In Newfoundland & Labrador, poverty, the unique geography of our province, and a flawed food system combine to limit our access to fresh, affordable, and healthy food.
For the last 3 years, a local non-profit, Food First NL, has been at the helm of a cross-sectoral collaboration aimed at ending these issues. The project is called Everybody Eats, and as of this winter it’s shifting gears from engagement to action.
THE NEED FOR ACTION ON FOOD SECURITY IN NL
The island of Newfoundland is cut-off from mainland Canada by the ocean, and Labrador is a vast land of isolated communities. We rely on ferries and planes to transport our food to us, and that drives up the cost of groceries in our stores.
The fact our food must travel so long to get to us affects its availability, and its freshness upon arrival here. It is common knowledge that we would only have a 2-3 day supply of produce in our province if ferry shipments were disrupted by adverse weather, ferry maintenance issues, labour strikes, or similar troubles.
These geographic realities are made worse by financial matters in our province: 1 in 20 of us are unable to afford food at grocery stores, and rely on food banks. Even if more of us could afford healthy foods, 84% of our communities do not have a proper grocery store to shop from, and are limited to offerings from corner stores.
As it stands, in Newfoundland & Labrador, our choices for buying food are swayed to less healthy options: For every 10,000 people here, there are 14 fast food spots to every 3 grocery stores.
It’s no wonder Newfoundland & Labrador has the lowest rates of fruit and veggie consumption in the country, which is no doubt exasperated by our lack of selfreliance in producing our own food. We import 90% of the fresh vegetables we eat, instead of growing them here ourselves like we used to. In 1951 we had about 3,500 farms.
In 2015, we had about 300. That’s a decrease of 89%. The fishery is our biggest food industry, but we export 80% of the fish we harvest.
As for wild game and traditional food harvests, climate change is changing our ability to carry out certain hunting and foraging activities, because climate change is changing the timing and predictability of when bodies of water freeze or melt, and the migratory patterns of certain fish, birds, and herds.
The cost of hunting gear, like gas and ammunition, is making hunting unviable anyway.
WE’VE LOST OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
& WE’RE SEEING THE CONSEQUENCES
Our grandparents looked to the backyard for food, but our children look to stores, where a can of pop costs less than a bottle of water. We’re losing our relationship with food, and with it, food literacy and knowledge, like basic home gardening skills, nutritional education, or an understanding of where and when to find local berries, game, and fish.
A poor diet is resulting in poor health for our people: this province has the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the country, and is competing for the top spot in heart disease. It’ no wonder this means we have the highest per capita healthcare costs, which affects our financial well-being.
Clearly, our province has unique and complex food security issues we must address to better our collective diet, health, and quality of life.
2015: CATALYZING PROVINCE-WIDE PARTNERSHIPS & ACTION
In March of 2015, Food First NL partnered with The NL Public Health Association to start a province-wide dialogue on the matter of food security in NL. The project is known as Everybody Eats.
Everybody Eats is creating a common vision for a more vibrant food system in Newfoundland & Labrador. Throughout 2015, an advisory committee of 20 organizations from various sectors and regions of the province was assembled and engaged to mobilize action on food security in NL. This committee informed and guided the process of identifying our food system’s primary issues.
In November of 2015, Food First NL released the Everybody Eats Discussion Paper. The guide was a snapshot of our food industry issues, and a conversation-starting tool to further engage organizations across the province through a series of regional forums. These forums convened leaders and generated fruitful discussion on flaws in our food system, as well as opportunities to resolve them.
2,200 HOURS OF CONVERSATION LATER:
LISTENING, COLLABORATING, AND COMING TOGETHER
During the dissemination of Food First NL’s Everybody Eats Discussion Paper, more than 900 key people participated in over 2,200 hours of discussion on food security in our province. In total, Food First NL held 26 events and an online forum.
2016 also saw the formation of a Collective Impact Effort to advance food security in Newfoundland & Labrador. The purpose of a Collective Impact Effort is to attain commitment from leaders across different sectors to solve a complex social problem, such as food security. It ensures every player necessary for change is sitting aboard same the ship, charting the same course, towards the same goal, which increases the odds of a positive outcome.
For example, to resolve our issues with food production, we need local farmers at the same table as local policy makers, so the latter can hear how to help the former produce more food.
The public sector is in control of things like roads, ferries, and agricultural and wildlife policies that affect the food system. The private sector is composed of the farmers, fishers, chefs, shops, and food producers who put the food we eat on our plates. Naturally, we need the key players from both sectors at the same table, so they can communicate their needs and capacity to meet those needs to each other.
The Collective Impact model of Everybody Eats has ensured the Community Sector is at the table too: they’re the ones who, for example, deliver local food programming via initiatives like community gardens and kitchens.
And the General Public need to be onboard as well: they play a huge role in influencing the food system through voting with their wallets in deciding what kind of food we want, where we want it from, and why. After all, consumers are ultimately the reason there are more fast food joints than healthier delis here. Without our money, chains like McDonalds and Burger King, or vending machines full of chips and bars would cease to exist.
2017: WHAT WE HEARD SUMMARY SPAWNS 3 CLEAR ACTION POINTS
In October of 2017, Food First NL released Everybody Eats: What We Heard. The document summarizes 2 years worth of engagement and discussion among key stakeholders on food security in our province.
During this 2-year engagement process, 3 key themes and needs were heard with consistency:
Key Theme 1: Increase Local Food Production
Our province’s heavy reliance on imported products, and the fact we produce so little food here, were central issues throughout Everybody Eats’ engagement process. Relying so heavily on imported foods affects the quality, availability, and affordability of food for our people.
Participants felt there are two primary ways of increasing local food production: produce more food locally through commercial agriculture, fisheries, and aquaculture, and, produce more food for personal consumption through things like community gardens and farmer’s markets.
Increasing local food production will not only increase our access to fresh, healthy foods, but the number of jobs that exist in our local food system as well. What’s good for our food system is good for our economy.
Key Theme 2: Improve Access to Healthy Food
Throughout the Everybody Eats engagement process, 2 inter-connected issues emerged regarding access to healthy food: healthy foods tend to be less affordable than their alternatives, and, unhealthy options tend to be more readily available than healthy ones. (Picture vending machines, corner stores, or cafeterias at local institutions, and what they’re usually stocked with.)
This puts healthy food out of reach for people living with low income, and/or people living in communities with compromised access to food. Fresh foods take so long to arrive in many rural communities, they’re nearly spoiled or of poor quality when it reaches their stores, making the healthy choice the undesirable choice. To quote one participant, “we need to make the healthy choice the easy choice.” Producing more food locally would be a great start.
Key Theme: 3 Raise Education, Awareness, and Food Skills
Participants spoke about the need to enhance education about the relationship between food and health, and the awareness of our province’s food security issues.
It was suggested this could be done through the formal education system, and by public awareness campaigns. The formal education system, spanning kindergarten to grade twelve, presents an exceptional opportunity to better our children’s relationship with food and nutrition, while building food skills like cooking, gardening, food preservation, and fishing.
NOVEMBER 2017: PROVINCIAL PLANING FORUM
In November of 2017, Food First NL and the Everybody Eats Leadership Team hosted a Provincial Planning Forum on Food Security. The Forum brought together more than 85 key stakeholders in the provincial food system, and was attended by premiere Dwight Ball, who provided opening remarks.
The goal of the forum was to shift the project from engagement to implementation, by identifying a first round of action points. It was time to stop talking about food security issues, and start doing something about them. The forum also provided an opportunity to enlist potential candidates to sit on the working groups that would develop and enact these action areas.
EVERYBODY EATS ACTIONS AREAS ANNOUNCED
Harnessing the feedback from the Everybody Eats Provincial Planning Forum, The Everybody Eats Leadership Team reviewed and discussed action areas prioritized at the Planning Forum, and revealed the fruits of 3 years worth of engagement labour.
The initial 3 action points that will be acted upon throughout the first course of action are:
1.) Cost of Food and Household Food Insecurity
Exploring and piloting efforts to improve the affordability of healthy food in NL.
2.) Community Food Self Sufficiency
Exploring and piloting efforts to improve our food knowledge and skills, and to improve our access to locally produced and wild foods.
3.) Promotion of Local Food in NL
Exploring and piloting efforts to increase awareness of, and consumption of locally produced and harvested foods.
These action areas constitute the top 3 priorities at this time for the Everybody Eats project. They were decided upon on the basis of urgency, impact, and the ability to implement action. In time, all ideas borne out of the Provincial Planning Forum will be used to inform work on food security issues going forward.
PROJECT EARNING NATIONAL RECOGNITION
For its immense and collaborative effort in mobilizing this important work, Everybody Eats has garnered national attention.
In fact, Food First NL’s model is being adapted and implemented by the New Brunswick Food Security Action Network, and the approach was reviewed by Food Secure Canada in developing their efforts to inform the creation of a National Food Policy.
In late March, Food First’s Executive Director Kristie jameson and Everybody Eats Project Manager Ethan Doney attended the Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security’s inaugral, national symposium on food security, where Jameson spoke to the unique food security challenges we face in NL, and some positive policy changes our province has made to improve our food system.
EFFECTIVE POLICY PUSHING FOOD SECURITY FORWARD
Throughout the Everybody Eats engagement process, participants identified the need for supportive policy across all levels of government (federal, provincial, and municipal), and non-government institutions (at schools, hospitals, government buildings, organizations, and businesses).
Thanks in large part to Everybody Eats, we’re seeing positive policy changes at the provincial level in Newfoundland & Labrador, including government’s commitment to double our food production by 2022, as part of their Way Forward strategic plan
The province has also released significant crown land for agricultural purposes, and made it easier for local fishers to sell to local retailers and restaurants. To facilitate the sharing of traditional food skills, the province has also reduced the legal age of hunting small and large game to 12 and 16 respectively.