Tackling big challenges requires an even bigger team.
On Monday, Erin Reyce and the Nipissing and Area Food Charter supporters added an important partner to help confront their cause as City Council officially endorsed their bold vision for a healthy, sustainable food system in the Nipissing Area.
The Charter was officially launched last November and seeks to create a healthy, sustainable community food system and guide the development of food-related initiatives and policies through the collaboration of residents, producers, organizations, and governments.
Reyce, a registered dietitian with the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, spoke on behalf of the Charter group at last night’s council meeting to ask the politicians for their endorsement, which Coun. Jeff Serran quickly followed up with a successful motion showing their support.
In Nipissing’s case, the guiding framework is based on health and wellness, sustainable economic development, social equity, the environment, food literacy, and culture – in other words, everything from food production to consumption.
“I think something like this, where you can start allowing local growers to get out to the community and people can take advantage of that kind of stuff, is vital,” said Serran. “If it goes the way they think it should go, other communities can look to North Bay as an example.
“I think it’s really early, but I think we need to get the support out there so that they have something they can move forward with,” he added.
“Municipal endorsement of the Food Charter [demonstrates] support for the connected efforts required to realize this shared vision of a healthy, sustainable food system,” said Reyce.
Since its launch, the group has been seeking endorsements from various community members to help overcome the current food system’s challenges and promote healthy food for everyone.
Some of those issues include the financial struggle of aging farmer population, high fossil fuel emissions, household food insecurity and diet-related chronic illness, among a long list of others.
Generally, food charters are not prescriptive or binding in any way. Instead, they are considered a community-derived guiding framework for shaping food-related policy and projects for production, processing, distribution, access, consumption and waste recovery.
“For North Bay, we’re not talking about starting from scratch here with this work and we’re not asking for a huge change necessarily,” said Reyce. “We do accomplish so much more through creative partnership and collaboration.”
Some of the existing community programs she pointed to include the Grow-A-Row program, The Gathering Place’s Community Garden on municipal property and the expansion of the North Bay Farmers’ Market, to name just a few. Even supporting unique local downtown restaurants and cafés, which council also did on Monday, is a move in the right direction.
With the endorsements from the Chilsolm, Powassan and Mattawa municipalities and various community stakeholders now piling up, Reyce said the group will continue to work on putting together some actual tangible steps to execute on their vision.
While there will be dollars required for investment in the future, having a collaborative, broad base of support is the first and most important priority.
“In terms of our next steps, we’re planning for a session in the spring to create an action plan that will take the vision of the Food Charter forward,” said Reyce. “We’re hoping to involve the Food Charter working group into a Food Policy Council to drive that.
“We’re hoping that some of the key action items and priorities for the community will come out at that time and we can use that to inform the development of our action plan,” she added. “Now that the Food Charter is finished, the hard work is really ahead of us.”
Councillors Chris Mayne and Mark King, in particular, said they look forward to seeing if institutions like Cassellholme and the North Bay Regional Health Centre could cut food costs and create more sustainable models by partnering with volunteers to grow food on site.
Reyce said urban community gardens are an exciting growing trend, as well as local procurement policies in which organizations dedicate a certain percentage of their food budget to local or regional products.
“I think people kind of see that as a quick win for both sides because it’s a great initiative for the community and something that the municipalities can support,” said Reyce.
The only dissenting vote for Serran’s motion came from Coun. Derek Shogren, who had some concern for the scale and scope of the Charter.
“I certainly support local food, I’ve always supported local growers and farmers and all of the entrepreneurs that way,” said Shogren, “but I just find with the Food Charter, some of the language in it extends way beyond just supporting local food.”
Reyce used Sudbury and Thunder Bay as progressive examples for North Bay to draw from. Both of their city councils have endorsed their respective food charters and are beginning to execute on their own visionary models with community gardens on municipal land, for example.
Sudbury also has members of council and city staff helping integrate local food initiatives in their Official Plan and Economic Development Plan, while Thunder Bay is integrating their comprehensive food strategy action plan in the economic development, tourism and planning departments.
For more on the Nipissing and Area Food Charter, visit: www.nipissingareafood.ca