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WENDY ELLIOTT: Increasing food security nurtures community connections

Soon, peaches will begin growing on the trees in this orchard in Greenwich.
Soon, peaches will begin growing on the trees in this orchard in Greenwich. - Wendy Elliott

Buying carrots from Israel is not at the top of my shopping list any time of year, but that’s what one local farm market is selling currently. Even when root crops aren’t at their prime in the spring, buying at least Canadian carrots is a priority for me.

We all have issues and concerns around food and food security, so it’s been interesting recently to spend two sessions with a concerned group of local people drilling down on this topic.

Provincial health authority staff brought us together May 8 and again on May 28 to talk about things like gleaning vegetables, agri-tourism, ugly produce and how to advocate for better food security. We came up with all kinds of ideas.

The formation of a community food council and education for kids around cooking skills and eating local got the most votes. I learned that there’s a precedent for these discussions elsewhere in Nova Scotia.

Actually, I had heard Inverness councillor Jim Mustard speak about food security. The notion of a Cape Breton food hub, he said, took shape between 2012-14. It began with producers and grew to include public health, fisheries, farmers markets, producers and government.

Today, the Pan Cape Breton Food Hub Co-op operates as a non-profit linking local food producers to local consumers. The food hub works with about 40 producers throughout Cape Breton Island and carries out education.

Since 2013, the Halifax Food Policy Alliance has been working to build a healthy, just and sustainable food system for the Halifax Region. Last October at the Devour Food & Film Fest, the documentary film ‘Six Primrose’ about the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre provided an excellent idea of the positive impact food connections can offer.

With a large urban garden and an industrial kitchen, the food centre supports individuals to grow, cook, buy and share health food. It’s about nurturing strength and resilience.

We already have some great innovations in the Valley. The free lunch program Sharing Our Underappreciated Produce, or SOUP, is one of them. Starting slowly over a few years, SOUP has grown into a seven-day-a-week program spread between Middleton and Wolfville.

Sarah MacDonald, a community food developer with the Canadian Mental Health Association, launched the SOUP program in 2015 to fight food insecurity. Her dream is further expansion across the province.

Former Berwick restaurateur Jenny Osburn has been struggling with how to fund free school lunches. She wants to take the conversation to another level.

Starting salad bars at two schools was a terrific start, Osburn noted because vegetable and fruit consumption went way up. Hopefully other schools will foster salad bars and more local food.

I have to mention farmers like Patricia Bishop and Josh Oulton of Taproot Farm who note on Facebook when they have crops available for gleaning. Why let the spinach and cherries rot?

The Wolfville Farmers’ Market also has some super initiatives underway.

Lindsay Clowes, who manages the WFM2Go program, speaks positively about Nourishing Food Bucks. This program works with the Wolfville Area Food Bank to identify people who would benefit from support to buy healthy produce, but would also benefit from the social engagement that is part of the market environment.

The food bank selects participants, often single moms with kids, and the market provides Market Money, during the harvest season, to participants. Using Market Money means there is no stigma attached when participants access this support.

Personally, I would like to see better quality food served in hospitals. Food is an important part of healing, but you wouldn’t know that watching trays uncovered. Toronto chef Joshna Maharaj spoke here several years ago on just that topic.

Finally, I remember the wisdom of one of our elders, Peggy Hope Simpson.

“We must protect vulnerable farmland,” she said.

“It becomes clearer with every day that N.S. will need all its farmland in the future to be able to feed itself. The day is coming when it will be uneconomic to transport food from long distances, making our ‘buy local’ just the beginning.”

It makes sense to me that a food council in this region, whatever its name becomes, could bring people together, could educate and support.

The Annapolis Valley is vital to food production in this country and there are more food-related improvements we can get excited about making.

Former Advertiser and Register reporter Wendy Elliott lives in Wolfville.

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