City strikes up a conversation on food strategy

NANAIMO – Identifying unique products, branding, and distribution on the agenda.

Good food often sparks the best conversations, but a conversation about food is taking place to ensure Nanaimo enjoys food security and strategies for decades to come.

In 2008, the city adopted its official community plan called planNanaimo. Part of that plan includes a section on food security and how the community can develop sustainable local food systems, encourage partnerships in food security and ensure access to nutritious food for all of Nanaimo’s citizens.

People, organizations and businesses involved in the food sector are beginning that discussion today (March 9) during a workshop hosted by the city titled Food for Thought – A Conversation on Food Systems. The workshop takes place from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

Deborah Jensen, community development planner for Nanaimo, said the intent of the meeting is to begin building the Nanaimo Food Charter and Food Strategy as directed by planNanaimo.

“What we’re hoping to take away from Saturday’s conversation is what the community is thinking about in terms of food,” said Jensen. “What makes Nanaimo unique in the overall food system? There are so many aspects to a food system and we really want to focus on the ones that are of the most importance to this area.”

Jensen added that subjects like food branding, and products unique to Nanaimo and how it can be distributed will also be discussed. Looking for ways to create more business opportunities and jobs through food will also be explored.

The conversation is getting started at a time when several different forces are converging that will affect food supply, and how food is grown and distributed on Vancouver Island.

Development, zoning, urban agriculture, community gardens, emergency food supply, feeding the hungry, increasing populations, the economy, and municipal policies are all combining factors affecting the conversation on food.

Crystal Dennison, executive director of Nanaimo Food Share, a non-profit organization with a mandate of ensuring people have access to the nutrition they need, said she is excited to begin the process and is keen to see what other people and organizations bring to the table.

“We’ve been looking at other communities for a while that have a food charter in place and it’s good Nanaimo is willing to get on board and actually look at the needs of our community,” she said. “Creating a food strategy will not only develop better food systems, it will provide validity to the work we’re doing.”

Nanaimo Food Share offers programs that encourage cooking and gardening. It also offers programs like Good Food Box, Farm 2 School, gleaning, and Seedy Sunday, an event which drew more than 700 people last week.

A food charter is a municipal vision of what food sustainability looks like down the road. Dennison said all the pieces are potentially in place to develop Nanaimo as a food hub, but communication and a unified strategy are needed to create a sustainable system that will provide food growers with avenues to sell their products, efficient distribution and more options for consumers.

“When there is an actual strategy, we can refer back to it when we’re looking for funders, when we’re looking for outside organizations for support or to partner with other groups, it’s a concerted effort,” said Dennison.

The food strategy policy Nanaimo develops will likely work to complement Nanaimo Regional District’s Agricultural Area Plan, which was adopted in October. That plan centres around eight objectives, including protecting and enhancing the Agricultural Land Base, strengthening the local agricultural economy, and improving training, skills and labour opportunities in the RDN.

Jensen said the first draft of the strategy is expected to be completed by the end of April.