Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to attend the Food Secure Saskatchewan conference in Moose Jaw. It was not only an excellent conference, with a diverse group of attendees and interesting speakers, but it also illustrated to me the importance of creating connections between our work in Manitoba and the work happening in other provinces, particularly prairie provinces that have similar opportunities and face similar challenges.
Many of the people I met in Saskatchewan were very impressed with the food scene in Manitoba. In particular, they were impressed with what they had heard about programs in northern Manitoba as well as the provincial organizational capacity of groups like the Manitoba Food Charter/Food Matters Manitoba. In Saskatchewan, and this is a rough impression of an outsider, it would seem that there is a lot of localized community work, and it is only more recently that people there have create a provincial focus.
Looking the other way, however, I found that there was lots that could be learned from our neighbours to the west. Two sessions stuck out in particular – one on CSA farming and another on good food boxes. Let me start with CSAs. I know that there have been (and continue to be) small CSA farms in Manitoba that have met with greater or lesser success. Manitoba, however, hasn’t been fertile ground for CSA farmers. While I’m not sure if Saskatchewan is much better, the panelists in this discussion (all of whom were from the Regina area) seemed to have some unique ideas about how to go about CSA farming. I was particularly impressed with The Green Ranch, a farm 60 miles southeast of Regina. They have combined SPIN farming techniques (Small Plot Intensive) and also have a cattle operation. People can sign up for a vegetable or beef CSA. Interestingly, The Green Ranch, which is run by a young couple, has made great use of technology. They use their website to receive orders for their CSA (people can choose which vegetables they want to receive), or for people to pre-order products for pick-up at the farmers’ market. They also receive customer feedback through online surveys and have now partnered with several other local food providers to market their products. To me, this is a great idea – many farmers don’t have the time, inclination, or skills (if I was a farmer, I’d probably put myself in these categories) to engage in the marketing necessary to sell products locally. The folks at the Green Ranch, though, have found that they particularly enjoy the marketing side of things and so are able to provide their customers with everything from lettuce to wild boar.
The Good Food Club in the West Broadway neighbourhood of Winnipeg has a small good food box program, but as far as I’m aware, there aren’t many other, if any, good food box programs in Manitoba. Saskatchewan, meanwhile, has huge good food box programs. Saskatoon alone delivers over 1000 good food boxes a month, making fruits and vegetables more accessible to people with lower incomes. Smaller communities, such as Moose Jaw, also have very successful good food box programs. By purchasing in bulk from local producers (which the good food boxes are increasingly trying to do) and wholesalers, these programs enable families to access nutritious, fresh food.
So there are lots that we can learn from what’s happening in Saskatchewan – just as there is lots that they can learn from us. To me, this conference demonstrated the potential for sharing experiences between provinces and regions.