“We’re thinking about more diverse ways of building relationships across the Prairie provinces. We’re not talking about 100-mile diets here.”
– STPHANE MCLACHLAN
The federal government is providing $1 million for a five-year project in Manitoba to develop more community-based alternative food systems for rural, urban and northern Manitoba.
The Community University Research Alliance (CURA) grant announced by Federal Minister of State (Science and Technology) Gary Goodyear last week will also explore the impact of these systems on local communities.
The project’s team of researchers includes those with expertise in human nutritional sciences, environment and geography, natural resources and native studies. They will be linked together in whatfis to be called the Manitoba Alternative Food Research Alliance (MAFRA).
CREATING SYSTEMS THAT WORK
Stéphane McLachlan, a science and studies professor at University of Manitoba who will be the projectfis principal researcher, said the funding isn’t strictly for research.
“It’s a participatory research approach. It will be used to create community-level projects that, at the same time, will be researched and documented,” he said.
MAFRA will entertain any number of project proposals, including ideas for school programs, group projects linking farmers with consumers, ideas for skill-building workshops and more.
“Our research will be rooted in real-world problems and solutions,” McLachlan said. The study areas include local food initiatives, community food security and food sovereignty.
“Despite being a key exporter of agricultural commodities, Manitoba is one of the provinces most challenged by poverty and food insecurity in Canada. These shortcomings underlie a growing excitement over alternative food systems here.”
Proposals from community groups will be reviewed and selected by a steering committee made up of equal numbers of representatives from rural, urban and northern regions of Manitoba, said McLachlan.
The projects selected must be workable in an environment like Manitoba, McLachlan said. Most approaches taken to localizing food, or making food more directly accessible to more people are really only relevant to places where farms are smaller and surrounded by denser populations.
Here distances are long, growing seasons are short and farms are large, he said.
“We’re thinking about more diverse ways of building relationships across the Prairie
provinces,” he said. “We’re not talking about 100-mile diets here.”
McLachlan said he hopes the research project captures the interest of rural stakeholder groups including municipal leaders and farm organizations such as Keystone Agricultural producers. It could also help break down perceptions that conventional and alternative approaches to agriculture are mutually exclusive, he said.
“We have five years to build those relationships. What we’re hoping is that as this becomes more tangible, and as the projects themselves become more visible, it makes more sense to a wider range of stakeholders.”
Kreesta Doucette, executive director of Food Matters Manitoba, the new name for the former Manitoba Food Charter organization, said her organization is excited about the CURA project. “This project provides opportunities to move forward on a wide diversity of community needs,” she said.
The Manitoba Food Charter facilitated the start of numerous food security projects in the province including community gardening and small-scale agriculture programs in the North.
The Harvest Moon Society is equally excited about working with the new research alliance, said spokesperson Celia Guilford. The Harvest Moon Society is a Clearwater, Man.-based group that has developed a learning centre in the village’s former school focusing on pursuing new approaches for rural and environmental sustainability.
“This alliance will play an important role in addressing an ongoing rural crisis in Western Canada and help address the decline of small and family farms,” Guilford said.
The CURA grant is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), an independent federal government agency funding university-based research through public and private sector partnerships.
Researchers with the Manitoba Alternative Food Research Alliance include those from the University of Manitoba, University College of the North, and the Rural Development Institute of Brandon University as well as University of Saskatchewan, University of Calgary, and University of Victoria. In all, 52 community organizations and non-governmental organizations have signed on to the initiative.
For more information on the Manitoba Alternative Food Research Alliance log on to www. localandjust. cca.