Supportive policy environments key to regional food system resilience—collaboration, innovation already happening in communities

By Dr. Irena Knezevic, Carleton University

The networking and knowledge-sharing aspect of FLEdGE is an essential part of how the FLEdGE team thinks about research and community engagement. In the past, we held big in-person meetings that were informative and convivial. That was not possible this year. Instead, we decided that a webinar series would be a great opportunity to share our research, but also a chance to engage a broader audience. The series centres on the FLEdGE Good Food Principles and is an opportunity for the many FLEdGE partners and collaborators to share their experiences and outcomes. Moderating the first in the Good Food Solutions by FLEdGE webinar series was both humbling and inspiring, and I was thrilled to help guide the discussion. The webinar, “Shaping Food Policies for Resilient Regions,” took place on October 30th and featured tremendous expertise from panelists Sandra Mark (Small-Scale Food Processors Association), Anna-Liisa Aunio (Dawson College), Anne Marie Aubert (C-SAM), and Johanna Wilkes (Balsillie School of International Affairs).

The Good Food Solutions by FLEdGE webinar series centres on the FLEdGE Good Food Principles and is an opportunity for the many FLEdGE partners and collaborators to share their experiences and outcomes.

Johanna Wilkes began the webinar by providing an overview of various municipal food policy initiatives across Canada and arguing that local work is “a site of reform” – food policies at a local level are more sensitive to context, easier to adopt and adapt, and can have more immediate impact than higher-level policy. Collectively, they add up to a veritable pathway to food systems transformation at regional, provincial, national, and international levels. Local scale allows policy, food businesses and organizations to be more nimble, innovative, and adaptable, which are traits that are becoming even more visible and more important this year with the COVID-19-related disruptions. Johanna called for sound regional and sectoral planning, integrated with the policy efforts required for true systems’ change. She also noted that food policy councils are a useful tool as they “are a nexus between global and local [and] can be collaborative, strategic, and engage with citizens in meaningful ways.” Moreover, food policy councils create channels for information sharing and serve as valuable examples that can inform action at various scales of governance.

Anna-Liisa Aunio and Anne Marie Aubert followed up with an excellent location-specific illustration of Johanna’s point by describing the comprehensive efforts of Quebec’s first municipal food policy council in the Montreal metropolitan area, C-SAM. Anne Marie described C-SAM as a coalition of organizations, including the municipal government, that individually work on food issues and use the council as a space to collaborate and develop a shared understanding of policy and action that are needed in the metropolitan area. The council is also embedded in several international networks, including the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact. Anna-Liisa, a researcher who collaborates with C-SAM, noted that innovation starts locally as people want to see changes in their neighborhoods, especially in communities that may have limited access to good food and/or have little say in policy-making. Drawing on a just completed survey, Anna-Lisa offered a refreshing perspective on cross-sector collaboration and noted that research expertise can only generate meaningful input into food policy initiatives if it is brought together with community efforts.

Sandra Mark capped off the presentation part of the webinar by outlining policy implications for a specific sector of food systems – that of small-scale processors. Canada is a large country, and while each region has its own growing season, each can only grow food for part of the year. A robust processing sector is thus necessary to ensure a year-round supply and extended shelf life of food. Processing also has to be accessible regionally, to avoid costly and climate-unfriendly long-distance transportation and needs to accommodate small batch processing. However, small-scale entrepreneurs lack infrastructure supports and financing options. Notably, in the food processing sector, the majority of these entrepreneurs are women. Sandra, who had worked as a community developer for many years, described how the processing sector had been gutted across the country, with a handful of large operations dominating the sector. She called on all levels of government to use policy to create an ecosystem of support for small scale food processors, noting that thriving processing sector also means greater opportunities for local and small-scale producers which currently have difficulties accessing facilities designed for large-scale undertakings.

Food policy councils are a nexus between global and local and can be collaborative, strategic, and engage with citizens in meaningful ways.

Johanna Wilkes

After the presentations, Johanna, Anna-Liisa, Anne Marie, and Sandra engaged in a vibrant discussion and considered the different scales of policy and action, cross-scale collaboration, and possibilities for equitable food futures. Panelists agreed on several points. First, networking and collaboration can sometimes be difficult, but are essential for community-minded, inclusive efforts to support the livelihoods of those who work in the food systems and to ensure equitable access to good food for everyone. Second, local and small-scale efforts demonstrate a great deal of innovation. While it is sometimes difficult to see and measure their direct and immediate impact, collectively, these efforts can and already do generate change and help develop greater local and regional food systems resilience.  

If you are intrigued and want to hear more, you can watch the webinar recording at: https://youtu.be/ZkyX-eAVQPw 

The webinar was followed by a great Q&A session with the panelists, during which they shared some additional resources. Links to those resources are available below and you can listen to the Q&A in the webinar recording above.

The next webinar in the Good Food Solutions by FLEdGE series—Supporting Farmer Livelihoods: Research Partnerships for Action—will take place on January 22nd at 12:30pm. Register here.

Good Food Solutions by FLEdGE webinar series poster. Supporting Farmer Livelihoods: Research Partnerships for Action. January 22nd, 12:30 - 2:00 pm EST. Featuring Charles Levkoe, Theresa Schumilas, David Thomas, Peter Andrée, Louise Livingstone, Bryan Dale, and Bess Legault. Webinar supported by FLEdGE, Feeding the City, and the National Farmers Union

Local Food Networks and Databases:

Johns Hopkins Food Policy Networks at the Centre for a Livable Future
http://www.foodpolicynetworks.org
KPU’s Food Policy Database for B.C. and Alberta (working with colleagues at the University of Alberta):
https://www.kpu.ca/isfs/foodpolicydatabase
https://www.kpu.ca/isfs/foodpolicydatabase/ab
Sustain Ontario’s Food Initiatives Greenhouse:
https://sustainontario.com/greenhouse/

Food Communities Network
https://foodcommunities.ca

Food Insecurity References: 

Food Secure Canada
https://foodsecurecanada.org
Yellowhead Institute
https://yellowheadinstitute.org
Committee on World Food Security
http://www.fao.org/cfs/home/en/
PROOF
https://proof.utoronto.ca

Collaborative Example: 

Meno Ya Win
https://slmhc.on.ca
https://www.nourishhealthcare.ca/practice-study-slmh

Corporate Concentration:

Report on corporate concentration trends
https://www.econexus.info/sites/econexus/files/Agropoly_Econexus_BerneDeclaration.pdf