Five Inspiring Ideas from Food Secure Canada

11240822395_b041ca7ec1_oThere’s nothing like a conference to get the wheels in the ol’ brain turning, get re-inspired and be excited to continue on with your work at home.  At the end of November, I had the opportunity to do just that.

 I attended Food Secure Canada’s Annual General Meeting in Montreal, as well as the associated Local, Sustainable Network Meetings and the Festival of Good Food Ideas.  For those unfamiliar with this national network, you can read all about Food Secure Canada on their website.

Here are 5 ideas I brought home:

Reimagining the Food Bank: The Greater Vancouver Food Bank is rethinking the way they work.  After 31 years of providing food to those in need and only seeing the numbers go up, they decided it was time for a change.  Starting this year, they really started to look at food quality and where the food was coming from.  They knocked on farmers’ doors – not to ask for a donation, but as customers.  They are also thinking about other ways of using their existing distribution networks.  As an organization with an excellent distribution network (trucks, warehouses, etc), they are thinking about how this can be shared with others, like local farmers, who need distribution infrastructure.

Patient Capital: What happens when we create a new model of relationship between investors and businesses?  We heard from the Fonds d’investissement pour le relève agricole (FIRA) and Chantiers, two Quebec based organizations that are helping businesses access capital in different ways.  FIRA works with young farmers, supporting them through start-up, development and/or transfer with alternative financial solutions.  They lend money to new farmers at attractive rates, with no payment or interest for 3 years.  They also buy farms and make them available for new farmers to rent, with leases up to 15 years and opportunities to buy the land. Chantiers works with a wide variety of cooperatives, collectives and social enterprises to help them access capital.  This is where the term “patient capital” comes in – investing in enterprises with a slower rate of return, but that are rooted in the community and responding to genuine needs.  In their experience, such enterprises tend to survive longer than typical private enterprises, because of the strong community support.

Universal School Food Program: Canada is one of the only OECD countries without federal support for a school food program.  Many organizations from Food Share in Toronto to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food have been calling attention to this issue.  It’s early days, but Food Secure Canada’s Children & Food Network is developing ideas and advocating for a nation wide program that would ensure that all children are accessing health food at school and that no child is hungry at school:

Opting out of CETA: You may have read our recent blog post on the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union.  We learned more about CETA at the Food Secure Canada meetings.  The Toronto Food Policy Council made a bold move to oppose CETA by voting to be exempted from the agreement.  While only symbolic, it illustrates one way that municipalities can raise awareness about CETA and their concerns.  Of particular concern is the affect that CETA could have on their procurement policies. If CETA is adopted in its current format, it will operate at a subnational level, meaning that the EU would be able to compete for municipal contracts with local companies. Policies to support local businesses would be seen, under international trade law, as unfairly impeding free trade.

Engaging with Policy Makers: Food Secure Canada hosted a fantastic session on how to better work with policy makers to tackle tough policy conundrums.  Speakers Rod McRae and MP Libby Davis discussed techniques for moving policy forward.  The biggest mistakes that organizations make when meeting with policy makers are to bring too much material and then not ask their elected representative to do anything.  Advice from the speakers:

  • Think big and have solid analysis, but act small.  Figure out the short term steps that will lead to your long term policy goal.
  • Don’t assume that your elected representative knows all about your issue.
  • Follow-up.  It’s important to build a relationship.
  • Build allies with other movements.
  • Figure out where the decisions are being made.  Not all decisions are made at the legislative level.  Many are buried in regulatory protocol or program design.
  • Pay attention to issues of jurisdiction.  Which level of government or department has jurisdiction over the issue?
  • Change is evolutionary, but with unpredictable moments.  Jump when you see a policy window open.

(Full presentation will be available soon here.)

If you’re feeling inspired to connect with others in the food movement, you’ll get your chance next year.  In November 2014, the annual Food Secure Canada assembly will be held in Halifax!  Mark your calendar for Nov 13-16, 2014.  Hope to see you there!

Author: Marla MacLeod. Community Food Coordinator. Ecology Action Centre.

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