An HC Link conversation with… The Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable

HC Link spoke with Krista Long, Food System Consultant and Campaign Coordinator for the Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable, about its Food Spaces, Vibrant Places initiative.

Tell us about Food Spaces, Vibrant Places?

food spaces nameplate final 1Food Spaces, Vibrant Places is a community-based campaign that ran in 2014 to support the development of more temporary farmers' markets and community gardens within walking and transit access of where people live, work, and play in Waterloo Region.

We are a group of passionate community citizens, working with the Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable, who envision and advocate for a healthy local food system in Waterloo Region, including walkable access to healthy, fresh, local food in every neighbourhood.

Why were you trying to encourage more temporary farmers' markets and community gardens?

Research* supports the benefits of temporary farmers markets and community gardens. They help strengthen neighbourhoods, build community, and keep families healthy. For example, it has been shown that:

  • People are three times as likely to visit a market when they live in walking distance.

  • 90% of market goers said they ate more vegetables; 53% said they ate more fruit.

  • Neighbourhood markets build community and encourage social interaction.

  • Community gardens help reduce stress and anxiety, and promote physical activity.

  • Community gardens provide low cost, healthy food options.

  • Community gardens promote a sense of belonging and help build food skills.

*Two reports from the Region of Waterloo Public Health are the basis for this:

Planning for Food-Friendly Municipalities in Waterloo Region (2013)
Neighbourhood Markets Outcome Evaluation (2009)

What kind of community change were you working toward?

Our work was a three-phase process. It began in 2009 with review and development of the Region of Waterloo’s Official Plan. The Roundtable then moved on to the Official Plans (as well as land use policies) of the Region’s three cites, Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo, honing in on the municipal zoning bylaws. We wanted the cities of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo to develop:

  • Zoning by-lawsthat permit temporary farmers’ markets in residential, institutional, open space, as well as commercial zones;

  • Supportive licensing by-laws and regulations for temporary farmers’ markets;

  • Incentives such as reduced or waived fees for temporary farmers’ markets;

  • Zoning by-laws that permit community gardens in residential, institutional, and open space zones; and

  • Strengthened community garden policies.

How did you do this?

We first had separate conversations with each city to discuss the issues and our objectives. We met with numerous planning staff (from directors to the staff managing various pieces). It was a very collaborative approach. We also engaged key community stakeholders to provide input to the approach, confirm the barriers, identify solutions, and draft the strategy.

In the beginning, lack of knowledge about the barriers was the biggest challenge, so outreach to the community was necessary to raise the profile of the issue and demonstrate its importance to municipal Councillors. To achieve this, we developed a website and communication strategy with support from a communications firm. The strategy included a social media campaign, a petition to rally the community on the issue, as well as having a presence at various community markets and events.

signing petitions at market

At the same time, we worked with HC Link to develop an advocacy strategy to reach out to candidates in the fall 2014 municipal election. This involved recruiting and training volunteers go out and speak with the candidates for each ward in all three cities (25 wards plus 3 city mayoral seats) about the issues and needs and provide follow-up information as needed. With HC Link’s guidance, we took a public narrative approach to advocacy by using personal stories to make the case for the change we were after. During training, volunteers received instruction on this storytelling method as well as background on the initiative and the importance of community engagement in civic action.

What were the most exciting outcomes?

  1. Municipal candidates took the initiative to engage in the process without much prompting (many did their own research and prepared responses in advance). Some of them even made the issue part of their platform in the 2014 election.

  2. We saw some immediate results. Early on, the City of Waterloo started working to update their licensing by-law with supportive policies and fees.

  3. The municipalities invited us to provide input on the zoning bylaw changes BEFORE they drafted the changes (rather than reviewing them AFTERWARDS, during the usual community consultation process).

  4. The training and support given to our volunteers increased community capacity for civic action. We have given people skills and experience in advocating for change in their communities.

What factors contributed to your success?

  1. Deciding to focus the campaign just on the three cities of Kitchener, Cambridge, and Waterloo. We listened to what the surrounding townships in the Region had to say. The needs in these mostly rural areas are very different from the urban centres and their official plans are very closely tied to the Region, so they felt this approach wasn’t appropriate.

  2. Bringing municipal officials and staff into the process at the outset and having conversations was key to making them partners, not adversaries. City staff have been thankful for our work and the collaborative approach we have taken. It’s not us against them, it is all of us working together to find the best solutions.

  3. Taking baby steps to get the ear of municipal staff and candidates. It started with the social media campaign to get information out in the public realm and then making connections with candidates via social media before reaching out to meet with them face-to-face.

  4. Taking a storytelling approach for our campaign. Making the link to the person, not just the facts, has been well-received and very successful. The personal story is what gives the campaign life.

How did HC Link support your efforts in this area?

The HC Link consultant advised us in the development of the advocacy strategy as well as developed and delivered a volunteer training session on public narrative process as an advocacy tool. It was because of her suggestion that we used a public narrative approach for our advocacy campaign.

She was also able to review our plans and provide guidance as we developed the strategy, offering a valuable outside perspective and asking key questions along the way. It was a very beneficial working partnership.


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