“I do think there is an unmet consumer demand for local food.”
– KREESTA DOUCETTE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF MANITOBA FOOD CHARTER
Anew report released in Manitoba this week could help this province set a national example in improved food security, say proponents.
Those who helped create the Manitoba Food Charter in 2006 have now released Manitoba’s Local Food System:Growing Healthy Communities, a 46-page report that lays out a troubling spectre of Manitoba families lacking access to food against a backdrop of declining rural communities and farms with uncertain futures. But it also proposes 37 “opportunities for action” to tackle both problems simultaneously.
“Manitoba is without a food security policy, but there’s a lot of local awareness and commitment by the current government towards health and food-based issues,” said Kreesta Doucette, the executive director of the Manitoba Food Charter, in an interview last week.
This report documents some of those initiatives and looks for ways to better coordinate what both citizens and government are doing, Doucette said.
“This is a partnership document,” Doucette said. “A lot of these opportunities for action need the support of policies in place, but there’s a lot of partners out there that are willing to move forward on these things.”
Food security can be a vague and hard-to-understand concept, Doucette notes.
This document defines it as access to healthy food by all persons produced by a sustainable agricultural sector where farmers and food makers earn adequate livelihoods.
“By investing in food security programs, the province can reduce acute health-care costs, spur economic development and create jobs, raise the quality of life of Manitobans, and create the conditions for an economically prosperous and environmentally sustainable food system in Manitoba,” the report says.
The report’s five key opportunities for action include:
develop an interdepartmental food security framework to co-ordinate work between government departments;
establish a food security action fund to help fund more grassroots initiatives such as community gardens, food-buying clubs and congregate meal programs;
continue to tackle the problem of high food costs in the North by finding ways to lower the price of healthy foods;
promote local food purchasing through institutional purchasing policies that support purchase of Manitobagrown and processed food by government agencies;
establish a compost infrastructure fund to assist more municipalities to develop local composting programs.
Doucette said the report’s emphasis on creating local food-purchasing systems isn’t to suggest that it will somehow solve farmers’ problems. The report acknowledges that many other factors contribute to a vulnerable farm economy.
But farmers do need to look at emerging opportunities to sell more of their production into local markets, Doucette said.
“I do think there is an unmet consumer demand for local food,” she said. “And I do think that supplying local markets is a new marketing tool for producers of all sizes.”
The report was released at the University of Winnipeg at the beginning of the Canadian Community Economic Development Network’s Forum on Local Food, which is part of a national conference. It was prepared by Stefan Epp, a history masters student at Queen’s University, and funded with a grant from the Canadian Community Economic Development Network.
It is now in the hands of several provincial ministers including the minister of health and healthy living, minister of agriculture, food and rural initiatives, the acting minister of aboriginal and northern affairs and the minister of conservation.
The document was prepared in consultation with over 50 individuals involved in food security initiatives, including provincial government staff.
The report, plus another document outlining food security initiatives across Canada, is available for viewing on the Manitoba Food Charter’s website at: www.manitobafoodsecurity.ca.