Good food is good for the planet, good for the provider and good for the health and well being of all. There is a whole network of folks working across the region towards these aims called the Good Food Network. Each year a Good Food Progress Report is created that tries to capture the advances made on a broad range of efforts and is presented at the annual Good Food Summit held at the Songhees Wellness Center in November.
So what is the good news for 2019? A notable highlight is the growth of the Food Rescue initiative, where over this past year we have seen grocers, farmers and community organizations distribute a million and a half pounds of fresh produce to more than 50 agencies across the region. This food helps support people to access healthier food. Nancy, one of the participants says, “More fruits and vegetables for my kids makes me feel like I am doing my job as a parent to help them thrive. Rent is high and sometimes it’s hard to do that on a tight budget.” Significant this year was the continued shift of emergency food agencies like the Mustard Seed, Living Edge, and St. Vincent De Paul towards a model where program participants come and shop for their food in on-site food markets. There is more choice and assistance with taking home food that will feed their families.
There has also been some great work advancing food literacy efforts in the region, that is helping people to gain the skills and knowledge to make choices and prepare food that is healthier and in line with their values. Food Skills for Families is now offering 25 per cent more programming in the region. In addition, there are over 18 organizations doing programs around food for youth. One of these organizations, LifeCycles supports students to earn course credits in a Seed the City training program. One of the Grade 11 students taking part in the program said that “mental health is a huge issue for teens, this program helps a lot,” Leah Seltzer, program coordinator reports they harvested more than 500 pounds of lettuce from the Reynolds school garden over the summer, equal to 3,000 servings of salad. Another important collaboration was the launch of the Youth Pollinator Squads by Pollinator Partnerships Canada. One in every third bite of our food relies on these busy critters and youth are heading out into their communities and doing education and planting gardens in support of pollinators.
The Good Food Network has set a target for 25 per cent of our food to come from local sources. What is happening in terms of getting more local food available? Closing the Supply Gap launched a demonstration project to assist farmers with Canada Gap Certification, needed in order to sell to retailers and wholesalers. This is very important as currently 97 per cent of our local farms sell at the farm gate and through direct marketing. People want food available at the grocery store. Thrifty Foods, a project partner, was able to buy and sell local watermelon for the first time this fall from newly certified Ocean View Farm. Another key initiative moving forward this year is the work to develop a regional food hub to provide storage and processing infrastructure to local farmers and food producers.
At the Annual Good Food Summit, a ceremony was held to thank a few key Good Food Champions from the network. Alex Harned, the City of Victoria Food Systems Lead, launched the awards. “As I look around the room, it’s hard not to see an ocean of good food champions,” Harned said. “From different sectors, various areas of food systems work, volunteers, teachers, leaders — I’m sure we could each go around the room and share just how much we appreciate the person beside us, for their passion and leadership and support they offer us and our communities. So, thank you to each and everyone one of you for your commitment to our good food ways and to each other.” She went on to announce the annual winners in each category. The first was Elmarie Roberts and the Haliburton Community Organic Farm for their work supporting new farmers in the Local Food Economy Category. Beangka Elliot, of Project Reclaim was honored in her work to address food justice in the Food Literacy Category and Simone Cazabon was recognized in the Food Access and Equity area for her work with Salt Spring Community Services.
This year a special Lifetime Contribution Award was provided to Mary-Alice Johnson for her decades of work to support and grow organic farming. She has mentored countless interns, was a founder of the Moss Street Market and involved in the Sooke Farmlands Trust, Sooke Food CHI, and the Sooke Agricultural Plan. “ALM”, the name of her farm, is Arabic for Alif Lem Mim which stands for the beginning, the middle, and the end. “Just like the seasonal cycles on the farm,” says Johnson.
With such good work in progress, I look forward to talking about more as we roll out 2020! If you have any good food stories to share please pass them along.
Learn more and find the full Good Food Network Progress Report at goodfoodnetwork.info/about-the-network.
Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at email@example.com.