Food assessment working to improve food sustainability in Calgary

Food. The word alone will likely conjure images of fruits, vegetables or a favourite dinner into your mind.

If you’re like most people, it’s unlikely that you are thinking about where that food comes from or who takes care of it within our city.

Thankfully, the Calgary Food Committee (CFC) and office of sustainability for the City of Calgary think about these factors and are currently working on a food assessment and action plan to help people gain better knowledge about the food they eat.

The members of the project, which originally launched in 2009, are now contacting stakeholders this year as they look at various elements such as barriers and existing assets, as well as a range of food issues. They hope to use this information to identify connections and gaps within the food system.

“This project originally started as a motion to explore the role of the city municipality in our food system,” said Rebecca Newlove, a sustainability consultant for the City of Calgary.

“The research and report showed that council plays a large role in food system, and it also showed that not one place houses all the food information for the city.”

The Calgary Food Committee and City of Calgary are planning to release a food action plan.
Illustration courtesy of the City of Calgary

Since that information was collected, the city has been working with various stakeholders across Calgary to get a better understanding of the roles everyone plays in food sustainability.

“There are different stakeholders that have different contributions to food sustainability, and they have never met,” said Janet Henderson from the CFC. “This project really gets all of them together in one room so they can understand how they can help each other.”

As of now, food information in the city is housed in various locations such as the food bank, community kitchens, and local food businesses. Henderson said that by having these various stakeholders work together, they may be able to fill gaps that exist within the city’s current system.

“So for example, if a small business owner is having trouble getting rid of extra food without throwing it out, he may come to the meeting and meet someone from the food bank who will take that food,” Henderson said.

“This is a way for people to meet and connect and see how they can help each other, find similarities between what they do, and possibly work to deep the food system.”

Henderson added that the goal of the assessment is to take action.

“We don’t know what kind of information we will gather from this process, but it’s important that we work together to see that an action plan comes out of this and that we put it into effect,” she said.

The assessment is also looking at how Calgarians access food and ways to better improve that access.

“If people live in a community without a grocery store or farmers market and they don’t have a car and can’t walk over to one, that means they have to take transit to get somewhere,” Newlove said.

“And if people do have a car, that means they’re traveling whatever distance to get the food they need – we want to fix that.”

Other areas focused on in the assessment concern how many community gardens there currently are in the city, how much available land within Calgary isn’t currently being used or built on, potential sites where food production could happen, current food requirements, and how food is distributed.

“This isn’t just a city project. We’re working with the Calgary Food Committee, local businesses, farmers, health services, and city staff,” said Newlove.

“This will broaden the awareness and will have more people looking at their food sources, as well as the city system itself.”

—Andrew Hewson,
SAIT Chef instructor

Chefs are another group being used to help with the assessment, and Andrew Hewson, a chef instructor at the SAIT school of hospitality and tourism, said this information isn’t just for them.

“When it comes to food, it’s important to know the story, good or bad,” he said. “You need to know and understand it.”

Hewson encourages Calgarians to become more engaged with local food and the farmers who grow it.

“There’s a stereotype associated with local food being expensive, but even if you start a garden or participate in a community garden, you know the food, where it came from, the work that went into it, and the more we know the more we appreciate it,” Hewson said.

He added that the food assessment is important for Calgarians to consider.

“This will broaden the awareness and will have more people looking at their food sources, as well as the city system itself,” Hewson said.

The office of sustainability, along with the CFC, will be working with stakeholders throughout the next few months and will present the food assessment and action plan to city council in a couple of months.

aowen@cjournal.ca