“Fruit is nature’s purest and most immediate enjoyment, requiring nothing more than a rinse or simple rub on your shirt to clean it. From the fruit-eater’s point of view, it’s effortless pleasure. It demands non of the slicing, chopping soaking, or parboiling needed by vegetables. Even on a chemical level, its energy is more accessible, more mobile, with no complex starches to break down.” (MK Wyle in Greenhorns: The next generation of American Farmers, pg 97)
This will come as a surprise to no one, connecting to nature creates improved well-being. Research has repeatedly shown that sensory gardens and the practice of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing practiced in Japan), for example, have direct positive effects on emotional, cognitive and physiological well-being. So when I came upon a recent article from the Washington Post extolling the wonders and scientifically-proven benefits of involving children in gardening: building microbiomes, better attention skills and patience, trying the fruit and vegetables they helped to nurture along and growing happier and healthier kids overall, I wanted to share it and add to it. In my opinion, not only is growing food good for the individual, it is good for community and humanity; developing understanding, empathy, and compassion are direct side-effects of growing and sharing food.
It is encouraging to see that growing food as a family is becoming more common, again. As we pat ourselves on the back for reaching this get-back-in-the-garden milestone, it is important to remember that most of the world (other than North America) still grows its own food, as well as the food to satiate the ever expanding North American appetite. Families used to grow their own food in North America and Europe in the not-so-distant past. It’s what they needed to do in order to have something to eat. It’s important to not forget that growing our own food is not a new lofty ideal, it is imperative for health, food security and environmental regeneration.
In a recent book I read, Greenhorns: The next generation of American farmers, 50 new generation farmers discussed their modern day challenges with feeding the North American inflated expectations that fly directly in the face of growing food naturally and in sync with nature.
“In our supermarket culture, fruit has become so visual, so linked to beauty and perfection, that people ignore the fundamental paradox of modern fruit production – high levels of chemical are the cost of unscathed, ‘perfect-looking’ fruit. In pursuit of this ideal, we’ve lost a sense of what good fruit might actually look like, cosmetic imperfections and all.” (pg 98)
I am a huge advocate of growing our own food, regenerating soil, getting the whole family involved in the process, sharing the food we grow with neighbours and others who face food insecurity.
I am a big believer in ‘real food is medicine‘ – preventative medicine. The more we are in tune with Nature and eat what Nature provides, the more we may improve our body’s functioning, mental clarity and overall well-being.
If you are not able to grow your own, support those who can and who are growing their own.
Teach your whole family to be a part of the locally sourced, regenerative gardening/farming and organic food solution in what ever way, big or small. Teach your children about the importance of healthy soil, rampant food insecurity and how to create meaningful change in this world.
Food Politics is one of my favorite blogs out there. It addresses the business that the food we eat truly is. Marion Nestle suggested a great read on her blog today about the development of Urban Food Policy – it’s about time.
Enjoy her brief blog post and links and pick up the book “What Makes Urban Food Policy Happen?” that highlights five successful urban policy case studies from around the world.
This book is a must read for those (like me) who want to create an Urban Food Policy in every town – rethinking the way we grow, transport, process and buy food.
Now that May is half over and all our garden beds have been filled with vegetables, fruit and herbs, it is time to pause and take stock of what is actually growing and to reflect on why we are growing our own and sharing it with others.
This is our front yard. We decided to trade our weed-filled front lawn for six 4′ by 8′ raised garden beds filled with organic soil and home-made compost.
This is our experiment. We want to know how much food we can grow and whether this set up can provide enough for our family of five for a 22 week growing period and beyond.
My hope is that we grow enough produce for our family AND to share with our neighbours as well as those who face household food insecurity in our community.
Read more about our front yard urban garden project here.
Not enough nutritious food on the table even though paychecks are coming in? Yes, this does exist in Canada. It is worse in some parts, such as the Northern Territories where two-thirds of children have very limited access to nutritious foods.
On Vancouver Island, where we live, research shows that 25 per cent of families experience some form of household food insecurity and have difficulty putting nutritious meals on the table as their money runs out long before their next paycheck.
Malnutrition in children and adults leads to poor health and mental health outcomes. Developmental difficulties as well as chronic conditions are directly linked to household food insecurity and increased health care costs.
Read more about Household Food Insecurity here.
Nutritious foods sold in ‘Farm Stores’ and Farmers’ Markets are expensive and out of reach for many working families and individuals attempting to manage chronic conditions through better nutrition.
Read more about Household Food Insecurity here.
These challenges are real. They are also opportunities. Growing our own as a way to gain independence and create greater food security in our community is indeed a revolutionary act. Thankfully, there are many people around the world engaged in such subversive grassroots action. Our family is on a mission to Grow, Share and Thrive.
This is our first year. Our total investment in this front yard urban garden was $1600 CND. This is two months worth of groceries for us. I know that this seems like a large sum (we saved and used many creative shortcuts). But this is a one time investment. Next year, our own compost and saved seeds will decrease the cost significantly. I see this as an investment that will pay off in the long run and benefit many.
My hope is to help others set up similar operations in their front yards; to provide them with free seeds, free seedlings, free compost (or help them create their own compost), to help them put together garden beds the most cost-effective way possible as well as an easy drip watering system that saves time and money.
I am heartened that people are interested in what we are doing. This year, we were able to give our neighbours tomato and strawberry seedlings as well as unused seeds to help them start their own urban gardens. Naturally, the biggest barrier to growing one’s own is time.
We specifically set up our urban operation to be non-time consuming. Once seeds and plants are in place, it’s water tap on, water tap off. Done.
Want to start your own urban garden? Read more about how to get started here.
Get even more inspiration for growing your own here.
Cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, radishes, peas, beans, spinach, lettuce, cucumber, squashes of all sorts, watermelon, strawberries, sorrel, garlic, cabbage as well as 32 different herbs and perennials.
Here are some pepper blossoms. They are so delicate. We started the seeds for these from an organic green pepper we purchased at a local store (one way to get seeds). We started the seeds in used organic coffee grounds on our kitchen counter.
They start out so little.
Here is some dwarf kale.
Cauliflower which loved the cooler, damp weather that we had until yesterday when the sun found us.
This is a Gala Apple Tree. We got the seed from an store bought apple and started it in used organic coffee grounds on our counter. It’s two feet tall now. We have three of these started and have high hopes for adding to our fruit forest in our backyard.
These wonderful Cherry Belle Radishes are almost ready to be harvested.
Our first strawberry. Small but sweet and juicy.
My favorite flowers of all time with the fuzziest leaves ever are back. Borage has reseeded itself and is now growing wildly in all garden beds. The start-shaped flowers are wonderful for bees as they refill with nectar every 2 minutes. Another great nectar producer is Comfrey which refills every 45 minutes.
The fuzzy leaves of this plant are very edible and when I’m out of spinach, I substitute borage leaves when making palak paneer.
All photography by Jane Grueber
When it comes to urban gardening and urban farming, it is clear that there is a lot going on.
“For the reasons of personal health, personal empowerment and the simple joy of growing, every person in every city needs the opportunity to grow at least some of their own food.” ~ Paul Peacock, author of The Urban Farmer’s Handbook
For those who are thinking about starting your own urban garden or even farm, here are a few books that are essential reads. They are filled with much inspiration and down right practical advice on how to get started and what to do with all those crops. I love these books. Our local library carries them and now they are a permanent part of my growing urban garden library.
In addition, community and non-profit groups are also essential for pushing change and working toward a more sustainable future. Want to get involved or start your own? Here are some excellent examples of the food revolution:
“More of us are rethinking how and where food can be grown, leading to a surge in innovation and ingenuity. It;s a movement toward simplification and getting back to the land while incorporating modern technology to facilitate the process. The challenge is how to optimize this on a functional, daily basis. Modern life is too full-full of possessions, activities, news, and information. We have electronic screens in our homes, our offices, our cars, and even our pockets. Everywhere we turn, advertisements tout products that we ‘need’ to make us happy and fulfilled…More and more, people are seeking less and less-fewer objects, fewer activities, less (or at least better) news, more concise information.” ~ Kelly Wood, author of Urban Farm Projects: Making the Most of your Money, Space, and Stuff
“Food should be free. If I do my part I should hope that this planet of ours will sustain me. Indeed, experience says that it does, particularly in a climate that is neither too hot nor too cold, and has plenty of water. But I can hardly take advantaged of it because I am poor, although in the west I am comparatively well off.” ~ Paul Peacock, author of The Urban Farmer’s Handbook
“Urban farming is a way for people of all income levels to eat fresh, local, organic food. I knew that I didn’t have enough money to buy organic produce or meat, and so I decided to raise it myself…Due to low incomes and lack of access to grocery stores, urban people fail to get the healthy nutrition they need. A few packets of seeds costing less than twenty dollars can produce enough vegetables for a years worth of eating.” ~ Novella Carpenter, co-author of The Essential Urban Farmer
‘Government has its role, but all deep change starts with changing our own thoughts and actions. We each make daily choices about what we eat, and we each have the power to change those choices. Governments, corporations, farmers, grocery stores, school cafeterias and restaurants all respond to the aggregated demand of individual people. When we change, they will too.” ~ Peter Lander, author of The Urban Food Revolution
One of my favorite how-to gardening books for children and their adults is Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy. It is a source of wonderful inspiration where everyone’s imagination can soar.
Involving children in the process of cultivating a garden, growing their own food, understanding the necessary elements involved in growing successfully is really sowing seeds of knowledge and skill that last a lifetime.
“Twenty years ago on a sizzling hot day, I watched a grown-up teach a small group of children about gardening. The kids fidgeted and looked longingly toward the playground. They barely heard the teacher’s instructions as he said, ‘Dig a square of soil, mark some straight rows with string, drop each seed into a hole, cover, water and move on to the next row.’
I wanted to dive into the midst of the kids and share with them the countless miracles that could be found in a garden. And how every seed held the promise of flowers and fruits and all their attendant critters. I vowed then to someday write and illustrate a book that not only instructed, but also opened the eyes of both grown-ups and children to the many wonders in their own backyard.” ~ Sharon Lovejoy, pg xii
This book guides you through making a bee hive for Mason Bees, growing a pizza patch, bean tunnels, a night blooming garden, throwing Mother Nature’s Tea Party, creating Harvest Treats for the Birds and Bees, making a Sunflower Playhouse, brewing some Moth Broth, building a worm bin, creating a compost sandwich, making gifts from the garden and so much more. I absolutely adore this book and refer to it often.
My hope is to one day have a piece of land to grow food and create a space with flowery mazes and sunflower homes for everyone in our community to enjoy. Perhaps all communities would benefit from creating functional, edible and playful spaces for people to gather, share and thrive. Connecting deeply with nature through an activity such as gardening restores balance; nature is the ultimate healer.
Sharon Lovejoy’s idea to use tall flowers as supports for other flowers to wind around got my creative juices going. I want to grow a ‘house of flowers’ for children and adults to while away their warm summer days enveloped in the sensory parade of grass and a rainbow of fragrant flowers, all creating a cool shelter within. Perhaps they can snack on the vegetables straight from the garden, too.
Here is an illustration of my plan. There are others out there, a ‘tent’ made with simple sticks tied together at the top with a wide, round base (think upside down cone) with flowers climbing all over the structure. I want to try tying fallen branches together to form a sort of lattice hut that supports a ‘curtains of flowers’.
In addition to creating this shelter, I know that our front yard garden will need some shade from the relentless summer sun as well as an attractive aesthetic. We need to create natural shade for some of the vegetables that enjoy the heat but not the direct sun. To achieve this, we have Kong Sunflowers to plant around the entire garden a couple feet apart, tie strings from one Kong to another (once it’s grown) and grow leafy climbers such as Morning Glory or others up the Kong and hopefully across on the string.
It is all an experiment and who knows where it will all lead. But without plans and dreams, where would the future be?
All photography by Jane Grueber.
See more my photo gallery here.
Where we live, a shovel going into the soil does not make it far. The clang of rocks and a sudden stop don’t make the ground a hospitable place for growing food without much augmentation and work to get the soil conditions right. I am not the patient type.
RELATED: Read more about our Urban Garden Project here.
My wonderful husband was charged with creating raised garden beds for our front lawn so that we could start our urban garden all on a Colt 45 budget. He went to the local saw mill and purchased 36 – 1 by 6 inch rough-sawn red cedar boards and five 4 by 4 inch posts (dimensional posts). In a couple of days, he built six 4 by 8 foot garden beds at a cost of $42 dollars each. The average retail price is over $200 dollars each.
Although I filled the first garden bed with our own compost as well as purchased organic compost, it took a lot of dirt to fill one garden bed. To fill the other five, we will order some organic manure and soil from a local supplier.
Starting a garden this size is certainly an investment in the future. We have done it with budget at the front-of-mind. Sourcing wood directly from a local saw mill (there are plenty here on Vancouver Island), purchasing half-dead annuals and perennials at hugely discounted prices and using saved seeds from last year’s gardening exploits.
I have to admit I invested in some amazing medicinal herbs/vegetables from a local farm – Hazelwood Herb Farm. They are mostly perennials:
Upon the suggestion of Hazelwood Herb Farm, I ordered a copy of Jekka’s Complete Herb Book and await its arrival so that I can learn more about the world of medicinal herbs. If I’m going to grow all this stuff, it behooves me to know what it’s for, right?
All that money and effort will hopefully pay off over the next 5 to 10 years as the perennials become established and annuals reseed themselves. I am motivated by the hope and promise of fresh, organically grown produce, including culinary and medicinal herbs. My sense of joy and inspiration are renewed with all the possibilities growing (or about to grow) in our urban garden.
Our first raised garden bed now contains the following seeds and plants started on April 5, 2017:
“As there is enough food in the world, hunger is a result of political decisions. Food insecurity results from ineffective policies (social, agricultural, economic and health) at local, national and global levels and from decisions which do not consider the elimination of poverty, hunger, and food insecurity, and the development of sustainable food systems to be priority issues.”
~Laura Kalina in Building Food Security in Canada: From Hunger to Sustainable Food Systems: A Community Guide 2nd edition.
It is possible that all we need to sustain, nourish and heal grows on this planet. Equitable access to produce and food that has been grown or raised without off farm inputs is, in my opinion, a fundamental right, not a privilege reserved for those who can afford it. The United Nations has stated their position as such for a long time. Seventy years, in fact.
A 2016 report from an interdisciplinary research team at the University of Toronto (PROOF), Ontario, Canada worked with the British Columbia Provincial Health Ministry to determine what factors contribute to poor health and poor health outcomes in British Columbia.
They used information gathered from self-report Community Wellness Surveys (completed 2005-2012) to evaluate various factors affecting overall population health including mental health and physical health.
They found that one (of several) indicator linked to poor health outcomes was Household Food Insecurity – ‘households not being able to afford the nutritious food they need to either maintain good health or successfully manage chronic health conditions.'(1)
The following 13 minute video beautifully sums up PROOF’s research findings regarding Household Food Insecurity in Canada. One of the researchers, Valerie Tarasuk, tells it like it is and it ain’t pretty.
My hope is that health professionals, allied health professionals, social workers, teachers, early childhood educators and others who work with families watch this video and take into consideration the seemingly innocuous, yet very real factors that affect ‘best possible outcomes’ when it comes to health and well-being.
Before pointing fingers and exclaiming NIMBY, PROOF found that 65 percent of people in British Columbia (and Canada) who could not afford to put balanced and nutritious meals on the table were working families.
The provincial health authority with the highest rate of food insecurity in British Columbia was the Vancouver Island Health Authority with food insecurity rates at 25 percent. Most numbers across British Columbia and Canada (with the exception of the Northern Territories which are significantly worse) hovered just over 10 percent.
Given the significant implications of undernourishment, these numbers should be concerning. It is alarming that children living in Central Vancouver Island are almost twice as likely to have communication and cognitive difficulties as children living on mainland BC. Adults and children are also more likely to have chronic illnesses and life expectancy is just below the BC average.
Are these poor health outcomes the result of higher rates of food insecurity? According to PROOF’s research, the higher the food insecurity, the poorer the health outcomes. In their report, they specifically state that “food security is fundamental and necessary for healthy eating” (pg. 4).
They go on to discuss the potential health and social challenges that may arise from household food insecurity:
Birth outcomes and maternal health – poor nutrition during pregnancy can have a negative impact on both mother and infant.
Child development – among Canadian children and youth, food insecurity is associated with iron deficiency anemia and has been linked to the subsequent development of a variety of chronic conditions, including asthma and depression. According to PROOF, A Quebec study observed a two-fold increase in the likelihood of persistent hyperactivity/inattention among children eight years old and younger who experienced food insecurity between ages one and a half and four and a half years, even after accounting for family socioeconomic circumstances and parental mental health. In central Vancouver Island, preschool children were almost twice as likely as children from the rest of BC to be at risk for poor communication and cognitive outcomes (language delay, reading, writing and numeracy skills) based on the Vancouver Island Local Area Profile from 2014.
Health Status and Chronic Diseases – food insecure individuals report higher levels of poor or fair self-rated health, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, food allergies. In Central Vancouver Island the top two causes of death were due to disease related to the circulatory system, and due to diseases of the arteries/arterioles/capillaries, ischaemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease/ stroke, respectively.
Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being – food insecurity can increase the likelihood of depression and social isolation and is an independent risk factor for depression and suicidal symptoms in adolescents and early adulthood. Again, in Central Vancouver Island, mental health services use was well above average for BC.
Health Care Costs – in addition to poorer health outcomes, recent research in Ontario shows increased health care costs associated with food insecurity. According to PROOF, after adjusting for education and income, total annual health care costs in Ontario were higher for adults living in food insecure households compared to those living in food secure household. Specifically, for marginally food insecure household, health care costs were up 23 percent, for moderately food insecure households, 49 percent and for those household who experienced severe food insecurity the cost of health care went up 121 percent. Food insecurity has also been show to increase the probability that adults will become high-cost health care users.
The report goes on to discuss the monthly cost of food for families of four. The numbers indicate that low-income families would have to spend two-thirds of their income to afford ‘nutritious’ food.
There is an interesting paradox on Vancouver Island. The island is filled with much beauty. Farmers grow wonderful biodynamic food, not all are organic certified because the hoop jumping and associated costs are too much. Farmers’ markets abound, some seasonal and some year round. Organic food can be delivered to the front door. Some wonderful food is grown year round in shipping containers.
Fresh vegetables, herbs, free range eggs and chickens, jams, berries, apples, plums, pears and honey, just to name a few foods, can be acquired at quaint farm stands at the end of long driveways.
Some chain grocery stores buy and sell locally grown food first and ‘Community Farm’ stores are gaining more traction.
Fifty years ago, 80 percent of the food grown on Vancouver Island was sold on Vancouver Island. Today, that number is estimated to lie between 5 to 10 percent. Local farmers who have been around for a while will tell you about this phenomenon. Perhaps things are coming full circle.
Interestingly, all this abundant food is largely inaccessible or not accessed by people living in food insecure households. Although food continues to be reasonably priced at local farm stands, the farm stands are less than accessible for families and individuals who face financial shortages, serious and chronic health conditions and struggle to put food on the table. They often cannot afford to own a vehicle or the insurance to go with it.
To make matters more confusing, places that claim to carry local food or source locally such as ‘community farm stores’ and farmers’ markets offer nutritious food but at such high prices (between one to two-thirds more than chain grocery stores) making fresh, local food virtually inaccessible even if households ‘budget’ or make a deliberate ‘choice’ to buy local food as much as possible.
People on Vancouver Island, at times, resort to social media to request food donations for their families due to financial shortages as well as on behalf of ailing spouses or family members who want to use real food to attempt to reverse or stabilize their chronic or terminal conditions but cannot afford to do so.
Community development, new policies and advocacy are needed to address both the economic and social conditions of food insecure households. Since the food system affects us all in some way, we all need to be involved in finding lasting solutions to food insecurity. This is a given.
Access to good food for those who need it (such as those who are attempting to manage chronic conditions) is a complex issue and I certainly do not claim to have the solutions. But I believe that public awareness is a first step.
I wonder if the new way to feed people in our communities is to stop treating food as a commodity subject to market economics where a few big companies are winners and many individuals and communities are the losers. Food is a necessity, not a privilege.
What if we grew food in the public realm where anyone could access it on a regular basis for free or minimal donation? Perhaps this doesn’t sound good for farmers; however, as the research shows, people living in food insecure households are not their target demographic anyway so my thoughts and ideas neither undermine their ventures nor take away their customers.
What if we made the conscious decision to grow food in the public realm in the form of community gardens or school gardens? Used islands and verges, gleaned food and were creative in how we got that food to the people who needed it most. If we live in extreme climates, we could grow food indoors (in malls, churches, community halls, seniors’ centers, recreation centers, resource centers, women’s shelters, windowsills) or in shipping containers.
The possibilities to provide nutritious food to those who need it are endless. It is a conscious choice that we must make as a society to feed everyone adequately. Let’s make sustainable food systems and food security our priority issue.
I’m always looking for ways to get creative in the garden. Yesterday, we dug up the center island on our street – kids with shovels, me with shovels of compost (created naturally from the fallen leaves of the various bushes and shrubs in our front yard) and seeds everywhere – it was a sight to behold. Especially since the area looked like a mole’s dream or a mammoth’s worst nightmare.
The children enjoyed digging up the very sandy and firmly packed soil from years of snow and sand being packed on it. Once the soil was a bit looser, it was time to add some much needed compost.
Here is the finished product for now. We planted some primroses as well as sunflower, lupin, nasturtium and hollyhock seeds. As always, the rain began to fall at just the right time. The plan is to add a watering station for bees in the next phase of development.
Once the weather gets a bit warmer, my plan is to start growing culinary and medicinal herbs for the neighbourhood to share. How nice would it be to run out of the house, snip a few stems of fresh oregano or thyme for soup?
All photographs by Jane Grueber Copyright 2016 & 2017
Please see my Photo Gallery here.
All photographs by Jane Grueber Copyright 2017
Here we go. Finally the time has come to get our food garden plans underway on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It is so wonderful to see people sharing their joy of growing food on social media. Their joy and enthusiasm are highly contagious and fill me with inspiration for 2017. I am inspired by the principles of Permaculture (being fully aware that it is so much more than ‘gardening’) and appreciate Geoff Lawton’s inclusive invitation to his Permaculture Circle to those who are just starting out or perma-curious as well as those for whom it’s old hat.
Last year, we started growing our own food in our back and side yard for fun. It was a way to show our three kids where food comes from and how to grow it. After seeing and tasting the results of what benign neglect in a garden can produce, I was eager to grow more of our own. Our front lawn has a usable area of about 360 square feet (9 feet by 40 feet). We have planted fruit shrubs among the existing decorative bushes and trees and it is now time to turn the grass into a vegetable garden.
Read more about our Front Yard Urban Garden Project here.
This year, we have decided to conduct an experiment in our very sunny front yard which has thus far been a haven for weeds, dandelions and moss. The plan is to set up garden beds using compost, yard ‘waste’ and mulch to grow vegetables, herbs and companion plants in semi-accordance with Permaculture principles that I have managed to glean from various sources.
On a side note, our fenced backyard is well on its way to becoming a self-sustaining fruit forest (tall native fruit trees, native fruit shrubs underneath, perennial herbs and flowers, etc.) where the deer and bears can’t get at them while still affording some room for three young kids to roam.
Read more about inspiring examples of Urban Agriculture here.
At the end of this experiment, I want to be able to answer the following questions:
Read more about Creating Food Security in your small circle here.
With six 8 foot by 4 foot garden beds to fill (to be built), we decided to start a few plants in the house now. We will start more in about 3 weeks in order to stretch the yield over a longer period of time. Last year, I put everything in at once and felt the consequences of feast and famine later.
My hope is that once the weather gets warmer in April, these seedling will be ready to go.
We also have plenty of seeds saved from last year which will go directly into the ground.
This is what we planted so far:
As a citizen of the planet and a urban gardener, I want to talk about a major public health, social justice and human rights issue that lies at the core of a healthy population: Food Security. It is knowing you have enough money to buy nutritious food on a consistent basis.
The Food Insecurity Policy Research Team also known as PROOF based out of the University of Toronto and the British Columbia Provincial Health Services Authority worked together to create a document titled, “Priority health equity indicators for British Columbia: Household Food Insecurity Indicator Report“, published in August 2016.
Information gathered about food security in BC was based on the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) completed in four survey cycles from 2005 to 2011. Limited access to nutrient-dense food is one of 52 ‘health equity’ indicators the BC Provincial Health Services Authority identified.
They concluded that policy does have significant and measurable impact on the overall health of a population and that current policies (which fund charitable organizations but do not directly address food insecurity or the food system) must somehow change.
Is the data provided by PROOF compelling and meaningful enough to the public and those in government to create policy changes? Death by famine lacks drama and so does the topic of having enough healthy food to eat as a way to prevent some chronic illnesses.
There are currently no direct policies to address food insecurity or hunger in Canada even though the world has been talking about food security as a basic human right for almost 70 years:
In 1998, Canada rolled out its action plan for food security:
Canada’s Action Plan for Food Security is Canada’s response to the World Food Summit (WFS) commitment made by the international community to reduce by half the number of undernourished people no later than the year 2015. … The WFS Plan of Action contains seven commitments, which also form the backbone of this document.
In 2016, household food insecurity continued to rise and reliance on charitable food organizations increased (although such statistics grossly underestimate the extent of the problem because as PROOF’s research has shown only 1 in 4 people who are food insecure actually access food banks). Food banks and other such organizations understand they are bridging the gap that exists between people’s needs and the lack of advocacy and cohesive policy solutions.
Google food insecurity in Canada and you will not find blog posts, articles or social commentaries on this pressing issue, although food insecurity affects everyone in some way. Not many people are getting hot under the collar about the cost to the healthcare system due to increasing need for chronic disease treatment.
Talk to your neighbours, friends, or strangers. Your conversations may reveal what PROOF discovered through regression analysis. Many Canadians who are bringing in household income are struggling to put balanced meals on the table because they have debt, children, high mortgage payments, and high utility bills. Some are caring for elderly parents while others are starting over again later in life. These re-starters are struggling to bridge the gap between now and the age when they can begin to draw a guaranteed basic income. Some are university educated professionals, others are self-employed and some are people on parental leave who don’t get “top ups” to their Employment Insurance benefits.
One in 6 Canadian children are estimated to be food insecure. In the northern territories of Canada, 2 in 3 children are food insecure (60%). 12.4% of households in Canada don’t have consistent access to nutritious food through regular means. Please note that most data gathered by the Canadian Community Health Survey is about teens and adults.
In the US, 1 in 4 children are estimated to be food insecure. Of the 42.2 million people who are food insecure, 13.1 million are children. 13% of households don’t have consistent access to nutritious food.
For comparison, this graph is reprinted from the original article by Anna Taylor and Rachel Loopstra written for The Food Foundation titled “Too Poor To Eat: Food Insecurity in the UK”. An estimated 8.4 million people experience household insecurity on a daily basis in the UK.The European countries with the lowest levels of food insecurity were Sweden (3.1%), Germany (4.3%) and Denmark (4.9%). The highest rates were measured in Lithuania (19.6%), Romania (18.9%) and Greece (17.2%).
PROOF gathered important information and data to guide discussions to address food insecurity. The policies of countries with the lowest food insecurity rates can serve as examples and guides for our policy makers. When debating the latest changes to the Canadian Food Guide, several politicians turned to Brazil’s latest Food Guidelines as an example of progressive change Canada should adopt.
It seems that we are still far from discussing policy options regarding food security. But there is no time like now to increase public awareness, help people understand the significant implications of this public health issue and to demand specific policies to reverse rising food insecurity trends.
My sense is that improving fair and equitable access to food is a complex issue that needs a complete shift in our current way of thinking and the collaboration of many.
Here are some suggestions that I’ve been reading and thinking about:
Food security is an issue near and dear to my heart. Although I live in Canada, not all our citizens have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life at all times.
Food security is not just a poverty issue. It is a much larger issue that involves the whole food system and affects everyone in some way.
As consumers, do we think about what is in the food we buy? How it is grown? Who is involved in growing it? Where the food comes from? Who can afford it?
Can we support local, small-scale farmers who produce food in sustainable ways?
Can local, small-scale farming feed a projected world population of 9 Billion people by 2050?
It is a myth that world hunger is due to scarcity of food. We need to rethink how we are going to feed the human race.
“The existence of food security insecurity in a wealthy country like Canada is not accidental. It is the result of policies created by different government sectors, including social, agricultural, economic, and health. For example, in the social policy sector, food insecurity is created by both reduction in social assistance rates and restrictive eligibility criteria.” ~ Laura Kalina, R.D.N. M. Ad. Ed. Building Food Security in Canada: From Hunger to Sustainable Food Systems: A Community Guide (2002)
I just finished reading Invisible North: The Search for Answers on a Troubled Reserve by Alexandra Shimo, published in 2016
This book is about the ‘fourth world’ conditions that exist on many Aboriginal reserves in the Canadian North. Alexandra is a journalist and former MacLean’s Magazine editor who visited the Kashechewan Reserve in Northern Ontario to report on a water crisis. She walked away a changed woman and with a real story to tell. As Alexandra Shimo lays out in her book, food security and racialized poverty are major issues.
She demonstrates how high level political and economic policies play out in the daily lives of aboriginal people. Alexandra’s book gives a hard and honest look at the disparity that exists and the barriers (historic, political, social, economic) faced by aboriginal people almost every step of the way.
Despite Canada’s 1998 Action Plan for Food Security, equal access to nutrient dense food is far from reality.
This book is a fascinating and sobering read from start to finish. Alexandra skillfully wove her personal experience and journalistic hunt for the truth about e.coli water contamination with the harsh reality of daily life, politics, food security and the arm’s length control by Ottawa.
The following is an excerpt from Invisible North: The Search for Answers on a Troubled Reserve about Alexandra’s first grocery shopping experience in Kash.
“At the fruit and veggie section, a bunch of grapes (seventy-nine grams or about one hundred grapes) costs $13.42, a bag of apples (three pounds of golden delicious) is $15.29, and a single head of red cabbage is $12.89. The prices don’t reflect the quality: the veggies are dry or browning, and some of the meat is pat its sell-by date…Mostly I’ve bought mac and cheese, pasta , and tuna fish…I stand nervously at the checkout and nervously watch the numbers spiral upward. My first grocery bill comes to $342.57…Fuck, I think. How do people survive on the $383 monthly welfare?” ~ Alexandra Shimo
Invisible North: The Search for Answers on a Troubled Reserve by Alexandra Shimo