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From Local Food Actions to Systems Change: Experiments in Social Movement Governance through the National Food Policy in Canada

May 2019

By Charles Z. Levkoe and Amanda Wilson

Over the past decade place-based alternative food initiatives have had a range of successes in their aims to promote healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems. More recently, these initiatives have become part of diverse networks that connect a range of actors across sectors, scales and places. Many of these movements in Canada have adopted a vision and goal of food sovereignty that aims to put control of food systems in the hands of communities and to change the dominant power structures of food systems, based on the experiences of farmers, fisherfolk and Indigenous peoples. Despite a growing interest in food networks, little attention has been given to how these movements engage with governments to scale-up experiences and learnings from local projects to impact related policy while also maintaining goals of social, ecological and economic justice.

In our chapter, “Policy Engagement as Prefiguration: Experiments in Food Policy Governance through the National Food Policy Dialogue in Canada”, in Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governancewe explore the efforts of social movement organizations to promote empowerment and food systems transformation through engagement in government-led policy making processes. We ask how social movements can advance food policy, while also modeling alternative food futures through processes of policy engagement. We pay particular attention to the ways that different aims of organizations coexist, teasing out the tensions, possibilities and the overall complexity of their interactions.

To illustrate these opportunities, we draw on a case study that examines the engagement of a diversity of social movement organizations in the development of a Food Policy for Canada between May and September 2017. Initiated by the Federal Government, the Food Policy for Canada consultation period included the participation of a wide range of different stakeholders to establish a national vision for the health, environmental, social, and economic goals related to food. Both in response, and alongside this policy consultation process, Food Secure Canada (FSC), a pan-Canadian food movement alliance, led a series of activities involving more than 70 member and partnering organizations in an attempt to model participatory food governance and strengthen the capacity of Canadian food movements.

Representatives of food movement organizations pose with then Minister of Agriculture and Agrifoods Lawrence MacAulay following the Ottawa Food Summit June 2017
Representatives of food movement organizations pose with then Minister of Agriculture and Agrifoods Lawrence MacAulay following the Ottawa Food Summit June 2017

We draw on the concept of prefiguration (i.e. putting into practice the desired future in the present) to explore how food movement organizations negotiate and maneuver within the complex terrain of government-led policy building, simultaneously being grounded in current realities while working to create alternative food futures. Using this perspective, the end goal is not whether policy was affected, but a focus on the processes of collective action. Our research uses primary document analysis, participant observation and reflects on our personal experiences being involved in this work.

We argue that social movement networks have an ability to prefigure collaborative processes of engagement to advance policy change while strengthening social relationships, deepening their knowledge and advancing collective strategies for change. Our findings show that, while FSC and its partners attempted to prefigure grassroots, democratic processes that embedded social and ecological justice into policy, this process was at times complicated by limited resources, conflicting ideals and power dynamics at play. Despite efforts to the contrary, these kinds of activities risk limiting a more radical and visionary politics by pressuring social movement actors to prioritize language and approaches that fit within pre-existing government frameworks and are most easily translated into policy. However, participants were under no illusions that a government-led food policy making process would be transformed into a tool to achieve food sovereignty, rather they saw the policy-building process as a strategic opportunity to address both short and long-term challenges in Canada’s food system.

Contributors

Charles Z. Levkoe is the Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Food Systems in the Department of Health Sciences at Lakehead University. Charles’ community-engaged research uses a food systems lens to explore connections between social justice, ecological regeneration, regional economies, and democratic engagement.

 

Amanda Wilson is an Assistant Professor in the School of Innovation at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. Her research is focused on food movements and alternative food networks, cooperatives, and collective organizing, and questions related to prefiguration and enacting a politics of possibility.

 

 

Citation

Levkoe C.Z., and Wilson, A. (2019). Policy Engagement as Prefiguration: Experiments in Food Policy Governance through the National Food Policy Dialogue in Canada. In: Andrée, P. Clark, J.K., Levkoe, C.Z., Lowitt, K. (Eds.). Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governance. Routledge, Series on Food, Society and Environment. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429503597


The Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance Blog Series showcases the chapters and themes from the open-access book. Follow along as we explore the governance of contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements.

Previous posts in the series:

Cooperative Governance and a New Narrative on Agrarianism in Calgary, Alberta

May 2019

By Mary Beckie and Elizabeth Bacon

City-regions have become key players in food system governance. As part of the effort to understand how to create more inclusive and democratic governance structures, our chapter, “Catalyzing Change in Local Food Systems Governance in Calgary, Alberta” in Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governanceexplores the development of YYC Growers and Distributors Cooperative (YYC). The story of YYC is about a group of urban and rural growers working together to make local food more accessible in Calgary. It is also the story about the innovative governance mechanisms they are using to make this happen.

YYC was founded in 2014 as a not-for-profit society by a small group of urban growers. Over the next two years, they expanded their production base and product range by including both urban and rural growers. As the organization grew and evolved, they recognized the need for a different and more appropriate governance structure and in 2017 became a registered cooperative. Each of the 20 members has equal decision-making power, with a one-member, one-vote policy. Members’ products are collectively marketed and distributed through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and at a small number of farmers’ markets. In addition to making local food more accessible to citizens, YYC is committed to environmental and social justice, educating consumers about the value of local food, and influencing policy changes that better support local food systems. The rationale for YYC is best summed up in the following statement made by a YYC member in a 2016 documentary on food resiliency in Calgary:

“With the declining number of farmers, we’re going to need new people innovating and creating a culture around food…A resilient food system in Calgary is always going to be a complex web of many parts. YYC was formed by a group of young pioneers in Calgary who have made agrarian urbanism happen. We’re on the cusp of major change, as food security is an issue for all of us” (2016 NUFP documentary).

Through our research, we examine how YYC’s adoption of a cooperative governance structure has reinforced democratic values and principles, and allowed them to be innovative and scale up, while being supported by and building strong relationships with consumers, community organizations, and municipal and provincial governments. This research was informed by interviews with growers, board members, customers, and representatives from municipal and provincial government.

View of Calgary, as seen from one of YYC’s urban farms
View of Calgary, as seen from one of YYC’s urban farms

Key findings of the research include:

  1. Connections between producers; rural-urban linkages

A unique feature of YYC is how it has forged new relationships and collaborations between urban and rural farmers. This bridging of urban and rural growers in a regional food system is new in a province where large, export-oriented grain and livestock farms are predominant. Additionally, a significant proportion of YYC’s members are young people with limited farming experience, which is reflective of an emerging trend across Canada, as captured in the 2016 agriculture census. Together, these characteristics contribute to the formation of new narratives on what it means to be a farmer. 

  1. Connections between producers and consumers; education and awareness of local foods

YYC’s members directly interact with consumers at CSA pick-ups, farmers’ markets and through an active presence on social media (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook). Members see sharing information and developing relationships with customers as a key benefit of being part of YYC. By reconnecting people to food, farmers and land, YYC aims to spread understanding about the potential of local food systems to achieve social, economic and environmental goals. Understanding and regaining control over the ways in which food is produced and sourced enables the development of ‘citizen consumers’, consumers that more informed and engaged.

YYC’s table at the Hillhurst Sunnyside farmers’ market in Calgary
  1. Connections with civil society and government

 YYC has been built upon democratic principles and values of inclusiveness and solidarity that are embedded in the cooperative model. As an extension of this, YYC has built relationships with a variety of governmental and non-governmental actors and organizations. In doing so, they have created greater agency and momentum for change in the food movement.

Bringing diverse actors together and achieving more democratic governance structures for food system transformation is a challenging and ongoing process. The examination of the democratic nature of cooperatives like YYC and its outward collaborations can provide insights for more progressive change.  

Contributors

Mary Beckie is an Associate Professor and Director of Community Engagement Studies at the University of Alberta and is affiliated with the western (British Columbia/Alberta) node of FLEdGE. Her research on sustainable and localized agri-food systems has taken place in western Canada, the European Union, Cuba, India and Sri Lanka.

Elizabeth Bacon is a research assistant with Dr. Mary Beckie at the University of Alberta, as part of the FLEdGE network. She is currently pursuing an MSc. in geography at the University of Montréal.

Citation

Beckie, M. & Bacon, E. (2019). Catalyzing change in local food system governance in Calgary, Alberta. In P. Andrée, J.K. Clark, C. Z. Levkoe, & K. Lowitt (Eds.), Civil Society and Social Movements in Food Systems Governance (81-100). London: Routledge. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429503597


The Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance Blog Series showcases the chapters and themes from the open-access book. Follow along as we explore the governance of contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements.

Previous posts in the series:

Nipigon Blueberry Blast Festival    

May 2019

This engaging video shows how a local community utilizes a locally available food source – boreal forest wild blueberries, to attract tourists to participate in blueberry foraging and to support local community participation. This annual event enhances local community prosperity while coalescing all participants in their connectedness to the land and a deep respect for a healthy environment where blueberries thrive.

About the Social Economy of Food Video Series

The Social Economy of Food Video Series showcases local leaders that are using food to improve their communities by enhancing the local and social economies. Watch the complete series here.

Other videos in the series:

Searching for Fit? Institution Building and Local Action for Food System Change in Dunedin, New Zealand

May 2019

 By Philippa Mackay and Sean Connelly

Food system change is complex and multifaceted. From the global to the local, concerns about health, the environment, social justice and economic development reflect diverse priorities for food system change.  While this diversity provides multiple opportunities to draw on a range of expertise and resources, it also highlights the critical role of governance in navigating competing priorities and resolving tensions. Food governance is about processes and structures of power and control around decision-making. Decisions made will influence the allocation of resources, prioritization of values, and the approaches that are taken to achieve particular outcomes. The chapter “Searching for Fit? Institution Building and Local Action for Food System Change” in, Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governance, discusses the evolving process of local food governance. In doing so, we highlight an example of how diverse stakeholders are involved in shaping priorities and processes of food system change.

The case study in this chapter is set in the small city of Dunedin, located on the South Island of New Zealand (NZ). In Dunedin, two co-evolving food system networks (one derived from civil society, the other from local government) have emerged. Concerns about the food system has resulted in multiple food initiatives to address environmental issues, food poverty, and community building. These responses have brought diverse efforts together in a systemic way.  

Timeline of activities leading to the development of Our Food Network Dunedin and Good Food Dunedin.

Our Food Network Dunedin (OFN) is a self-described grassroots organisation dedicated to stimulating the production, distribution, and consumption of local food, and in that way, contribute to building a resilience and prosperous community. The local government network, Good Food Dunedin (GFD) was initiated following the successful lobbying by OFN and others, to create a part-time position within the Dunedin City Council (DCC) dedicated to addressing issues of food resilience . The council-led food network became a formal platform to bring together diverse stakeholder who share a vision of transforming Dunedin into a thriving and sustainable food city.

The emergence of these two food networks reflect different perspectives and illustrate the challenge of attempting to collectively frame issues and advocate for solutions. For example, GFD focused on framing the problem and solutions of food through an economic and resilience lens, as this was the only way Council involvement could be justified. OFN was concerned about this overly economic focus since their primary motivation and core values are rooted in local food as a driver for bringing people and groups together to enhance local food production and consumption. Compromises were necessary by both network groups to determine the way that food system issues were framed, and various initiative supported in response. Additionally, other food system actors held the perception that these networks offered limited room to discuss food values outside of local or resilient food systems, such as food-related social justice issues. Despite these differences, local food governance has been legitimized both within local government and in the broader community as a result of the process to formally introduce alternative food initiatives into the Council’s agenda.

Food system governance in Dunedin has evolved from what was once a relatively small collection of diverse food initiatives to a more formalized network of food system actors that have firmly placed food on the public agenda through the formation of GFD. Civil society and local government relationships have been reshaped, and the creation of the formal platform for decision-making has led to positive relationships that have increased access to resources and empowered local communities to make decisions on food system change. The potential of linking these efforts to broader social movements in the city, or to reflect other framings of food system problems, such as social justice or providing for cultural food system practises, has not yet materialized. It is clear however, that the process and newly formed structures of power that have been institutionalised in local governance mechanisms, are now set up to address complex and multi-faceted food system issues more formally into the future.

Chapter Contributors

Philippa Mackay is an Environmental Consultant who works on strategic and community development projects.  Her passion lies with the implementation of sustainable practice more generally, but she has a keen interest in sustainable food system change.  She completed her Master of Planning in the Department of Geography at the University of Otago.

 

Sean Connelly is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geography at the University of Otago. He teaches courses on environmental management and his research interests are in the broad area of sustainable communities, with particular focus on alternative food systems and rural and regional development.

 

Chapter Citation

Mackay, P., & Connelly, S. (2019). Searching for fit? Institution building and local action for food system change in Dunedin, New Zealand. In P. Andrée, J. K. Clark, C. Z. Levkoe, & K. Lowitt (Eds.), Civil Society and Social Movements in Food Systems Governance(63-80). London: Routledge. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429503597


The Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance Blog Series showcases the chapters and themes from the open-access book. Follow along as we explore the governance of contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements.

Previous posts in the series:

Adaptive Emergence of Local Food Initiatives within the Context of Northwestern Ontario 

May 2019

Willow Springs Creative Centre (WSCC) is a bubbling hub of activities that focuses on local foods as a means to deliver social, economic and environmental benefits. This charming video captures the diversity of ways that WSCC adapts creatively to the local boreal context from therapeutic gardening to a food training program through a seasonal market.

About the Social Economy of Food Video Series

The Social Economy of Food Video Series showcases local leaders that are using food to improve their communities by enhancing the local and social economies. Watch the complete series here.

Other videos in the series:

Foraging for Blueberries as a Community to Enhance Youth Programs

April 2019

This engaging video explores how the Aroland Youth Blueberry Initiative (AYBI) is creating opportunities for all community members (youth to elders) to enhance food security and support youth activities through harvesting and selling locally foraged blueberries. AYBI promotes an intergenerational approach to maintaining traditional knowledge in caring and harvesting blueberries.

About the Social Economy of Food Video Series

The Social Economy of Food Video Series showcases local leaders that are using food to improve their communities by enhancing the local and social economies. Watch the complete series here.

Other videos in the series: