So much of the work in advancing local food policy is about relationships, partnerships, and collaborations across multiple sectors. A critical first step is to begin to reach out to people and develop relationships. Is there a community dietitian in your local health authority who can help connect you? Is there a food policy council you can get involved in? Find your entry point. That work can feel long and slow but it is building the foundation of relationships which is what this work ultimately comes down to.
-Brent Mansfield, Director, BC Food Systems Network
This is Brent’s advice to anyone wishing engage in municipal food policy. Brent has been involved over the past year with a growing group of multi-sector stakeholders from Metro Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, and Squamish to build food policy capacity and partnerships through the ‘Advancing Municipal Food Policy’ project funded by Vancouver Coastal Health and sponsored by North Shore Table Matters.
The kick off event for ‘Advancing Municipal Food Policy’ in May 2015 saw nearly 100 people from local government, health authorities, food policy councils and networks, and other community and non-profit organizations gathered to share promising practices, hopes, and barriers to realizing food policy in their communities – a surefire testament to the growing interest in food policy across BC. More recently, a subset of this emerging community of practice gathered for the first ever Food Policy Bootcamp.
Within a local government context, food policy can mean anything from zoning and bylaws related to agriculture, to supporting food scraps collection, providing grants to community food organizations, to ensuring healthy built environments in which residents have easy access to healthy affordable food.
Although local government jurisdiction over the food system does have limitations, Brent is reassuring that food policy work is well worthwhile as food holds the power to connect people as well as help local government meet other broader goals of sustainability, health, and social equity. “Food is the most powerful tool I know of for engaging local communities” Brent explains.
When it comes to the bricks and mortar of advancing food policy, there is no one size fits all approach although some communities are embarking on similar journeys. Food charters, for example, are a common first step that serve to outline a community’s vision and principles for their local food system – a gateway into other food policy initiatives such as strategies and plans.
As told in the video, both Squamish and the Sunshine Coast either already have or are in the process of crafting their respective food charters with collaborations between community organizations, First Nations, local government, and health authority staff. In reflecting on the process, Megan Molnar, Vancouver Coastal Health Community Dietician for the Sunshine Coast and Powell River says,
“It has been an up and down road in building food policy and relationships with municipal governments. If they don’t know who you are, they’re not going to come to you [for food policy collaborations]. That relationship building takes time. It’s not something that happens overnight.”
In Squamish, Krystle tenBrink, President of the Squamish Climate Action Network also reflects on her work with local government, “There’s power in working with district staff and their leadership. Sometimes you can go directly to a city councilor.”
The future of food policy undoubtedly lies in collaboration across sectors as is being modelled in Squamish and the Sunshine Coast.
Key outcomes and impact
- The ‘Advancing Municipal Food Policy’ project convened municipal staff, health authority officials, and civil society organizations across several communities in various stages of food policy development, facilitating an emerging community of practice
- Community Food Action Initiative funding has been key in supporting the grassroots networks that are involved in food policy collaborations and direct action
- A forthcoming resource on advancing municipal food policy with lessons learned and an environmental scan of food policy activity in Metro Vancouver and the Vancouver Coast Health region will be made available through the project
- There is no single route for developing local food policy – other communities can provide best practices and inspiration but any policy initiatives need to be specific to context
- Food charter engagement processes can serve as a useful tool for building relationships, vision, and momentum for further food systems work
- Multi-stakeholder approaches are imperative for advancing food policy efforts
- It is great to have a group of champions for food policy in a community but do not stop there – there is always a better job to be done of broadening who is engaged
Key Partners and Funders
- Vancouver Coastal Health
- North Shore Table Matters
- BC Food Systems Network
- One Straw Society
- Squamish Climate Action Network