell food that he doesn’t find delicious, meaning you’ll always be in for a treat at Momos. In addition, Yam finds importance in connecting with the community and purchasing ingredients from local producers. Being located at the Western Fair Market and the London Food Incubator has helped Yam connect further with the community. When he began his journey at the Western Fair market, Yam indicated that he didn’t know anyone in the food industry. No one was there to teach him the ropes about the restaurant business. However, through perseverance in pursuit of bringing his homeland’s cuisine to London, he pressed on, and thus we see the Momos at the market we have today.
When asked why it is crucial to learn about other people’s food and culture, Yam replied that that’s how you get to know people. Food in itself is a language, and by trying and understanding people’s food and culture, you build community. At the time of this interview, one dish that Yam was interested in learning is the art of sushi making. We are happy to report Momo’s at the Market is now selling sushi trays for New Years!
As for the future of Momos at the Market, Yam hopes to expand to other markets shortly. The beauty of these markets is that they’re able to display various types of food and cultures. Everyone who sells gets a chance to show and share their food with multiple people who may have never tried these cuisines. Although there might seem like a competition between vendors within these markets, everyone brings something new and unique to the table.
Yam’s stories about Momos at the market are inspiring and highlight the importance of supporting local vendors and the plentitude of Markets within the Middlesex-London community. The food industry has been hit immensely due to the pandemic. Markets are not only sources of food distribution and foodservice, but they often serve as community centers, education opportunities and, in general, a place of connection. We strongly urge you to show love and support for your local market and vendors as these places keep our community healthy. For a list of markets within the area, you can view our food directory here.
When the calendar moves to December, I start thinking about all my favorite holiday foods and what makes them special. Our first Holiday Season with COVID forces us to really examine the best way to continue important food traditions and customs and add in some new twists. Taking a closer look at alternative options for sharing food this year, that nevertheless allow us to celebrate our food traditions, and keep us connected, might just allow us to continue the Holiday Spirit.
The big dinners with loads of friends and relatives snuggled into the host’s home for hours of talking, laughing, and of course eating, is not ok, and personally I’m very sad about that. Buffet style food sharing has been identified as a higher risk activity. Hosting or participating in in-person get togethers needs to be avoided. Alternatives, however, can be put in place so we can still take pleasure in our festivities. Here are some suggestions to get you thinking of how to connect and find ways to celebrate the season.
Sharing food is really important to us. The smells and taste of something special you only eat once a year with your family makes you feel grounded and provides a deep sense of belonging. This year, try email, text or Facebook messaging an electronic copy of a special recipe as a way to share with each other. You could also take a picture of an old recipe and share the photo. This lets you make something you know you like to eat while promoting a feeling of togetherness, which we are all craving for this holiday season. It is a sad thing to lose a family meal but being able to recreate a tasty memory with an electronic copy of a recipe, is a convenient way to keep a tradition alive or share in someone else’s tradition.
Baking together over a Zoom call or FaceTime could be a way to connect with loved ones near and far. I have family in Northern Ontario and on the West Coast and I plan to do this with them this holiday season. Even at the best of times we rarely spend the holidays together, but with COVID we have no choice but to hold a virtual ‘get together’. The ‘preparation’ for this is important. Try to create a checklist to decide 1) what video platform to use 2) how to set it up on your device 3) what food to make 4) what ingredients to purchase 5) what equipment is required, and of course 6) what day/time to start. Perhaps setting a time limit (goal) will be helpful. For the kids in the family, or those with shorter attention spans, a more specific video call for something like cookie decorating would be fun.
Enjoying a meal together while being apart, by cooking the same dinner menu or ordering from the same restaurant or caterer, is bonding. The experience can be shared through any number of electronic platforms or even simply through a speaker phone call. The dinner conversation, the grace, the cheers, the airing of grievances, the comradery can all be enjoyed as usual, but in a slightly modified way. If you have a large group, > 30 people, our community partner Growing Chefs! have a Holiday meal available to order for pickup, and the use of local ingredients to make this delicious sounding meal is definitely worth a look, https://growingchefsontario.ca/blog/Holiday2020.
Consider food gifts from your favorite bakery or specialty food shop. Try putting together a food hamper or gift box with a personal theme, to create a sincere and thoughtful gift. There is a multitude of food subscription boxes to order online with offerings like, tea, hot sauce, cheese and snacks. My personal preference is the gift of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription, a gift that keeps on giving and a great introduction to the concept. Not to mention, it’s a conversation starter to bring awareness to our local foods. Of course, who would not love an e-gift of a take away meal from a local restaurant.
My plans for this holiday season are simple, I will be with the people I live with (husband and kids) and have some meals with my mother. I will not be hosting an event or sharing food, but I will be virtually present and as usual cooking and eating, just a little bit too much. I plan to make a video of myself baking a mincemeat pie, which I will send to my father in Alberta. I will be feeding the birds and squirrels outside my kitchen window, because I like to watch them eat. I will have a fruit and vegetable advent where we will eat something different every day in December. Lastly, I will go through all my food cupboards and check expiration dates and use things up in my Christmas menus.
However, we choose to recognize our first COVID Holiday Season, remember to shop and support local as much as possible. Get outside as you are able, to be active and enjoy the scenes. Most of all enjoy preparing and eating the traditional holiday foods you know and love. Reach out to loved ones by phone, text, or video call to let them know you care. We may discover that the Holiday Spirit lives in places we did not expect.
For decades activists for a local fresh food revolution have pressed decision makers, , businesses, marketers and consumers to focus more on the need to look closer to home for food supply chains. It’s been a tough slog, full of ups and downs, as they have always been in competition with a global supply chain that offered variety, availability and consistency, at the same time as it prompted environmental damage, demeaning wages and monopolized service.
The arrival of the Coronavirus has changed all that, as people begin looking closer to home for their food as a way of fending off the threat of the pandemic. It’s no accident that demand for locally grown food has skyrocketed, nor that the supply of growing amenities like greenhouses are backlogged. It turns out that all those ideas furthered by the “grow and purchase local” movement had serious merit after all and communities are in the process of catching up.
In a time when individuals and families face emerging insecurity about the things that they touch and the food they eat, there is a growing concern about digesting food from thousands of miles away from a grouping of just a few food conglomerates that we don’t really know or see. It’s a valid concern, and despite the reality that the global food supply chain has proved remarkably durable despite the pandemic, customers increasingly look for food that is more natural, fresh and local.
It turns out that we can visualize that transformation by looking at our own communities. In London, Ontario, as an example, local grocery stores are cooperating with City Hall in diverting tens of thousands of pounds of fresh produce each month from the landfills and getting them, still fresh, to the local food bank for distribution to needy families. It’s an environmental measure that has real social consequence.
Farmers and growers in the region are taking part in a federal COVID initiative called the Surplus Food Rescue Program, in part to ensure that more locally grown foodstuffs get into the communities that require them in a time of emergency.
Such measures are urgently required, but there are more long-lasting activities getting new opportunities and exposure that are destined to continue long after the pandemic has receded into the history books. Things like urban gardens, food trees, even a large greenhouse being constructed at the back of the food bank, are signs of things that will endure past COVID.
The transformation of the farming industry in recent decades has led to the closing of thousands of farms in the global race for the bottom line. That has left some growers and producers well-positioned to take advantage of such monopolies but the majority of farmers have openly expressed their desire to get back to the practice of supplying the communities around them and being part of healthy living as opposed to just cheap goods. And they do have an advantage on their side at present, as this pandemic has proved the point that local has better stability, knowledge and nutrition advantages over the current global supply and can easily endure in all conditions and not just pandemics.
In almost every sector of Canadian communities there is continually voiced the theme of “building back better.” Nowhere is this more valid than in the food industry. In every facet of food supply – grain, produce, fisheries, agriculture, to name a few – there are new incentives to get more local food into stores, markets and homes. At a time when global consumption is under scrutiny, the prospect of healthy farms and healthy food is just the ticket millions of Canadians are looking for.
But within all this positive movement lies an abiding threat. While it’s all beneficial, municipalities and communities aren’t effectively resourcing the infrastructure necessary for the long-term health of the local food supply chain. For the sake of future food security, investments must be made in enhancing local food markets, more efficient water management, needed environmental adaptation, clearer education for the benefits of locally grown foodstuffs, the effective redirection of local food from the global chain to the community where it is grown, and the overall design to turn our communities into food-secure areas. No COVID-19 recovery plan designed by any community can be truly effective without such measures.
The great threat is if we just lazily recede back into the spending patterns and growing practices of life before the pandemic. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now or in the future. Communities are moving in the local food direction because it makes sense and not just because it secures us in a time of pandemic. We need to build food and ecosystem resiliency and this pandemic has perhaps given us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to finally get to what we should have been doing all along.
The next few blogs will look further into this challenge each day, but for now we should all be looking for food systems change and not just for an emergency plan to get us through some difficult days.