Food Security – A Community Development Role

I see the Grandview Woodland Food Connection supporting food security in a number of ways. First off, we are working for the local neighbourhood food network. Our particular role in that case is supporting a food equity approach and food justice approach to ensure that everyone in the community has access to food.

Our work is really a piece of a food continuum that supports community capacity building or individual capacity building around things like growing food, preparing food, figuring out how to access food and creating opportunities for community members to get involved in food projects. Specifically, we do a whole range of stuff from organizing community gardens, kitchens, bulk buying groups, workshops, food celebrations, events that raise awareness and share information. A lot of our function is to connect people with what’s going on in the community so people can really get involved.

We work at a very grassroots level. We work specifically within our own neighbourhoods like in my case Grandview Woodland, but all the networks work together so we collaborate a lot. The more local our work, the more effective we can be because we know our community well. Every community is different so we all work within a different context. The programs we need to develop are all very different, they all respond to their own community. Food security affects all of us regardless of income and so we also work within a larger social political policy context. Vancouver is doing that exceptionally well and the Vancouver food strategy is quite unique.

As coordinator of the GWFC and a long time activist, I’ve come to understand that relationship building and connecting with people is really important. It may not solve immediate problems but in the long term we all have to learn to get along, we all have to learn to be part of the discussion. When people are in poverty, when people aren’t well fed, when people are left behind and marginalized they’re not part of the solutions. So I believe that food access and food justice and social justice work is equally important to the environmental work that we do in building food sustainability.

It’s kind of shocking how untouched we’re becoming with our environment…
The youth are hard to engage, you know they’d rather be out partying or skateboarding doing whatever they do, but when they’re in class we have a captive audience. Honestly they would rather be out playing in the garden then sitting in a desk or at least for a lot of them. Most of the kids have never planted seeds and they have no clue. But in the last three years we have seen the gardens flourish and the kids really come to love their garden, not all but a lot of the kids are really taking pride in their garden. They really like it, it is beautiful and they get very excited about harvesting food or planting. One of the projects we have been working on is called the potato farm. It’s not really a farm but just 4 boxes 3 by 3 foot boxes and their really cute. So I’m working with grade 3’s who are awesome; they’re smart enough that they get it but they’re still open enough that they want to learn more. They just recently harvested the potatoes a couple of weeks ago and it was just a riot. The kids went crazy, it was like an Easter egg hunt. So they were digging for these potatoes and when someone found a potato the kids yelled potato. So the kids were just like screaming “potato, potato, potato”. Many of these kids have ever planted and experienced the full cycle of planting, growing and eating their own food. For a lot of those kids it was a pretty important experience. So at the end of last year in June some of the kids expressed that it was their best experience of the whole year. It’s planting the seed early, so we’re going to continue to work with those kids as they age. Working with the kids has been very inspirational.

So many projects have these magical moments…
There is this other community garden project that is an intergenerational seniors and youth project. We were down in the garden and we were going to do some planting, weeding and watering. We were like “oh my goodness there is all this food here, we should make a big salad”. So I rode back to my office real quick and grabbed a bowl and some salad dressing stuff. I came back and we made this giant salad with cucumbers, peas, kale, lettuce, green beans, basil, parsley and green onions. We made up a salad right there in the garden and all the kids helped make this delicious salad. This is as fresh as it gets. I don’t know if the kids understood it right then how special that was but you know they will probably remember this. It’s a pretty profound experience, I think if you were a young kid and able to eat food that you grew yourself.

A pretty serious challenge is the sustainability piece is the financial sustainability piece…
We are not out there in the community on our own. We’re really working in partnership with community centres and neighbourhood houses and that has allowed the Neighborhood Food Networks to become much more sustainable. That’s an important piece of our success and that’s an important aspect that we’ve been advocating for. The more successful we are in developing our sustainability in building our roots in the community the more able we are to get information out into the community to people that aren’t connected. We need to think of food in a holistic way.

I’m optimist that there is a lot of resiliency at the local level. That people care, when the times get tough we can work together. I think there is a lot of creative energy, a lot of passion there and there is a lot of interest in developing programming. I am optimistic that we can achieve a lot at the local level. In terms of global sustainability I am less optimistic but we do what we can. We have a window of opportunity and so there is this massive food movement happening.

– Interview with Ian Marcuse for Sustainable Community Development class, SFU

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