On Wednesday June 3rd, the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market was abuzz as community members, media and local food advocates from various sectors gathered for the release of Food Counts: Halifax Food Assessment. It is the first broad based assessment report on the food system in Halifax. The development of Food Counts was led by the Halifax Food Policy Alliance, a partnership of individuals and organizations that represent different sectors related to the food system. The steering committee of the alliance is currently co-chaired by Public Health Services of the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the Ecology Action Centre.
Food Counts: Halifax Food Assessment aims to determine the current state of our food system in Halifax, marking the beginning of a comprehensive monitoring of the food system across the region. By examining the current state of the Halifax food system, the report identifies the systems gaps, limits, and strengths, as well as opportunities for program and policy development. Valerie Blair, Capital Health District Health Authority, told the audience that the assessment will help us better understand the extent to which our local food system is healthy, just, and sustainable and will provide a benchmark for measuring future initiatives. The report findings were divided into six determinants: Accessibility, adequacy, knowledge and agency, local food economy and infrastructure, public investments and support, as well as resource protection and enhancement.
During the report presentation, the speakers encouraged the public to “keep food on your mind”. We, Aldara MacKay and Lorraine Teasdale, your co-authors of this blog and recent Human Nutrition graduates of St. Francis Xavier University, have no problem with doing just that. We have studied the science of food and nutrition for four years and are now getting to put that knowledge into action with our positions at Farmers’ Markets of Nova Scotia Cooperative (FMNS). Aldara is the newly appointed Strategic Projects Officer with FMNS and Lorraine is just finishing up a placement with the organization as part of her Dietetic Internship.
The report defines community food security as “a state when all community residents have access to enough healthy, safe food through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self reliance and social justice”. As we read the report, it become more and more evident that household food insecurity is a significant issue in the Halifax region. In 2013, Halifax had the highest level of household food insecurity among 33 major urban centers across Canada, with 20% of the population being affected. To break it down further, 1 in 5 households in the Halifax region has trouble affording healthy food – quite a startling statement. With report findings demonstrating that not everyone has access to healthy and affordable food in Halifax, a likely question is, what can we do to change this? A clear message from the report is that healthy, culturally appropriate and sustainable produced food needs to be accessible for all citizens in order to enhance community food security, which will require the integration of economic, social, environmental and educational factors within a community.
Despite the gaps and challenges that were identified in our current local food system, the report also highlights several strengths, and reasons for celebration. There is a definite movement towards a healthy, just and sustainable food system in Halifax. This is evidenced by a growing number of community based food initiatives, like Community Supported Agriculture and urban farms; community engagement in growing food, procurement of local food by local institutions, participatory research as well as advocacy for changes in social policy. Another good example in the Halifax region (and Nova Scotia!) is the growing interest and engagement in farmers’ markets. Farmers’ markets create “hubs of social interaction” where people can come together to talk about food and food issues, while also providing a venue for the distribution of local food products. The report names farmers’ markets as an “alternative food access point”, as harvesters, producers and processors have an opportunity to sell directly to their customers. The report indicated that Haligonians can access food through 12 different farmers’ markets in the Halifax region – 12!
Another interesting aspect of the report is the discussion of the role municipalities play in building healthy food initiatives within communities. Food assessments can be good starting points for identifying potential areas for municipal food policies and strategies. To provide some perspective, a recently published report entitled Municipal Food Policy Entrepreneurs showed evidence of more 64 municipal food policy initiatives taking place throughout Canada. Food Counts pointed out that the development of supportive food policies play a vital role in ensuring strong local food systems, specifically through enhancement of our local food economy and infrastructure.
After reading the report, it is clear that Food Counts is a valuable tool for the Halifax community, both as a representation of the current state of our food system and as an excellent conversation starter. The presentation urged the public to bring food into our discussions and we agree – food is most definitely a universal language, it crosses barriers and unites people.
How can individuals become involved in building a healthy, just, sustainable food system in Halifax? Engage in advocacy efforts and local food initiatives, seek out local and sustainable food options, become involved in a cooking or gardening program, adopt waste management practices and of course, provide an environment for people to come together to prepare and share food. As Haligonians we have a clear call to action: share this report and keep the conversation and momentum going!
– This blog post was written by Aldara MacKay & Lorraine Teasdale, who are both currently working with Farmers’ Markets of Nova Scotia Cooperative