Cultivating Connections: Alberta Regional Food Systems Forum 2017

Conference Proceedings Now Available!

Find Forum Keynote and presenters’ slides, resources, and summary notes here:

On Feb 3-5 2017 Alberta Food Matters and FLEdGE—Food Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged – hosted a very successful Cultivating Connections 2017 Forum about Alberta Regional Food Systems. The purpose of this Forum was: 1) to bring together individuals and representatives from public, private and non-profit sectors in Alberta to share information about innovative initiatives; 2) to identify opportunities; and 3) to collaborate in building socially just, economically viable and ecologically sound and sustainable local/regional food systems in the province. The Forum provided a venue for those interested in forming partnerships, coalitions and action-oriented working groups toward this end.

It was a gathering to talk about our Alberta regional food system. By taking part in this Forum 2017 participants:

  • Gained deeper understandings of the interconnections between the present food system, the environment, health, community and issues of access/affordability.
  • Gained deeper understandings of the economic, social and environmental benefits of supporting and strengthening local/regional food systems in Alberta from field to table to waste.
  • Examined existing assets and gaps in the local/regional food systems in Alberta.
  • Examined existing government (municipal, regional, provincial) policies and programs relevant to the development of sustainable ecologically sound localized food systems, and compare with other jurisdictions and best practices.
  • Joined with other participants in knowledge and experience sharing, collaborative evidence-based problem solving and identification of opportunities to build sustainable ecologically sound localized food systems.

Three Hundred and forty-two people participated in the Forum and the Forum brought together delegates from across Alberta, who talked, shared and explored the future for Alberta’s vibrant food system. The participants discussed pressing food-related issues, charted the direction for the future and celebrated Alberta’s lively food culture. What a wonderful mix of people we had:  chefs, farmers, researchers, teachers, educators, health practitioners, decision makers, economists, waste warriors, students and lots members of the public!

The Forum kicked-off with an invigorating “Let’s Talk About Food” panel discussion at City Hall, featuring Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, Chief Billy Morin of Enoch Cree Nation, Mayor Lisa Holmes of Morinville, and Mayor Tom Flynn of Sturgeon County. The event was successfully catered by Kids in the Hall with locally sourced food; locally sourced beer and wine were also part of the fun event.  The entire event was hosted by the Edmonton Food Council.

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Throughout the forum, participants had a chance to talk, question and share a dynamic line-up of over 74 presenters, hosted by 24 well-informed session moderators. The topics explored included: the role of local businesses in shaping food systems, citizen engagement and social justice for food system change, the business of farming, harnessing big food buying power, food waste as a resource, and the role of food policy.

The Forum also featured keynote speaker, Dr. Wayne Roberts, celebrated author of The No Nonsense Guide to World Food and Food for City Building. Dr. Roberts brought his experiences with the Toronto Food Policy Council to us to help us create a vision for Alberta’s regional food system and to answer the key questions of “What key values should it hold, can it be sustainable and how do we get there together?”

A celebratory evening, the Taste and Sound of Alberta was held at NAIT’s Hokanson Centre for Culinary Arts on Saturday Feb 4th.  We had tours of NAIT’s state of the art kitchens, sample food and drink from local vendors, Alberta musicians and a Crafters’ Market showcasing local artists.  We were honoured at this event to pay tribute to Gail Hall, Edmonton’s good food Champion and we were pleased to welcome her husband Jon who also attended the Forum .

Throughout the Forum a comfortable and open Cultivating Conversation space was available for participants to dig deeper and further explore, in smaller groups, their thoughts and answers to the key questions. At the conclusion of the Forum the skilled Cultivating Conversation facilitators lead the Forum Delegates in an Open Space activity where delegates gathered in small topic-specific groups to discuss the next steps needed to further the Alberta Regional Food System. Topics and actions that were discussed were those that would ensure the sustainability of our region and province as a prosperous, resilient, growing place, where and local and regional food systems thrive!  The 8 topics were:

  1. Get Youth Involved
  2. Utilize Food Wastes
  3. Skill Development: Preserving, Holistic Techniques for Production, etcetera
  4. Educate Consumers
  5. Food Hubs-Distribution Centres-Improve Access, Integrate
  6. Listen-Think-Collaborate to Change Mindsets
  7. Protect the Environment
  8. Involve Policy-Makers so we invest wisely

By all reports, the Forum inspired the participants to learn more about Alberta food and to continue to work together to strive toward the Three Goals of the Forum: 1) to bring together individuals and representatives from public, private and non-profit sectors in Alberta to share information about innovative initiatives;  2) to identify opportunities; and 3) to collaborate in building socially just, economically viable and ecologically sound and sustainable local/regional food systems in the province. An evaluation survey was emailed to each Forum participant and presenter within 72 hours of the Forum’s ending.  We have had a 44% response from 281 surveys sent by email. We hope to share the results by mid March 2017. The evaluation results, now in the interpretation stage, will tell the full tale. Stay tuned!

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The Cultivating Connections Co-hosts Alberta Food Matters and FLEdGE and planning Team would like to thank the 15 sponsors for making the Forum a reality! A BIG THANKS to the City of Edmonton, the Edmonton Food Council and NAiT for their strong show of support for Forum 2017.  A very special thanks to Jon Hall, Gail Hall’s Husband for sharing Gail’s memory with us through his generous gifts of books from Gail’s library that were presented to each speaker and moderator.  Each of the 98 books is monogrammed with a photo of Chef Gail.  A Memorial Chef Gail fund is now open for donations through the Edmonton Community Foundation.

Thanks to everyone – students, volunteers, our sponsors, organizing team, forum attendees, presenters, moderators, and Chris our audiovisual recorder.