Inspiring Initiatives in Food Justice

Graduates from the St. Lawrence College’s Sustainable Local Food certificate program discuss three exciting food justice programs.


The revival of sustainable local food systems is increasingly being recognized as not merely a marketable idea but a matter of social and environmental justice—of food justice. Critics of the industrial food system advocate that access to fresh, nutritious, local food is a human right and that a radical re-imagining of our food supply is essential.  

Last fall, students in the Sustainable Local Food certificate program at St. Lawrence College were asked to consider the many forms that food justice could take. Through online forums and independent research, the students explored the political, ecological, economic and ethical re-imagining of food. They also investigated food justice initiatives in Kingston and elsewhere and delivered inspiring stories of work on the ground.

The “Food Security and Food Justice” class is one of six required courses in an online certificate that includes classes on food policy, local food businesses and co-ops, urban agriculture and sustainable agriculture. The online, distance education format allows students to enrol from across the country and encourages networking and shared ideas. This dynamic medium, alongside a focus on community-based research, is part of what makes the certificate unique.  

Re-designing the food system is a daunting task, but that does not prevent devoted enthusiasts from chipping away at the system, one local initiative at a time. Three of the graduates from Fall 2010 “Food Security and Food Justice” course share their research explorations below. Although attuned to specific regions, these case studies are offered as inspiration to other communities.

—Melissa Benner

Food Accessibility: Working Together to Put Food on the Table

Guelph – by Angelica Nef

With a growing number of citizens in Guelph-Wellington experiencing frustration over heightened food insecurity, and the inability of the dominant system to adequately fulfill their needs, advocates of the poor began to network and organize.  This mobilization, coinciding with local developments such as the establishment of the Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable,  the development of community gardens by neighbourhood groups, and the success of the Guelph-Wellington Local Food initiative, led Community Development Worker Sonia Singh-Waraich to form Guelph-Wellington’s own version of a food roundtable.  

The Guelph-Wellington Food Roundtable (GWFRT) was officially established in April 2009.  In cooperation with the Task Force for Poverty Elimination, the GWFRT Food Accessibility Working Group (FA) then came together.  

FA provides a forum where agencies and individuals working with people of low-income, or those experiencing low-income themselves, come to a common table to pool resources, experiences and ideas. The aim of this collaboration is to work collectively on solutions that increase food access for those enduring financial hardships, while providing service in a manner that restores human dignity.

So far, the FA has produced two comprehensive manuals: a food access guide for people of low income and a ‘how to’ Collective Kitchen manual. These pamphlets are designed to direct people of low income, as well as the frontline workers who support low-income families, to the food services that are at their disposal and to help them better navigate the food service system. As well, a highly successful city-wide food drive, planned and executed with the participation of The Neighbourhood Group and the Salvation Army – and the first of its kind not held by the Guelph Food Bank – highlighted the collaborative strengths of the FA.   

The goal of the FA (and ultimately of the entire Round Table and its many Working Groups) is to act as a bridge fostering the development of collaborative partnerships and creating a united group of stakeholders that can achieve greater successes than any individual, agency or organization on its own. The whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  

For more information about the Guelph-Wellington Food Accessibility Working Group visit http://gwfrt.com/working-groups/foodaccess/

The Good Food Box: Making Fresh Produce More Affordable

Kingston – by Valerie Ward

The Good Food Box (GFB) programs are a simple, effective way to give low-income people the chance to enjoy healthy, fresh fruit and vegetables at affordable prices. Usually sponsored by community social organizations, GFBs operate as buying clubs and provide customers with a monthly box of produce, priced from $10 to $15, or more depending on size. Customers place and pay for their orders on a set date and pick them up a week later at their nearest drop-off or host site. Boxes contain a selection of staples and seasonal foods from local wholesalers, farmers and community gardens.

Canada’s first GFB was launched in Toronto in 1993 and its success sparked the creation of many others across the country, including one in Kingston in 1995. “We’re excited to have just celebrated our 15th anniversary in the Kingston area, serving clients as far west as Napanee, east to Landsdowne and north to Sharbot Lake,” says program coordinator Mary Wood. “We’ve grown from 24 orders a month and one host site to as many as 500 orders a month and 32 sites.” The number of sites could climb further under The Hunger Elimination Project, an initiative of the Napanee Salvation Army working to increase both GFB and Food Bank locations in places where access to affordable fresh food is a concern.

Customers of the Kingston program can choose a large ($15) or small ($10) box, or a veggie or fruit bag ($5). A large box includes staples such as potatoes, onions, carrots, lettuce, bananas and apples, along with affordable seasonal buys such as strawberries, cucumbers or eggplant. A typical veggie bag is packed with items to make a substantial salad or several side dishes, while the fruit bag offers bananas as well as apples, oranges, pears and other items depending on cost and availability. “Customers value the variety, freshness, seasonality and affordability,” Wood says. “They also enjoy the chance to taste new foods.” To help people get the most from their GFB produce, the Kingston program plans to introduce cooking and nutrition workshops in April 2011.

For more information about the Kingston Good Food Box, call 613-530-2239 or send an e-mail to: goodfoodbox@kchc.ca

Breakfast for Learning: Addressing Nutrition and School Performance

By Cindy Fendall

Children’s performance in school is linked to their nutritional intake; when they  are hungry, they have more difficulty concentrating, are more easily distracted and cannot take full advantage of educational opportunities.  A large portion - about one-third - of their daily nutrition is consumed while at school. Therefore, the quality of food provided by schools should be as good as, if not better than, that of the food at home.

Breakfast For Learning (BFL) is a national non-profit organization whose focus is on child nutrition programs in Canada and works to ensure that students receive the healthy breakfasts, lunches and snacks that they need to succeed.

In Alberta, nearly $300,000 in BFL nutrition grants was distributed to schools in 2008/09, allowing over 20,000 students to receive healthy meals every year. There are 29 BFL schools in Edmonton and 26 in Calgary. However, there is a general understanding that the need for nutritional support exists in both rural and urban areas across the province.

The picture is very similar in British Columbia and the Yukon. In the 2008/09 school year the BFL BC program provided over $130,000 in grants to more than 300 programs serving over 16,000 children in both urban and rural areas. More than 60 of these were aboriginal community schools and organizations.

Breakfast For Learning is filling a gap that the provincial governments of Alberta and British Columbia have not adequately addressed. There are some provincially funded programs,  but these programs are just a start to addressing food access and food justice issues at the provincial level. With more successful advocacy and awareness-building by organizations like BFL, a provincial food policy for schools could one day become a reality.

For more information about the Breakfast for Learning program and the program’s work in different provinces visit: www.breakfastforlearning.ca/

The Sustainable Local Food certificate is offered by St. Lawrence College (SLC), a community college located on three campuses in Kingston, Brockville and Cornwall. The certificate is also part of the Ontario Learns online consortium, and welcomes students from across the country.  

For more information on the program, please visit:
or contact the certificate coordinator, melissa.benner@gmail.com


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