by Hendrik Beune
My previous article was an introduction to the three basic tenets of sustainability: care for the planet (limit pollution, maintain resources), care for people (our community and others), fair share (don’t take more than you need, recycle, and don’t waste). I emphasized the importance of supporting local production and local markets as a means of stimulating the local economy and creating a healthy community. Our world is a place of abundance, but natural systems are being eroded very quickly by corporate unsustainable practices led by greed. Remediation, therefore, should be our first order of practice, which leads me to a discussion of markets and food security.
The most obvious remediation tactic is to revise our vision of “fair share.” In terms of food security, this means that everyone, regardless of income, has the right to access nutritious food produced in a sustainable way. In doing so, we also must remind ourselves that we are not the ultimate masters of the universe; we have to live in harmony with what nature provides.
Fortunately, many of us have become aware of how important sustainable food systems are, but because of increased inequality many of us have become alienated as well. My objective here is to convince my readership that supporting your local food producer is worthwhile—even though it may cost more, but actually less in the long run—and that alternative economies exist to involve all of us, even those with very little money, in a healthy lifestyle.
Get to know the people in your community. Get to know your local producers at the farmers market and establish a relationship with them. Support “village” initiatives within the city and create community by attending community meetings and sharing healthy meals together. Promote community economic development as an antidote to gentrification, by shopping and hiring locally. Help to create community that is accessible to and involves everyone. Say hello to the people you meet and show some interest in their lives. Collaborate more and focus on the shared common good.
Historically, healthy mixed communities allow an opportunity for everyone to have a right to meaningful work (‘right livelyhood’). By this I mean that everyone should be able to do what they can within the community to the best of their ability. We have to promote inclusion to have healthy mixed societies.
At the farmers market, we have to pay more for food than at the supermarket because it is produced in a sustainable way.
Many people live below the poverty line due to no fault of their own and many people are able to live well above that level, not because they worked so much harder, but because of privilege. Ultimately, it’s important for everyone to share and become aware of how people from many walks of life can access sustainable food.
Having access to healthy, fresh foods makes a huge difference to health, but sometimes it can be hard to access these nutritious necessities. The Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program provides lower-income families and seniors who are enrolled in cooking and skill-building programs with coupons each week to spend at their local farmers market. The program operates across B.C. and, as of this year, includes 47 communities. To learn more, check the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets website.
Other programs exist as well. The Cedar Cottage Food Network hosts six Mobile Produce Markets per month at different locations in East Vancouver. The markets provide fresh fruits and vegetables to community members at wholesale cost. The produce is local and organic wherever possible, and aims to reduce barriers to accessing fresh produce, such as limited income, physical mobility, and lack of transportation.
In most communities there are some organizations, essentially producer-consumer co-ops, that provide food baskets of locally produced foods through previously arranged purchasing agreements with local farmers. Such agreements, where the consumer purchases a share in the production of a farm are known as “Farm Links” or Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs); these arrangements can be made directly with a farmer or through a local producer-consumer co-op.
More and more people are turning their yards into tiny urban farms. At the same time, there is also more pressure being put on municipalities to plant fruit-bearing trees and berry bushes instead of ornamentals.
Urban fruit harvesting has become another aspect of food solidarity and food security. Gleaning and garden assistance organizations are helping the hungry all over Canada. Local organizations, such as the Vancouver and Richmond Fruit Tree Projects, specialize to help harvest and distribute surplus ripe fruits.
Many urban farms such as the Hastings Urban Farm provide opportunities for the low-income community to become involved in the operation of the farm and they will also provide produce on a “pay-what-you-can” sliding scale basis. Bartering is another way to obtain fresh produce without using money and you will see this system in action at many farmers markets, where vendors will barter their product in exchange for another.
As the farmers markets are about to close for the day, perishables are often offered to the public for a greatly reduced price, for example two loaves of bread, or two bunches of flowers for the price of one. It’s common practice, so don’t be afraid to ask for and take advantage of these bargains! Some people have approached their local grocery stores to give them their surplus or soon-to-expire products for use in community kitchens or for distribution to the needy. One such organization, which operates out of my building at Woodward’s, is called the ‘Poor People’s Resource Society’ (PPRS).
If you know the way, there is no reason why anyone should be without good, nutritious food. To enhance food security, I recommend that you do what you can at the individual level and support programs that are made available through the insight of people to reduce waste and enhance equality of food access.