Posts Tagged ‘Sustainable Food Systems’

Future Food

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Last summer my kids and I read Farmer Boy, the classic Laura Ingalls Wilder novel about a boy growing up on a homestead in New York. It was striking what a central role food played in Almonzo’s life, and how varied and abundant his family’s diet was – almost as striking as the varied and ever-present work to be done on the farm. The Sunday dinner table groaned with fresh bread, thick-crusted chicken pie, baked beans, ‘quivering slices’ of fat pork, dark-red beet pickles, pumpkin pie and apple pie with cheese.

little houseMy other summer read, the decidedly less bucolic Orenda by Joseph Boyden, reached further back into history, painting a portrait of the early, frequently bloody, contact between the Haudenosanee, Huron Wendats and French Jesuits in what is now central Ontario. Here too, food was very present – this time with descriptions of the three sisters, caribou, fish and berries. And while there were extravagant feasts, there was also famine, drought and crop blight.

Meanwhile, my reading also fast forwarded to newsflashes that Soylent – the beige beverage which claims to contain all the nutrients the body needs – had begun shipping to Canada. In the fall, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified processed meat as a definite cause of cancer. A University of Guelph study predicted that the average Canadian would spend 345$ more on groceries in 2016. Climate change, with all of its food-related causes, crept closer to the two degrees no one wants – but the issue finally received global attention in Paris and serious treatment in Ottawa. And the spectre of Syrian children starving in besieged villages haunted me.

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All this made me question what will food in the future look like? Where are we going, where do we want to be going – and what can we do to change course?

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Transforming the Table: What I learned from 22 Interviews with Leaders of the Canadian Food System

 

Sohpie Silkes_blog authorSeveral years ago, a group of Canadian organizations gathered to discuss one of their shared funding priorities: sustainable food systems. Hailing from across the country, this informal funders’ group began to contemplate how best to come together to share learnings and in some cases, support of strategic partnerships to deepen their impact.

Earlier this summer, the group commissioned a high level landscape assessment of the Canadian food system to help inform its work. As a Social Innovation Fellow in Sustainable Food Systems at the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, I had the unique opportunity to complete interviews in support of this assessment, which Eco-Ethonomics is conducting.

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My questions included the following: When you think about the Canadian food system, what catches your attention? What are the key levers for change? How can we most effectively collaborate across sectors and regions to make lasting change?

 

I spoke with 22 leaders, actors and influencers who represent a spectrum of expertise within our national food system, from production, processing, distribution, and industry work, to the academic, non-profit, private, and government sectors. Some compelling themes emerged.

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The Price of Good Food – an Acadian Tale

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My $10.25 meal

It’s Saturday morning and the Dieppe farmers’ market on the outskirts of Moncton is buzzing. Farm stalls offer a local bounty: vegetables galore, plump strawberries and blueberry jam, meats and cheese, wines and apple cider. At the food court, I get a vegetable sandwich ($5), and my son, a small box of dumplings ($5). We share a strawberry smoothie ($5.50) and get two muffins ($5). For $10.25 each, we’ve had a delicious locally-prepared meal, made largely with local ingredients.

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Dieppe Farmer’s Market, Dieppe, New Brunswick

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Painting the future: Opportunities for more healthy, local and sustainable food

Beth-2014-1Three years ago, a small group of senior staff from three foundations gathered to talk about our common efforts to support local and sustainable food development: helping farmers access markets, improving supply chains, protecting prime farmland, raising public awareness and informing public policy. What was missing, we mused, was the background to all this work that would help us and others understand the context for all these individual efforts: imports, exports, pollution, waste, taxes, and subsidies.

So we decided to jointly commission a piece of research that would paint this backdrop, engaging a team with a strong diversity of skills and experience, headed up by Atif Kubursi of Econometrics. The Econometrics team’s extensive experience in economic and transportation modelling would be complimented by Harry Cumming’s knowledge of rural dynamics and Rod MacRae’s food policy expertise. There was an on-going conversation between researchers and foundation staff as the work unfolded.

Unlike most artists painting a landscape, the researchers didn’t know what their painting would look like once completed. This made it very difficult to make a communications plan for the work, but kept the process exciting! The research set out to track major economic and environmental impacts of the food system in southern Ontario (a region where all three foundations were working). It found that local food impacts are largely positive — the food economy creates jobs and generates tax revenues.

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Trust and Traceability

The other day my husband dashed off an email to a dozen friends and neighbours titled ‘meat, eggs and parsnips’. Our farmer friend Kathleen was coming to town and had offered to deliver some food. He included Kathleen’s answers to his questions about how the food was produced:

we do nothing to the cattle; they are born and stay with the herd their entire life (until their one bad day). The cattle have only pasture and hay, nothing else (no finishing on grain). The chickens are truly free-range and are fed certified organic grains. They also have happy days with no other inputs from us (well I do pat them and our son hugs them). The vegetables are from organic seed if we can source it, and we only fertilize with manure from our animals. No herbicides, no pesticides, just lots of mulch and weeding.’

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Investing in Food Security: Opportunities for Canadian Investors

Note: Originally posted on the Responsible Investment Association (RIA) website.

Guest post by Peter Chapman, Executive Director, SHARE

Building Sustainable Food Systems in Canada: A Role for Investors, was released by the Shareholder Association for Research & Education (SHARE), a leading Canadian responsible investment organization. The report was funded by Canadian philanthropic foundations including the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

Dried corn plants in Nebraska. Source: AP.

Looking outside at the last few hardy frost-rimed vegetables in my garden, the forces at work are easy to comprehend: freezing temperatures and failing daylight hours. But for institutional investors, the risks and opportunities embedded in our food systems are less obvious. So too are the connections between long-term investment returns and the resilience, sustainability and accessibility of food systems. Building Sustainable Food Systems in Canada: A Role for Investors, a new paper from the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), takes aim at broadening our understanding of these issues.

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Carbonated Food

Beth-2014-1The contribution of food production, processing, distribution, and consumption to our global carbon emissions has been a matter of concern and debate since we began worrying about climate change. And more of our food is ‘carbonated’ than Coke and Pepsi: food systems are responsible for somewhere between a fifth and a third of global greenhouse gas emissions[1].

Much of these emissions come from agriculture, although the contribution of transportation, refrigeration, consumer practices, and waste management is growing. Food companies can take steps to reduce their carbon footprint – and many are. A recently released report by Foundation grantee Climate Smart highlights what 77 food companies in BC have done to cut carbon, including Left Coast Naturals (a distribution company), Van Houtte coffee, Recycling Alternatives (biofuel recycling) and Tacofino food trucks. (more…)