What I learned at Food Secure Canada: Top Ten List

On November 26-29 I had the opportunity to attend to the Food Secure Canada conference in Montreal, and while I was there I went to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network’s (CBAN) annual general meeting and an additional meeting about the People’s Food Policy Project. It was a jam packed four days of connecting and reconnecting with foodies from across the country on a whole range of issues. Here’s a top 10 list of things I learned, with input from Angela and Katherine, two other Haligonians who were also in attendance.

In no particular order:

1) I went to an incredible presentation about new farmers and supports and mentorship for new farmers. The folks from Farm Start presented. One of the key points they made was that it takes about 10 years to be an established farmer, so we need to be planning a decade in advance and creating different supports for farmers in different stages. Some of their projects include:
• running the “Exploring the Small Farm Dream” course for people thinking about getting into farming;
• an incubator farm program for those just starting out;
• small start-up grants of $3-5000 for new farmers;
• and helping match land owners with farmers looking for land.

2) I’ve already written about the People’s Food Policy Project in a recent post, so I won’t go into the background details here. (If you’re interested in more the background, visit: http://peoplesfoodpolicy.ca.  However, I did want to give you an update. At the conference there was a workshop on each of the ten discussion papers (fisheries, health, sustainable livelihoods, science & technology, etc). This was an opportunity to deepen the discussion, identify gaps in the chapters and try to start to identify 3-5 policy priorities in each of the discussion papers. More details will come, but next steps include polishing up each of the discussion papers, putting together a summary document with priority policies, doing some advocacy and continuing the discussions.

3) One afternoon in the hallway (because some of the best conversations happen between the official sessions) I met Laura Reinsborough of Not Far From the Tree, a gleaning program in Toronto. She told me a bit about how they run their programs and suggested checking out the gleaning manual from Lifecycles in BC:

4) Genetically engineered animals. Scary. Enviro Pig made the front page of the Globe and Mail shortly before the conference began and was a regular topic of conversation. There’s a lot of work to be done in the coming year if we want to keep GE animals out of our food system. To learn more, visit: http://cban.ca/Resources/Topics/Enviropig.

5) Delicious Food. What’s a gathering of food lovers without lovely food. You know it’s going to be a good conference, when the conference packet includes a menu for the weekend. Crepes, quebec cheese, Montreal bagels, vegetarian shepherd’s pie, delicious salads… prepared by local restaurants and organizations (like Concordia University’s People’s Potato).  And on Saturday night was the Feast of Flavours, a buffet style dinner, with tastings from Montreal restaurants, who focus on local, sustainable food. Yum!

6) This graph from the National Farmers Union was shown in one of the panel discussions. It’s fascinating (and disheartening) to see prices skyrocketing at the retail level, and yet farmers are seeing little, if any, of that money.

7) Earth Grab. The conference opened with a panel discussion on land grabbing, the corporate rush to buy up land to use as biomass. Angela notes “ I loved hearing about what was really happening in Haiti and Mali from the people on the ground, and who are directly affected by these large multinationals in such a tangible way. We hear about Monsanto, and the earthquake in Haiti, but to hear the real deal was pretty darn cool, (and really infuriating all at once).”

8) Meeting others involved in provincial networks. Before the conference started, people involved in provincial networks met to discuss how we could better collaborate across the country. We’re still in the beginning stages, but I think it will be very beneficial as we are dealing with similar issues across the country.

9) Angela notes that one the highlights for her was the Weaving the Social Movements Panel. “It was really good to get everyone to think outside the box when thinking about food – even though we were there talking about food, there are so many interweaving layers involved when you’re talking about food security, and they are all important and pertinent to each other. So, the four issues that were discussed at the panel (farming, women’s movements, affordable housing, and aboriginal rights), all fit together, and if we want to really make a difference in creating a food system where all people can eat healthy food, we have to understand each other, and work alongside one another.”

10) Katherine notes that one of the highlights for her was the tour of the People’s Potato and the greenhouse at Concordia University. From the People’s Potato website: “The People’s Potato is a vegan soup kitchen run out of Concordia University. The project was initiated in 1999 in order to address student poverty. The student population at Concordia is typically in debt, and has little access to quality nourishing foods. Our soup kitchen emphasizes serving well cooked, wholesome foods.” For more information, visit: http://peoplespotato.blogspot.com/.

And a bonus highlight, because we couldn’t just pick ten!
11) Angela noted “The other thing that I loved were the personal conversations with people – the socializing was fantastic! I felt that people really were into what each other was doing wherever they lived, and there were so many ways to connect to other people working on very similar, or very different issues and projects. The camaraderie was quite intense and inspiring, sort of like the whole weekend.”

Yours in Food,

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