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What’s for Dinner? Food Security

Come to the Table Event a Success

If the road to your community washed out, how many days would it be until you ran out of food? Do you know where your food comes from? Do you care? Has the value we place on food changed? There are a lot of community concerns relating to food security being brought to the table. How do we work together to find collaborative solutions, instead of just individual ones?

These were just some of the questions and themes raised at a recent community conversation co-sponsored by Urban Systems and NEAT on October 13th in Fort St. John. The event, called “Come to the Table” focused on local food production and food security and was free and open to all. The topic of the evening was local food security—the status of it, the health and nutrition benefits of it, as well as, the economics behind it.

Urban-Systems-come-to-the-tableA diverse group of over fifty community members were in attendance to enjoy appetizers prepared by Judah Kolie, owner of The Beam Coffee Shop, using only local food, four presentations and a panel and an active Q&A. Can we try something like: More than fifty community members braved the snow to attend and were rewarded with a collection of Judah Kolie’s appetizers. The owner of The Beam Coffee Shop used all local ingredients and was on hand, not only to serve his food, but to participate in the discussions as well. The evening also showcased four presentations on various aspects of food security and was followed by a panel discussion directed by audience questions.

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Wayne Robert
Wayne Robert, who works from of our Kelowna office, presented about the economic possibilities surrounding food security saying, “food security is a very complex and dynamic issue. It needs to be grounded in local context and driven by local players.”

Wayne was impressed with the number of people who attended the event and the level of engagement and questions. “There is obviously a strong sense of community and commitment to collective impacts in the region.”

No Farmers, No Food

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Sage Birley
First to present was Sage Birley, an organic farmer and agricultural journalist who lives in a renovated granary in the BC Peace River Region. Sage was raised on a one hundred year old certified organic farm, but it wasn’t until he left farm life to study in Vancouver that he began to truly value food, farming and agriculture. He says that during his studies, no one encouraged him to look at farming as a serious career, whereas careers like medicine and law were suggested often. Nonetheless, he came to his own realization that food was his passion and something crucial to our society. Sage moved back to Fort St John from Vancouver and set up a 1-acre market garden while working as a food journalist. He spoke at the event about himself and other young farmers who are committed to building a community that can help support food security in the Peace Region.

A Seat for Everyone

Next up was Marianne Bloudoff, a Population Health Dietician with Northern Health. She supports work with children and families to make positive, long lasting healthy lifestyle changes. Marianne’s presentation featured a video showcasing the food security work being done on Haida Gwaii that was very well received by the audience. Marianne provided an overview of the ways Northern Health is positioned to help support local organizations as they work to improve food security in their communities. The Haida Gwaii example was especially poignant as it reinforced the interconnectedness of community food systems in local culture.

“By 2050, we need to produce 70 per cent more food.”

In the case of Fort St. John, at any given time, the community has a maximum of three days worth of fresh food and relies continuously on new shipments being imported into the community. The question was raised—what if we became an exporter, not an importer? The challenge was clear. “Food suppliers, whether private enterprise, an NGO, or a social enterprise still need to follow sound business principles and strive for creative ways to develop sustainable business models,” said Wayne. “If you’re going to do this, scale is important.”

Amanda Trotter, Executive Director of the Fort St. John Women’s Resource Society, spoke about where food sits on the hierarchy of needs, and how quickly people cut their food spending when the economy is in trouble. She provided a first hand glimpse into the realities of food insecurity in a city that is known for its economic strength stating the food bank/pantry use is up more than 100% in 2016 over the previous year. Local food banks are struggling to meet skyrocketing demand as businesses and governments rein in funding, while residents try and deal with new stresses related to food. It was very apparent that food security cannot be met through emergency support organizations and a long term plan is desperately needed if we are to make any lasting headway.

After the presentations, the Q&A session yielded a variety of thoughtful ideas. Creative solutions to the challenges of local supply included food-producing gardens being built into front lawns, community root cellars, communal freezers and more. Questions on what the practical next steps were indicated that the audience was engaged and committed to fostering long term changes to the local food system.

Chad Carlstrom, who co-moderated the event with Karen Mason-Bennett says he considers the evening a great success.

“This is just the beginning of the conversation.”

“Food security can be a complicated topic and the purpose of the night was that people will take away understanding and insights. We hoped to provide some hope and optimism. The curiosity of the audience really stood out. The conversation flowed and we had a lot of thoughtful and curious questions. People wanted to know about next steps and how they could help. This is just the beginning of the conversation.”

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