Put Food in the Conversation: Municipal Election 2016

Municipal elections time is upon us in Nova Scotia! On October 15, we will all cast our votes for mayor and councillors of all the municipalities in the provinces. The big question on my mind: Will these representatives care about food and see their role in making our cities and towns more food secure?

More and more municipalities are engaging in food issues. We have a great foundation in Halifax on which to build, but there’s still more to be done! Below you’ll find some questions to ask the candidates in your district. If you’d like to join our social media campaign, check us out on twitter. While this campaign is geared to Haligonians, much of it is applicable outside of Halifax too.

How best can the city work to support a healthy, just, and sustainable food system?

First, the municipality should ensure that there’s a commitment to community food security in its municipal plan. Halifax can check this box already – the Halifax Regional Plan outlines an objective to design communities that are “attractive and healthy places to live” and “promote community food security”.

Next, the municipality needs to move these broad goals into engagement and action. This can take numerous forms. For example, the municipality can play an active role in forming and supporting a Food Policy Council, which involves city staff, as well as members of the healthy authority, community organizations, and members of the public. (Halifax has the Halifax Food Policy Alliance – check out our website for more details.) The municipality can employ food systems thinking to design structures, policies and activities, by using a food security lens when reviewing development applications, rezoning proposals and community plans. Finally, the municipality can engage and/or support the community in developing a Food Strategy. For example, Vancouver has an amazing Food Strategy.

How can the municipality work to promote urban agriculture and healthy food retail in neighbourhoods?

Halifax has a Community Garden Program that promotes the development and expansion of community gardens on municipal land. This is a great support, as it clearly lays out the roles and responsibilities of community groups and the city with respect to community gardens. There is lots of potential to grow community garden programs. Montreal, for example, started its community garden program in 1975. It now boasts 97 community gardens, with six Horticultural Animators who support gardeners, and the city provides materials such as soil, a water source, tool shed or tool box and more.

There are neighbourhoods in Halifax with little access to healthy food. The city can play a role in identifying accessible and suitable sites for food retail (farm markets/stands, grocery stores, etc.) and plan for mixed-use neighbourhoods that include and encourage small and mid-scale food outlets, seasonal markets and open space for gardens and urban agriculture. Additionally, the municipality can reduce licensing and permitting barriers for entrepreneurs who want to start mobile food markets and other forms of alternative food retail.

How would you foster collaborative efforts to build and sustain innovative food actions like the Mobile Food Market? If so, how?

photo credit: http://sydneytakesphotos.wix.com
photo credit: http://sydneytakesphotos.wix.com

We’ve written about the Mobile Food Market on this blog before.  After a successful first season, we can confidently say that this is a great example  of what can happen when municipalities, non-profits, public health, and private businesses work together. Let’s do more of this!

How do you envision municipal resources (human, infrastructure, financial) being used to support community food security?

It goes without saying that we need people who care about food issues to get involved in order to build community food security in municipalities. In particular, we’ve really seen action at the city level when municipal staff are able to dedicate time to support the development of supportive food policies and community food initiatives – these are the people who understand bylaws and municipal systems, and can help navigate!

Municipalities also have infrastructure that can be used to support community food security. One of the best local examples of this is Halifax Transit, who provided a bus for the Mobile Food Market. Other municipal infrastructure that can be used to support food security includes libraries and recreation facilities that could support food programming, municipal land for community gardening, and transit systems that could be designed to make it easier for people to buy their food.

All this week, we’ll be talking food and the city on social media. Follow us on Twitter and join in the conversation. Want to be part of the conversation, but unsure where to start? Here’s a link to our municipal election toolkit. It contains sample questions for candidates, sample tweets to start conversation online, and background on food issues at the municipal level.

~ Marla MacLeod is a Senior Coordinator with the Our Food Project of the Ecology Action Centre

Adventures in Local Food is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from pickles to policy change. It is a project organized by the Ecology Action Centre. Learn more about our program at https://www.ecologyaction.ca/ourfood. Follow us on Twitter @ourfoodproject.

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