Across Ontario hundreds of organizations, councils and networks are working to relieve hunger and improve the quality of food available to community members. Many are engaged in developing strategies to achieve community food security and sustainable local food systems. It is a very complex and challenging situation, however, as the food system is comprised of a diverse range of activities, stakeholders, policies and regulations.
“Our efforts have been fragmented and the region continues to lack a long-term vision and coherent plan to further the development of a sustainable local food system - one that enables farmers to learn livable wages while ensuring that all residents have access to safe, healthy local food,” (David Thompson, Rural Agri-Innovation Network)
Recognizing the lack of tools, training and other resources to engage communities in developing a shared vision of a healthy food system and a process for achieving it, seven organizations decided to work together to address this need. The purpose of this project is to increase the capacity of local communities to work collaboratively to create and strengthen sustainable local food systems in Ontario. The project is funded by the Healthy Communities Fund of the Ontario Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care, from October 1, 2013 - March 31, 2015 and led by the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition.
There are five main components of the project.
1. Food Systems Tool Kit: A comprehensive, dynamic on-line toolkit is being developed in English and French to assist community organizations and others in creating and implementing comprehensive community food systems plans. The Tool Kit has been designed to be accessible by a link on any of the partners’ websites, without any other organizational identification.
2. Peer Learning Circles: Led by Sustain Ontario, participants of four peer learning circles (PLC) are meeting regularly to learn collectively about particular aspects of the food system or food system planning processes. They have also contributed tools and resources to the Food Systems Tool Kit. So far 15 Sustain Ontario blog posts have referenced the PLC. Facebook postings and linking all social media activity are other benefits being provided by Sustain Ontario.
“Sustain Ontario strives to transform the food system into one that is healthy, equitable, ecological and financially viable. We are working with the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition to leverage our collective networks and our complementary strengths to ensure that we achieve the strongest outcome for practitioners and regional community actors across the Province”. (Karen Hutchinson, Sustain Ontario)
3. Community Planning Case Studies: Four community organizations in four regions of the province are undertaking a local food systems planning process and embarking on action plans. Their activities will be documented as case studies.
The Huron Food Action Network (HFAN) is developing a Food Charter for Huron County. The draft food charter has now been released and a news release was issued inviting comments from key food system stakeholders and the general public. The HFAN Coordinating Committee has initiated a branding process to develop a logo and key messages that will be incorporated into the final Huron County Food Charter document.
Harvest Halliburton is conducting a Community Food Assessment. This project involves several working groups and 24 project partners. They have developed a two page fact sheet to promote and outline the project, and have developed working relationships with the County Planning Department which will allow them to use their GIS mapping technology. The County Tourism Department will incorporate the Community Food Assessment report in an ongoing a culinary tourism initiative that is being developed in partnership with the Ontario Culinary Tourism Association.
The Rural Agri-Innovation Network (RAIN), in the Sault Ste. Marie area, is increasing access to local food through innovative marketing techniques. In November 2014 the first annual RAIN Food Summit was held bringing together Algoma and Sault Ste. Marie stakeholders for two half day food system planning sessions. The summit attracted excellent media coverage and evaluations of the event suggest that there is a great deal of interest in expanding the sustainable food system development work to include a food strategy for the area. Food Summit participants identified priority areas of focus for the Sault & Area Food Strategy including food access, food infrastructure, food skills and education, food procurement, forest and freshwater foods, and food production, including urban agriculture.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) is a political territorial organization representing 49 First Nation communities within northern Ontario with the total population of membership (on and off reserve) estimated around 45,000 people. As part of this project, NAN is developing a food strategy guidebook to showcase planning process and community success stories, as a means of engaging leadership, funders and community members. Recently, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Food Summit 2014 – “Traditional Foods without Borders” took place in Thunder Bay. Click here to read a summary of the conference. NAN participated in RAIN’s agriculture asset building program (SNAP), a direct result of their participation in the Project Steering Committee.
4. Learning Activities: A series of learning activities will for organized for staff and volunteers of community organizations and networks who are working to develop a local sustainable food system. A three-part webinar series was conducted in February and March, 2014, in collaboration with HC Link, and recorded for future viewing. Additional webinars, one on the Food Systems Tool Kit and another on the results of the project, will be scheduled in March 2015.
The project was presented at the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition’s Annual General Meeting on October 24, 2014, highlighting project milestones and sustainable food system development plans. Three project partners attended the Toronto event and the two other, more remote projects joined via web conferencing. Feedback from those in attendance stated that they were impressed with partnerships and outcomes.
5. Communications: The FoodNet Ontario website has been enhanced to allow greater interactivity. Eight new blog posts have been uploaded, and the Food Systems Tool Kit will be housed on this site, but accessible from each of the partners’ websites. All partners’ are contributing to sharing information and resources through their own websites and networks.
Creating a healthy sustainable food system is an important part of creating a healthy community. Community food system planning integrates common factors involved in food-related issues such as nutritional quality, affordability and availability. In this project we will look at the social, environment and economic contexts which impact on our food choices and ultimately our health.
“This project will help to increase the profile of local food as a means to diversify and enhance the local farm economy and promote healthy eating”. (Janice Dunbar, Huron Food Action Network)