A Food Policy Council for Winnipeg

A Food Policy Council for Winnipeg

Are you concerned about policies that restrict urban agriculture in the city?  Rules that limit farmers’ markets?  Think that there are economic or environmental opportunities in local food?  Wonder how our city could best dispose of its food waste?

Fortunately, many other Winnipeggers are as well!  And they are encouraging the city to establish a food policy council for Winnipeg; a council that could address all these questions and more.  Vancouver, Toronto, and many American cities already have food policy councils.  So, what is a food policy council?  Who is part of it?  What would be the benefits of having one in Winnipeg?  And how can you get involved?

Well, first, a food policy council is made up of citizens and municipal officials to provide advice and feedback to governments on food and food security issues.  Sometimes the government goes to the food policy council with a specific question for investigation, at other times food policy councils put forward key policies.  Beyond this, the council also acts as a hub.  It brings together citizens and government in a collaborative forum, and it brings together reps from different parts of government to get them talking about how they can work together to address food questions.  In addition to all this, a food policy council often plays an education role, educating citizens about the benefits of addressing food systems.

To give you a sense of what food policy councils are up to here are the missions of a couple of Canadian councils:

The Vancouver Food Policy Council supports the development of a just and sustainable food system for the city of Vancouver that fosters:  sustainable and equitable food production, distribution, and consumption; nutrition; community development; and environmental health.

The Toronto Food Policy Council partners with business and community groups to develop policies and programs promoting food security.  Our aim is a food system that fosters equitable food access, nutrition, community development, and environmental health.

These councils are raising key questions that we face here in Winnipeg too.  Questions of access to food, important since Winnipeg has one of the highest rates of food bank use in Canada.  Support for community development, which would provide economic opportunities in the food economy.  Issues of food production and distribution, important in Winnipeg given the growing interest in buying local food products but limited capacity in our region to process or distribute these products.  And an emphasis on the environment, an issue that all communities have to deal with increasingly.  So a food policy council addresses many of the key questions that we deal with in Winnipeg.

Who is part of a food policy council?  This differs from community to community, but the goal is to have a wide spectrum of experiences and backgrounds to best address food security issues.  So council members could include reps from community organizations, businesses, farmers, healthcare workers, academics, and concerned citizens along with government employees from interested departments or municipal politicians.  This brings together citizens, the community, business, and government to tackle food issues.

From the experience in other cities, there are many potential benefits for Winnipeg from having a food policy council.  Food is a significant issue for our governments:  1 in 8 jobs in Winnipeg are directly related to food and agriculture, not including any spin-off jobs; nearly 50,000 people use Manitoban food banks each month; two-thirds of Manitobans are overweight or obese, leading to significant health challenges.  A food policy council could focus energy on challenging these concerns and position Winnipeg to take advantage of new opportunities.  It could foster cooperation between government and community partners on food issues.  It would, for the first time, bring a policy focus to food and food security, especially important since food is related to the work of so many government departments.  Additionally, it could harness the expertise of people involved in food to create change in our city.  A food policy council could encourage citizen involvement in our food system.  And it would position Winnipeg as a leader in the growing local food economy and help address issues of poverty and hunger.

So, how can you get involved in making a food policy council a reality for Winnipeg?  Well, first of all, check out the Winnipeg Food Policy Working Group.  Over the last year, this group has been meeting with city staff, politicians, and participating in the Speak Up Winnipeg process.  It is made up of a diverse spectrum of organizations and individuals including neighbourhood development corporations, environmental, anti-poverty, community development, and Aboriginal organizations, farmers, businesses, and public health workers.The Food Policy Working Group is currently seeking support in principle for the idea of a food policy council, so if you like the idea of a food policy council for Winnipeg, contact Paul Chorney at paul@foodmattersmanitoba.ca or 943-0822.  You can also learn more about what a food policy council for Winnipeg might look like.

Or, if you’d like, come and join the Food Policy Working Group on August 5 at 2:00pm at St Matthews Church, to learn what they’ve been up to lately. If you are planning on going, please RSVP to Paul.

If you are interested in learning about other food policy councils across North America, check out this index.  Many cities, including Baltimore, Detroit, Hartford, Oakland, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Santa Fe, have food policy councils.  Many American states also have food policy councils, including Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio.

Stefan Epp is a Research Associate at the University of Manitoba and a member of the Winnipeg Food Policy Working Group.

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