A group of Brandon residents has stepped up to close the gap between food producers and people who struggle with food insecurity.
A food assessment conducted earlier this year for the city of Brandon addressed a number of issues within the city’s food system.
Following the assessment, a number of local residents stepped forward to spearhead a Good Food Box program.
“A lot of people don’t know about local food security issues or where their food comes from. And so, the main goal behind this project is getting healthy food to people and developing an understanding for where it comes from and what to do with it,” said Erin Gobeil, Global Market co-ordinator and project organizer.
The Good Food Box project is a subscription-based food program where residents can purchase a box of produce for $15, capable of feeding a family of four.
Within the food assessment, residents who completed the survey expressed notable interest in having greater access to local farmers for produce, eggs and meat but reported a lack of awareness regarding how to source and locate producers.
“We have noticed a shift that is happening about how important buying local is. Buying local helps the community on so many levels. The money you are spending goes right back into the community and to these local producers,” said Gobeil. “But, right now, there certainly seems to be a disconnect between consumers and producers.”
In the assessment, local producers also identified difficulty in finding the best means of advertising locally.
The Good Food Box program was a recommendation from the assessment, to aid in narrowing the gap between producers and consumers, while at the same time increasing access to lower-priced, fresh produce and spreading knowledge of food skills.
“This program allows residents to talk to these producers and learn exactly where their food is coming from, and hear all about the farmer’s practices,” said Gobeil.
The community-based program began its pilot project in July and has since seen a tremendous demand from the community, currently having a 60-person waiting list.
“We dispense the boxes biweekly and we have been running this for almost three months now,” said Gobeil. “With it being a test trial period we limited it to 25 boxes. We didn’t want to get overwhelmed and we also wanted to explore our buying practices, dealing with local producers and getting an idea of what we would need to supplement.”
The program sources as much organic produce from local producers as possible before resorting to supplementing from local grocers.
The boxes are made available for pickup from Brandon’s Global Market, which also houses farmers’ markets on Thursday and Saturday.
“Right now everything is being run through volunteers. The Westman region of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) agreed to be the host organization and has opened the Global Market community kitchen for us to organize and pack the boxes. The funds gathered from each box get put back into purchasing product for the next round of boxes,” said Gobeil.
Every Good Food Box contains a variety of local produce, as well as a loaf of bread and a newsletter depicting the box contents, an introduction to a local vendor, a listing of community events, and recipe suggestions.
“With the Good Food Box program, we also hold cooking classes out of the CMHA community kitchen,” said Gobeil. “The classes are free and will offer the basics of how to prep and cook the products that are in these boxes.”
In search of funding
The program’s pilot project will wrap up at the end of September at which time the steering committee will assess the project and begin to apply for funding.
“Moving forward we are hoping to secure funding and establish a permanent program co-ordinator; at that point we would be able to go full steam ahead,” said Gobeil. “We are pretty confident that the program will continue, we just don’t know on what kind of scale yet.”
In the future, the steering committee hopes to be able to expand the project in regards to the number of boxes, frequency, as well as possibly establishing multiple depots throughout the city.
In order to expand, the project will also need the support of local producers to source more produce.
“If there are local producers out there who have a surplus of root vegetables, or an overwhelming amount of carrots, we can preserve these and distribute them,” said Gobeil. “We are always looking to connect with local producers.”