News & Events

Walk the Walk at FLEdGE

January 2019

By Molly Fremes

There is increasing collaboration between academic institutions and community food security organizations in Canada. The advantage is a sharing of diverse skills, resources, expertise and networks to better achieve systemic change in food access. My experience as a FLEdGE Research Assistant (RA) at Ryerson University’s Centre for Studies in Food Security was exactly that  – a chance to truly practice Participatory Action Research (PAR).

So how does a data collection desk job turn into participatory, community-based research? Well, the process started well before I came along, and in my eyes comes down to the strong leadership of the project’s Principle Investigators, Professor Fiona Yeudall and Distinguished Practitioner Debbie Field.  Yeudall has a strong social justice lens and holds strong relationships with public, private and community partners, to the benefit of the Department of Nutrition.  And Field brings with her 25 years as the Executive Director of FoodShare, a celebrated leader in in community food resiliency. There was an obvious expectation amongst these two women that, since this project was meant to examine the collective impact of community-based food work, it absolutely had to be shaped and tested by our community partners.

Signing on to this project then, I knew that I would not be working on your typical Systemic Literature Review (SLR). Conducting my first ever SLR was a decent learning curve in and of itself. On to it we added the very welcome challenge of integrating some atypical “grey” literature – not just the community reports or policy briefs of an organization, but rather, including the organization itself into the database. By including local community-based food security projects and communities themselves, we were recognizing the value and impact of grassroot leadership and solutions without demanding that their value be determined through an academic peer-reviewed process, or by their “scale”, impact reporting, or ability to attract big philanthropy. It was important for us to recognize those projects with minimal budgets and highly localized mandates that are too often left out of impact analysis because they cannot be “scaled” to a larger, more “sustainable” model for broader systemic impact. While systemic change, is of course, a vision we all share, we did not want to judge the efficacy and local impact of any organization that is making considerable change in food security in their neighbourhood. This approach was shaped in the informal community consultations that were conducted by Yeudall and Field as the project was being developed.

Our SLR Protocol and categorization system was also informed by the public outreach we had through our Vote on Food event, and our National Food Strategy panel at Ryerson’s WC2 Symposium. The diversity of actors that were involved in the planning and participation of all of these events highlighted the need to have these conversations openly and lean into group dynamics and tensions. It also highlighted the “brave” space that could be created at Ryerson when the academic sphere is neutralized through PAR, which has already opened up doors for further collaboration between groups that have had previous communication and ideological challenges.

Having wrapped up the main structure of the SLR, I now have the privilege of continuing my contract with Ryerson to help coordinate the first community partnership pilot to test our categorization with Ecology Action Centre, Heartwood Centre for Community Youth Development, and Dalhousie University’s College of Sustainability.  A student capstone project will be using our categorization system in their community focus group to determine its usefulness in capturing the broad impact of food action and activism in Nova Scotia. Their feedback will help shape our revisions to ensure that our project findings are of benefit to communities across Canada. There is also potential for our typology to shape an event for community-based food projects and student collaboration in Toronto. Sharing and collecting feedback on the SLR from our community partners is shaping the next phase of our PAR practice.

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Molly Fremes is a Research Assistant at Ryerson University’s Centre for Studies in Food Security (CSFS), and the Events and Communications Coordinator at Nourish. She is a recent graduate from York University’s Masters in Environmental Studies program, with certificates from the Economics for the Anthropocene Program and the Schulich School of Business “Business and Environment” Program. Further information about her 2018 FLEdGE RAship at CSFS can be shared by contacting her at mfremes@ryerson.ca

Agroecology field school sparks important conversations 

January 2019

By Bryan Dale

From August 16th to 18th, 2018, FLEdGE co-hosted an Agroecology Field School and Research Summit that took place in and around Ottawa, Ontario. The three-day event was an excellent opportunity to discuss definitions of agroecology and to explore how it can be expanded within the Canadian context. While agroecology was originally established in the early part of the 20th century as the application of ecological science to agriculture, in recent decades the concept has also become associated with both sustainable on-farm practices and the social movements advocating for food sovereignty.

The first two days of the summit consisted of visits to agroecologically-oriented farms in the Ottawa area and in Outaouais, Quebec. Over 40 farmers, academics, activists, civil society representatives, and Indigenous leaders visited four diverse farms to learn about seed saving, organic vegetable production, and rotational grazing and other livestock rearing practices. Participants also engaged in horizontal knowledge sharing, a key pillar of agroecology, to discuss a wide range of topics—from agroforestry and soil health to land access and the politics of agrarian change. Participants also shared perspectives from their work in countries around the world, including Brazil, Cuba and Nepal.

The third day of the summit was especially focused on the social-movement and political dimensions of agroecology, and approximately 150 people attended the gathering at the Just Food farm. Peter Rosset spoke via videoconference from Mexico about the work of La Vía Campesina member organizations globally, and a dynamic panel of speakers concentrated on the potential links between agroecology and Indigenous food sovereignty in Canada.

The summit was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Connections Grant, and by organizations such as Just Food, USC Canada, and Lakehead University. This was the second such research summit to be organized by FLEdGE, and talks are already underway to organize another of these events given the incredibly positive feedback that the organizers received.

For additional information:

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Sherry Pictou of Mount Saint Vincent University speaks to a full house at the Just Food farm about Indigenous food sovereignty. (Photo by Kath Clark, USC Canada)

Happy New Year from FLEdGE!

Sustainable food has been on the minds and lips of an increasing number of people in 2018. On the international stage, food has become an important part of discussions about climate change and sustainability with more attention being paid to how city-region food systems work across places and scales. Across Canada, sustainable food system researchers and community advocacy groups continue to provide input to the federal government as it develops “A Food Policy for Canada,” while at the same time working to address significant challenges within the food system at the local level.

2018 also saw substantial growth of the FLEdGE network. Our recent report, “Good Food Solutions: Building sustainable food communities for all Canadians” provides a snapshot of the work that we’ve done so far and outlines the five principles that ground our research practice as we work toward more sustainable food systems. We are delighted to be able to share the fruits of our collective research practice with you on our Resources and Results page and will continue to do so through 2019 and for the life of the FLEdGE project.

As 2018 comes to an end, we’d like to take the opportunity to wish you a very happy holiday season and send our best wishes for 2019. From all of us here at FLEdGE, may the New Year bring you health, joy, and good and sustainable food.

Wild harvest as an urban practice

December 2018

By Irena Knezevic

Windsor, Ontario, is in that part of Canada that geographically hooks into the US, and is paradoxically located south of the border, just across the river from Detroit. It is sometimes jokingly referred to as “Detroit South.” The moniker is in fact utterly appropriate. Like Detroit, it is a blue-collar town full of immigrants (largely white, European, but more recently also Lebanese and then Somalian) many of whom came to the city to work in the automotive factories that form the backbone of Windsor’s economy. It is also a city that, like Detroit, has a rich arts and culture scene.

In the heart of that city, just three or four blocks from the Detroit River, is an alley. This is where my mom, who lives in a condo overlooking the river and Detroit’s captivating skyline, picks all her grape leaves for dolmatas. We come from Bosnia, and we love stuffing vegetables of all kinds—peppers, zucchini, cabbage, onion, grape leaves. My stepfather is Greek, so dolmatas are a staple food for him too. Dolmatas make sense in their household. But the two of them live a comfortable urban retiree life, and don’t need to pick their food from alleyways where it’s free. My mom’s neighbourhood harvest is not a product of necessity. Yet, the delight in her voice is palpable when I phone her and she tells me about her recent harvest of mulberries in that same alley. The alley also offers nettle, wild strawberries, and dandelion leaves. Not far from there, she picks amaranth leaves (also known as pigweed or callaloo), and a few blocks over, just by the railroad tracks, is where she gets her rosehips for jam and tea. Continue reading “Wild harvest as an urban practice”

Sustain ON tries to engage politicians with varying success

December 2018

By Harrison Runtz

This past summer I had the privilege of working with Sustain Ontario, a non-governmental organization that works on connecting the needs/policy asks of different stakeholders in Ontario’s food networks. Sustain Ontario’s main goal is to transform our provincial food systems into more sustainable, community-oriented forms. My work was specifically related to the provincial iteration of their VoteONFood campaign. VoteONFood is an election-based effort to inform politicians on crucial areas of policy that are needed to address food systems issues. While my work focused on the provincial level, the campaign is currently targeting prospective municipal politicians. This initiative, which attempts to spread awareness of issues brought forth by experts working in these fields as producers, academics, scientists, and others, highlighted the intensely difficult task of breaking down partisanship and spreading best practices. While the issues of knowledge mobilization are many, I’ll outline two challenges that seemed particularly pertinent to the work in which I was involved. Continue reading “Sustain ON tries to engage politicians with varying success”

City Region Food System Assessment and Planning Toolkit Now Available!

Guido Santini
Programme Coordinator, Food for the Cities Programme
Rural and urban crop systems (AGPML) team
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Plant Production and Protection Division (AGP)

November 19, 2018

We are pleased to announce that the City Region Food Systems (CRFS) assessment and planning toolkit, jointly developed by FAO, RUAF Foundation, and Wilfrid Laurier University’s Centre for Sustainable Food Systems in the framework of the Food for the Cities Programme, is now available online.

The CRFS toolkit aims to help local authorities and other stakeholders strengthen the understanding of the current functioning and performance of food systems in the context of a city region, within which rural and urban areas and communities are directly linked. In particular the toolkit provides guidance on assessing food systems and forms the basis for further planning to reinforce and promote the sustainability of CRFS.  It is meant to be a resource for policymakers, researchers, and other key stakeholders and participants who want to better understand their own CRFS and plan for improvements. Continue reading “City Region Food System Assessment and Planning Toolkit Now Available!”