Exploring Positive Capacity-Building Practices for Community Food Systems

My name is Stephanie McGlashan and I am doing my honours thesis at Acadia University. I am writing on food systems in a service learning partnership with the Ecology Action Centre (EAC). I have had the privilege to work with the EAC’s Our Food Project, specifically Miranda Cobb, the community food researcher and evaluator, over the last seven months and have loved every moment of my research and involvement. I was introduced to the project and Miranda through Alan Warner, a professor at Acadia University and my thesis advisor.

In this blog post I wanted to share some of my initial research on the current state of food systems here in Canada and globally.

Population growth, increasing demands, technological advances, and food and agricultural policies are driving forces towards industrialization and centralization in production operations within the food system. Simultaneously, these forces have altered food and eating environments (Story et al, 2008). The food system is an interactive and interdependent web of relationships that influences health, the economy, the environment, and social inequality. Food is a primary foundation for healthy lives, communities, local economies and ecosystems. The food system has drifted from these priorities in treating food as a profitable commodity. Consequently, individuals, organizations and communities develop an alternative community-based model that emphasizes social, economic and environmental values.

From an economic standpoint, analyzing a cost to calorie ratio, food is cheaper than ever. Despite this truth, hunger remains a prevalent characteristic in many communities. A leading factor of this issue is the disparity in distribution of nutritious and affordable food. Higher income communities typically have access to higher quality, healthy foods whereas lower income communities often do not. Availability for low-income communities typically consists of pre-packaged, calorie dense, low-grade nutritious food items. Fresh produce, whole grains, and more wholesome foods on the other hand are commonly out of their budget and vicinity (UM, 2009). Hunger is not only a cause, but also a symptom of society’s inability to face up to and deal with issues of inequality. Neglecting to properly deal with the issue has the potential to increase crime rates, and worsen environmental, physical, mental, economical and social health (Scharf et al, 2010).  

Addressing food security goes beyond analyzing the problems within the food system. It broadens to encompass health, child development, economic renewal, health disparities, environmental sustainability and community empowerment (NSPFSP, 2006). The state of a food system acts as a barometer of the well-being of a community, and therefore must be ameliorated to ensure needs are met (Pothukuchi et al, 2002). There is no single strategy to resolve the existing problems within the food system, however a collaboration of strategies demonstrates the potential to do so. Progressing towards a more equitable, nutritious, accessible, culturally appropriate, and sustainable food system requires an identification and description of effective programs, strategies and tools that contribute to the success.

The study aims to examine and assess concepts and good practices that organizations, such as the Our Food Project, can utilize to facilitate a shift to a more sustainable food system based on providing for social, economic, and environmental health at a community level. It will provide the Our Food Project, with (1) the core aspects/principles and structure of network-based community food systems projects in Canada, (2) good practices of network-based organizations and how Our Food is doing, and (3) provide interview data with key stakeholders on their current efforts in Nova Scotia. This work will support the Project’s aim of defining and implementing good practices towards creating positive food environments across Atlantic Canada. This project aims to strengthen community food security and in turn, enhance overall individual and community well-being.

I look forward to the progress and outcomes of this project, as well as the relationships built along the way!


Policy working Group of the Nova Scotia Participatory Food Security Projects. (2006). Thought about food? Understanding the relationship between public policy and food security in Nova Scotia. Retrieved January 26, 2014 from http://www.ahprc.dal.ca/.

Pothukuchi, K., Joseph, H., Burton, H., Fisher, A. (2002). What’s cooking in your food system: A guide to community food assessment. Community Food Security Coalition. Retrieved January 26, 2014 from http://www.foodsecurity.org. 

Scharf, K., Levkoe, C., Saul. N. (2010). In Every Community a Place for Food. The role of the community food centre in building a local, sustainable, and just food system. Metcalf Food Solutions.

Story, M., Kaphingst, K., Robinson-O’Brien, R., and Glanz, K. (2008). Creating Healthy Food and Eating Environments: Policy and Environmental Approaches. Annual Review in Public Health 29, 253-272. 

University of Michigan. (2009). Building a community-based sustainable food system Case studies and recommendations. Urban & Regional Planning Capstone Project.

Image: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/

Written by Stephanie McGlashan, currently completing my undergraduate honours thesis for a B.A. in Environment and Sustinability Studies at Acadia University. For more information you can contact me at: smcglashan@live.com

Acadia University: http://www2.acadiau.ca/

Alan Warner: http://environment.acadiau.ca/Dr._alan-warner.html 

Acadia Environment and Sustainability program blog: http://esstacadia.blogspot.ca/

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