Thursday, March 12, 2015

Food Security can Blossom in Barrie

Bring up Food Security and the discussion will vary depending on who’s in the room. One participant might express concerns that access to healthy food is becoming more difficult for many. Healthy food choices are harder to identify and skills related to diet and meal planning are sorely lacking. Another might communicate a need to focus on maintaining a healthy environment where we can all access clean air and water and our local ecosystems are preserved.
If the respondent is a farmer, like Morris Gervais from Barrie Hill Farms, the conversation would mention pressure on local farmers competing in a global market where poor nations utilize disgracefully underpaid labour to produce crops at prices he cannot match in Canada. Now, if the product is some meaningless widget or bauble, perhaps we shouldn’t care where it is produced. If it’s not essential then it isn’t a concern if for some reason it became unavailable. But we’re talking about food, and loss of supply is just not a viable option. Weather, politics, climate change, and supply chain disruption all factor into the sourcing of food from distant lands, not to mention taking responsibility for an exploited workforce.
Someone else might suggest food security is displayed by a community that bonds together to celebrate food and culture in harmony. And each of these concepts is valid, so they were all incorporated into the Simcoe County Food & Agriculture Charter, published in 2013. 
This past Wednesday, I participated in the Community Food Workshop at Barrie’s Southshore Centre, the second in as a many years. The Barrie Food Security Coalition, supported by Living Green and the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit, organized this event in their pursuit of solutions to all these issues by bring together stakeholders from various sectors of the community. Social workers, educators, municipal employees, environmentalists and representation from agriculture and food distribution converged to network, listen to a cross-sampling of local initiatives like FruitShare and help design a report card to serve as a baseline for our community’s current level of food security.
As a prelude to the ‘work’ segment of the workshop, we were fortunate to hear some words of experience from Debbie Field, the dynamic Executive Director of FoodShare Toronto. Over the past 2 decades plus, Debbie has led FoodShare to become one of the largest and most respected food security organizations in the country, evidenced by multiple awards. She divulged how a committed group of volunteers and staff, combined with strategic partnerships, can facilitate a wide spectrum of programs and initiatives to move a community closer to a more secure food system.
Of course FoodShare Toronto, formed in 1986, has a 30-year head start on Barrie. But there’s no shame in leveraging best practices of older organizations. Barrie already has numerous initiatives that work toward all of the issues listed above. One of the Debbie’s key messages was to build partnerships and promote collaboration. The challenges surrounding food security are not isolated; the solutions must be interconnected and tackled by a spectrum of participants from all sectors. 
The key to it all is participation. Improving any aspect of a community requires involvement from the entire community. And when it comes to food, no one can say it’s not their problem.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie and Innisfil Examiners under the title "Food security concerns us all"
Thank you to Mike Fox for preparing the first draft of this article.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

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