The Kamloops Food Policy Council has launched a series on food and the city to explore a number of deeper civic discussions leading up to our municipal election. As the late urban planner and Canadian food advocate Wayne Roberts wrote, “food is a lever.” Food is how we connect to the land, our communities, and our traditions. And because food is so impactful in all our lives, it is a useful lever through which we can create transformative changes in other areas. Strong local food systems can help us get to more affordable housing, walkable neighbourhoods, stronger local economies, spaces for safety and belonging, and more.
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Community Food Security
As the memories of empty grocery shelves and uncertainty about supply chains are still fresh in our minds, it’s a good time to think about what food system resilience is, and how we can move towards this as a community. The highway closures in November 2021 showed the relatively short supplies of fresh vegetables, milk, egg and other staples that our grocery stores can carry. While many people attributed the empty shelves to panic buying, in reality, our food system has moved towards to-the-minute supply chains. Our globalized system and consolidation of production and aggregation facilities leave us very vulnerable to disruptions.
Food shortages bring pre-existing failures of the food system into view for a much wider audience in the community – many people start thinking about where their food comes from for the first time. While we don’t want to over-dramatize the fact that we had empty produce shelves – ultimately, supply chains were able to adapt and fresh produce was back on shelves within several days. We want to recognize these moments where the lack of resilience in our global food supply chains are made visible and how they prompt us to reflect on the deeper challenges in our current food system. Specifically thinking of which members of our community are most vulnerable when these disruptions take place.
As climate change disasters become more and more frequent there is an increased risk of larger scale shortages. Turning our attention and our minds towards local food can help to put some slack in our system and increase our ability to weather the potential supply chain storms ahead.
Defining Community Food Security and Food Sovereignty
Community food security aims to ensure that “all citizens obtain a safe, personally acceptable, nutritious diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes healthy choices, community self-reliance and equal access for everyone” (BC Interior Health Authority; Dietitians of Canada 2017). Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems (La Via Campesina).
These concepts integrate multiple issues. When we talk about food security, we’re not just asking if people have enough food to eat, we’re thinking about the whole system around food: we’re emphasizing that food is a human right that everyone should have access to, we’re thinking about how food is grown – who grows it, how it impacts our land and water, and who holds the power and privilege in that system.
A Systems Approach
At the KFPC, our response to the challenge of food security is to take a systems approach, to radically reimagine our food systems in ways that take into account the health and well-being of people, land, and water. We need resilient food systems if we’re going to have food secure communities.
In order to see this meaningful change, we need to shift our mindsets both individually and at a cultural level. In particular, there is deep work needed to decolonize how we view our land, food, and each other. We need to move away from viewing food and land as a commodity to be extracted and consumed, and towards a view that sees food as a gift; reflects and respects the interconnectedness of food, people, and nature; promotes a feeling of abundance; and reminds us to care for our community and for each other.
Our recipe for becoming more food resilient as a community lies in addressing four areas of work: mutual aid, locally grown food, local food processing and distribution, and advocating for policies that support our regional food system.
We need to start with disrupting the “us” vs “them” mentality. Many people were upset about alleged “hoarding” of food during the shortages, but it is important to remember that Kamloops’ population increased by 4% (3000+) with evacuees at the same time as the highways closed. All the evacuees were given grocery vouchers to spend at local stores to do an empty-fridge shop. One of the most important things we can do is to redirect our focus to mutual aid. It’s about helping others, but also learning how to communicate your needs. Sharing and trading are some of the most important activities for resilience in times of crisis. Knowing where food is being redistributed is helpful – we provide a list of free food resources and community meals on our website.
Locally Grown Food
We are seeing many examples of how local food production increases the resilience of our system. When the grocery shelves were empty, there were still fresh veggies at our local Farmers Market. We saw Blackwell Dairy milk stand out like an oasis in a deserted dairy aisle. Local farms were letting people know on social media they could come by if they needed food. Ultimately, the more local food in our bellies, the more we will be able to cope with disruptions in our supply chains. Let’s support local farmers and food business owners to make sure they are there when we need them again.
The City of Kamloops Food and Agriculture Plan now encourages front yard gardens instead of lawns, and it allows up to five backyard chickens per household. In Kamloops, detached houses can have up to seven rabbits, and more recently, bee hives. These measures and the policies in place to support them will come as a great comfort as eggs and other staples are in short supply in the grocery stores. KFPC’s Gleaning Abundance Program and the Butler Urban Farm are great ways to access fruit and vegetables from common space for free in the summer months.
Local Food Processing and Distribution
One of our major focuses right now at the KFPC is launching The Stir: a commercial processing kitchen facility that will allow local food to be preserved so it is available year-round. This facility will be available for food entrepreneurs, farmers and community members to rent on an hourly or monthly basis.
Finally, we need to continue to push for provincial and federal policies and programs that protect and preserve farms that are producing for a local market. We need to continue to move towards creating livelihoods that keep the food production sector in our region healthy and thriving.
We do not know what sorts of emergencies we may face in the growing uncertainty of climate change. However, we do know that how we prepare as a community will greatly enhance our self-sufficiency and resilience. The Kamloops Food Policy Council is intrepidly working towards our vision of a local regenerative and just food system, with a renewed sense of purpose and attention.
KFPC’s Recommendation for Building a Food Secure Community for All
- Create and implement a municipal Poverty Reduction Strategy that prioritizes food security for all as a human right
- Establish decision making structures and equitable collaborative engagement to understand and act on the needs and concerns of people with lived/living experience of poverty
- Allocate municipal funds for a long term multi-year, multisectoral poverty reduction approach
- Include community food security as a priority area in all emergency and disaster recovery planning processes
- Initiate a 10-year evaluation and update of the City of Kamloops’ Agriculture Area Plan (2023) and the Food and Urban Agriculture Plan (2025)
- Allocate municipal funding through service agreements to organizations responsible for implementing actions in the Food and Urban Agriculture Plan and Agriculture Area Plan
- Allocate a portion of the City of Kamloops’ investment in economic development specifically to grow the local food economy