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MWI Convention Hears Food Charter Representative

A food charter representative received a warmer reception at the Manitoba Women’s Institute’s annual meeting this year than the document she represents did a year ago.

MWI members say they didn’t have a clear idea of what it was when they were asked to sign on to the Mani toba Food Char ter at their annual convention last year. The misunderstanding was worsened by the fact that the charter website had an inaccurate early draft of the document posted, which contained wording that left some members uncomfortable. The resolution was resoundingly defeated.

This year Kreesta Doucette, executive director of the Manitoba Food Charter was invited to speak to the MWI to talk about the vision represented by the charter and how it evolved. She noted the organization is in the process of changing its name to better reflect the diverse range of its activities.

A school teacher from East Selkirk Middle Years School was also present and spoke about an agriculture education initiative between her school and farmers in the Selkirk area. The project, which involved students working with local farmers to produce a crop of soybeans, was nominated as a finalist in the charter’s annual Golden Carrot awards.

Having learned more about what the charter is all about, members say they’re more comfortable with what it represents. It looks like something they should take a closer look at, said the president of the rural women’s organization.

“I think it would be worthwhile to have speakers at the regional conventions too,” said Enid Clark. “It gets the word out that much further.”

Creation of the charter was funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the province of Manitoba and drafted in 2006 after a series of public meetings held across the province to develop a one-page vision statement of what ordinary citizens think a sustainable food system should look like. Several cities and municipal ities across the country have food charters.

Manitoba’s is the only existing provincial charter. It is governed by a 12-member board of directors, which includes four from rural southern Manitoba, four from northern Manitoba, and four from urban communities.

“I think by having her come this year and explain their organization and what their plans are and things they’ve done already gives MWI a better idea of what their aim is,” Clark said.

“I think this answered some of my questions and hopefully members got background info on what the purpose (of the charter) is,” added WI president-elect Justina Hop who’d asked some pointed questions of Doucette during the meeting about who had funded the creation of the charter and who was supporting it. The board will need to talk further as to whether MWI signs on as a charter signatory, Hop added.

As for what transpired last year, past-president Barbara Stienwandt repeated MWI’s assertion that 2008’s confusion stemmed from a lack of information. “The majority of the women in the room had no idea what it was about or where it came from,” she said. They were also unclear what was expected of WI if they signed, Stienwandt said.

Jan McIntyre, the Clearwater WI member who brought the resolution on the charter forward last year, said in an interview she is encouraged the organization is taking a second look at the charter. But she said she found it surprising the group knew so little about it at the time the resolution was debated – and that rather than asking for more information, the group had been so quick to dismiss it.

The consultation and development process had received extensive coverage in farm and urban newspapers. The MWI was among the rural organizations invited to participate in the consultations, but had not responded. “The reality is that the Manitoba Food Char ter was der ived from over 70 public consultations with Manitobans who identified a just and sustainable food system as a goal to strive towards and they defined what that means,” McIntyre said.

She’s hopeful the MWI will continue its research on the charter and come to the same conclusion she did: supporting it would be true to their history.

“The issue of food security is one of paramount importance,” McIntyre said. “I would challenge the MWI to be true to their history, to be leaders rather than followers and to have the courage to take a stand, regardless of the implications that come from challenging the status quo.”

Nearly 100 rural women attended the 2009 convention, which marks the 99th year of the Manitoba’s Women’s Institute.

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About the author

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Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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