Food for All was a collaborative, community-based food research and action project in that happened in Ottawa, Canada between 2009-2012. It was led by Just Food and the University of Ottawa, and made possible through three years of funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Food for All contributed to community food security and a sustainable food system in Ottawa through capacity building, community-based research and action planning.
The core goals of this project were:
- Develop a FOOD ACTION PLAN for Ottawa;
- Create and test a COMMUNITY FOOD ASSESSMENT to understand food issues on a neighbourhood level;
- Build CAPACITY as a community to take action on food issues;
- Record and SHARE experiences with others.
The Food Action Plan proposals document food needs in our community, examine ways of strengthening the activities that already exist, and propose actions that we can take as a community to make our food system more just and sustainable.
There is enormous energy within the community to participate in food action and food policy initiatives. The process has been overseen by a Steering Committee comprised of representatives from community organizations, academic institutions, and others. The public has participated in multiple workshops, consultations, and policy-writing teams. Over 300 community members have participated in workshops, research, policy-writing teams, and volunteering for the Food for All project. This number will continue to grow as the work of the Ottawa Food Policy Council continues this work.
Food is a multidimensional issue that touches on issues including zoning and by-laws, economic development, community programming and services, city and rural planning, poverty reduction, and social, cultural, economic and environmental sustainability. While food production was once considered an exclusively ‘rural’ issue and consumption considered a mostly ‘urban’ issue, those lines are being blurred with the rapid loss of farmland, increased rural-to-urban migration rates, and a loss of viable urban agricultural systems. Building a food secure community requires the participation of many organizations and individuals with involvements and interests in food, such as non-profit community groups, environmental organizations, small and medium-sized food enterprises, farmers and food processors, municipal agencies, health units, and educational institutions – as well as multiple levels of government. Perhaps it is due to this complexity that few jurisdictions in Canada have a Food Policy Council or a comprehensive policy approach for tackling food issues.
Fortunately, that’s changing. At the national level, the People’s Food Policy Project engaged Canadians from coast to coast to coast in order to create a national food security strategy. At the provincial level, there are now organizations such as Sustain Ontario working towards solutions to the identified “good food gap” between rising hunger rates and declining farm incomes. Municipally, the cities of Toronto and Vancouver have created Food Policy Councils with the explicit intent of assuring greater food security in their respective jurisdictions. Other smaller municipalities are following suit across Canada.
The climate in Ottawa positively favours food policy action. A clear need for this work was identified, the expertise and capacity clearly existed and the community continues to have the excitement, interest, and energy to ensure that the results of the Food For All project will succeed over the long term.
Food for All was an iterative process: activities are planned based on academic research and evidence in the community, and then project plans respond and change based on what is learned as these plans are carried out. The project constantly evolved to reflect the needs and interests of those who are involved as well as the community at-large. Overall, Food for All emphasized an inclusive process, rigorous research and evidence based policy making, learning from what we already do well, learning from other jurisdictions, and adapting as we went. Capacity building was crucial – as a community, we are all continually learning how to participate in policy and food activities, as well as how to engage one another in this work.
The Food for All approach was inclusive and collaborative, based on the belief that everybody should be encouraged to participate and to play a role in building a better food system in Ottawa. Emphasizing the interconnectedness and complexity of the various aspects of the food system was a central aspect of the process. For example, the problem of access to affordable food was related to the problem of farmers requiring a fair return on their work: cheaper food is not necessarily a viable solution to assuring farmers of a fair income. However, solutions can be found and working collaboratively has shown to be in everybody’s best interest.
The Food For All project was grounded in community-defined values as well as in a working definition of community food security: “Community food security exists when all community residents have physical and economic access to sufficient, culturally acceptable and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs for an active and healthy life. Community food security implies community responsibility for building a local and sustainable food system that enhances everything from self-reliance to global social justice.” The values that inform the Action Plan Proposals were determined through community meetings and workshops, and include statements regarding food rights & responsibilities, diversity & inclusivity, food knowledge & skills, long-term & collective planning, and environmental, economic & social sustainability.
Whereas some jurisdictions have created ‘Food Charters’ to guide municipal food-related policies and programs, (see for example, the Toronto Food Charter or the Vancouver Food Charter) the Food For All project opted to create Action Plan Proposals. Food Charters are important values statements that raise awareness and education about food issues and form a basis for action, but in order to take this one step further, Food for All opted for a more concrete Action Plan approach so that the end result is a set of values based, action-oriented Proposals that are immediately implementable.
Action Plan Proposals
Food for All: An Ottawa Community Response – was just that, a community response to local food issues and concerns. Food for All provided the structure, supports and resources, linkages to academic researchers, community partners and organizations, and a forum to explore food issues together. The Action Plan Proposals are community solutions.
Between February and June of 2010, Food For All hosted Food Action Planning conversations to build a vision of what food in Ottawa can and should look like, identify issues that exist around food in Ottawa, come up with ideas to overcome those issues which exist, and set direction for concrete food policy action plan recommendations.
Food For All then facilitated volunteer policy writing teams. The teams were comprised of community participants who selected areas of interest and became informed about these areas of interest through a workshop series. Volunteers chose the topic or team they wished to participate in based on their own interests and expertise; all teams had access to the Policy Writing Team Toolbox provided by Food For All. The teams directed their own process, set the policy priorities based on evidence from academic research and research on other communities’ experiences, and ultimately developed a set of food Action Plan Proposals. For many volunteers, this was the very first time they had engaged in the policy process.
Community Assessment Toolkit
A community food assessment toolkit called Where’s the Food? Finding Out About Food in your Community was developed and piloted in two demographically different neighbourhoods, Sandy Hill (urban) and Fitzroy Harbour (rural). The Where’s the Food toolkit guides a group of community members through conducting research about food issues in their neighbourhood or community.