NL currently imports 90% of its food supply – ninety percent! – which means, when it comes to islands, we’re more similar to Hawaii (which also imports 90% of its food) than we are to Ireland, which imports about 50% of its food.
This reliance on imports leaves us with only a two-to-three day supply of food on the island. Considering the federal cuts to Marine Atlantic, and the straits which were chock-blocked with ice for most of the winter, it wouldn’t take a worldwide apocalypse to cut us off from the mainland.
According to the Food Security Network of Newfoundland & Labrador (FSN, soon to be known as Food First NL), bare grocery shelves are only part of the bigger picture of the province’s food problems.
FSN is a provincial non-profit organization which promotes community-based solutions to ensure physical and economic access to adequate and healthy food for all. They work with government, community organizers, community gardens, and others to improve access to healthy food in the province, while also helping to raise awareness of the issues.
“The issue of food security is so incredibly complex, and tied to so many other issues in the province,” says Kristie Jameson, Executive Director of FSN. “As a province, we’re quite dependent on outside food sources, which are brought in through this large and quite complicated food system that’s quite vulnerable … leading us to higher cost, lower quality, and poor availability of healthy fresh food across the province.”
She also says our fisheries are currently organized and managed to focus on export. “We don’t see a lot of fresh, local, wild, or farmed seafood, and you’ll also see high cost [for those items].”
Along with access and economics, food security can also involve aspects of health, which Jameson sees as part of the same conversation. “When you understand the amount of food that’s coming in from away, and the limited availability, and the high cost of healthy fresh food, it’s not so surprising that we see problems with diabetes, obesity, and chronic disease here,” she says.
In the province, changes in attitude about food safety have fuelled discussions about food security. In Labrador, in particular, discussions around food security have increased since last year, when grocery store shelves in northern Labrador were empty from the end of winter through the middle of summer. When fresh vegetables and fruits become a luxury, it’s a problem that can’t be ignored.
In its efforts to bring people together and bolster food security in the province, FSN is currently helping City Hall make decisions with food in mind with its new Food Policy Council, since many decisions are made on a municipal level that affect how food is produced, processed, and disposed. “If we have policy that comes out of this council that we can take back to City Hall, that’s going to help us make better decisions, right across the board,” says Councillor Dave Lane, who is also a member of the board.
Efforts like these can be found throughout the province. Echo Pond Summer Camp at the Brother Brennan Environmental Education Centre has vegetable gardens, a composting program, and games that educate campers on their connection to food.
Restaurants like Raymonds have found success by focusing on our province’s access to seafood, wild game, and locally grown produce from independent purveyors, adopting a more sustainable approach to dining, as well as the “farm-to-table” model, which places emphasis on locally produced food, and delivering that food to local consumers. “When we talk to people about how they see neighbourhoods growing, food security is a constant theme that comes up,” says Josh Smee of Happy City St. John’s. “It’s one of the first things that people say, because they see the connection between things like community gardens and growing communities.”
Engaging in food security issues can appear daunting. However, Jameson offers some advice, “You start by getting engaged in the simplest way, and just pushing yourself to go one step further. The best way to get involved in this is to cook. Just start cooking whole, real meals. Start cooking food, sharing food, celebrating food, and getting involved in conversations around food.”
FOOD SECURITY IN ACTION
FSN helps many individuals and groups connect with community initiatives, including efforts like community gardens. FSN also has many unique programs that are affecting real change here in the province.
FARM TO SCHOOL
With national organization Farm to Cafeteria Canada, FSN has teamed up with St. Bon’s and Lester’s Farm Market to bring a locally sourced salad bar with healthy options to the school—the first program of its kind in Newfoundland & Labrador.
As part of the same project, in partnership with the School Lunch Association, FSN is working to bring together a think-tank of individuals involved in school food, from
food suppliers to parents.
NIKIGIJAVUT NUNATSIAVUTINNI: OUR FOOD IN NUNATSIAVUT
Community Gardens in Labrador
During the long grocery drought, many residents of northern Labrador wanted to find a way for the communities to have a more self-sufficient food system, one that does not rely solely on contracted ferry services, with their frequent mechanical and logistical issues. In consultation with residents and local businesses, FSN has started a new raised-bed gardening program to help residents grow produce above the sandy, rocky ground of the region. Along with hosting a series of workshops, they are currently planting everything from potatoes to mesclun.
Good Food Boxes
With no road linkages to other communities or major wholesalers, all food shipped into the region is transported by plane or boat, leading to higher costs of food, with increased food spoilage. FSN has helped residents come together to get involved in bulk buying, which offers more affordable, better quality food. A typical box contains a whole chicken, pork roast, beef roast, chicken legs, lean ground beef, and stewing beef, available for residents at close to cost, with a margin for spoilage. This project was so successful it has since been adapted for other areas of the country, including the community of Baker Lake, Nunavut.
HEALTHY CORNER STORES NL (HCSNL)
Newfoundland & Labrador has the most corner stores per capita of any province or territory in Canada, as well as the highest proportion of corner stores in rural areas. “We have many small communities that are dependent on corner stores or convenience stores for immediate access to food,” says Jameson. “Those stores try to fill the gap, but they, of course, aren’t able to offer a diversity of fresh healthy food.”
Healthy Corner Stores NL (HCSNL) is helping corner stores improve their selection of high quality, affordable food by helping people to rethink their business model so it’s health-promoting and profitable.
Right now, they’re in the process of a finding one pilot corner store, which they will give a makeover, including marketing, education and training, and technical assistance, while they roll out the program province-wide.