The concept "food for all" was top of mind among the approximately 50 people who attended Tuesday night’s community meeting hosted by the Brandon Food Council.
A patchwork of food delivery systems and lack of central co-ordination means there are challenging gaps for those in need, as well as for front-line workers, it was revealed during the meeting.
Lisa Ramsay from the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre and the women’s council of the Brandon Bear Clan and Hope Roberts from the 7th Street Health Access Centre both detailed some experiences.
Ramsay said during her presentation that when she pulled out a fresh fruit salad at the family resource centre, mothers hung back. Some were pregnant, but she was told they let the children have the fruit.
Ramsay paused to collect her emotions.
"My vision includes that there would be enough healthy food for all and that parents wouldn’t have to choose between themselves and their children. How is it that I live in a wealthy country where this choice has to be made?" she said.
Roberts, for her part, said that with limited resources, staff at the health access centre might have to make the decision to refuse a second helping to someone who was hungry — even a second fruit — so there might be some on offer the next day.
Ramsay recalled a conversation with a business owner who complained about dumpster divers. She replied: Maybe if there wasn’t so much good stuff thrown out we’d see a change.
"I left the conversation confident I’d been dismissed as a bleeding heart," she said. "Not the first time or last, I’m sure."
There are a variety of places in the downtown core offering food in some way or another, at some time of day or another, depending on the day of the week, but several people in attendance noted better collaboration is needed.
The Brandon Food Council, in existence since early 2019, has a mission to develop and implement a sustainable community-based food system that promotes equity, health and culture and ensures food security for all people in Brandon.
"Today we are meeting to discuss our food challenges as a community and to identify the key areas where we can come together and begin to do the work to create a food-secure community by 2030," said Olivia Boyce, program co-ordinator for Food Matters Manitoba and facilitator for the evening
But what is food security?
"When all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain health and an active life. It’s pretty simple. It’s all you have to remember," said Coun. Jan Chaboyer (Green Acres), who was also a guest speaker.
Before attendees were set loose to brainstorm, Chaboyer suggested they remember their goal was to have food-friendly neighbourhoods and suggested some ideas to get started: access to healthy foods in all Brandon neighbourhoods, sustainable food-waste practices, community gardens, composting and corner stores with fresh foods available.
During the brainstorming session, at one table, Kim Longstreet, also a member of the Brandon Bear Clan’s women’s council, spoke up with some frustration after a discussion took place. She said she’d taken part in developing the Brandon Food Charter, which birthed the food council and outlines an ambitious and aspirational approach to "food for all." That was signed in 2014 by then-mayor Shari Decter Hirst.
Calling Brandon’s food system fragmented, Longstreet said a "one-stop shop" was needed. She gestured at the space around her, the Helping Hands Soup Kitchen.
"Go there," she said. "That’s all you need to know. All the food resources are in one spot. … There are no hungry people. This can be done in a few years."
Another table of folks suggested the city should hire a couple of extra full-time personnel: a garden co-ordinator and a food systems co-ordinator. Other groups suggested turning ornamental landscapes into edible landscapes and providing opportunities for landless farmers. Policies need to be developed regarding food waste, some people in attendance said, like some countries that have made it illegal to throw out food.
"We have the resources, they just need to be centralized," echoed an attendee.
The food council will send out an email to those who shared their contact information with a recap of ideas generated.
"We’ll be hosting a follow-up discussion with the Brandon Food Council to narrow in on a couple of themes and then work toward co-ordinating strategic action with the community to create a food secure community by 2030," said Boyce via email on Wednesday.
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