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Market failures affect people in poverty and farmers alike: A vision for community food brokers

Thanks to Maurita Prato (LUSH Valley) who spent some time in our February call walking us through Food Security, Poverty, Housing and the Local Food System: Closing the Loop in the Comox Valley, work she’s just co-produced with Andrea Cupelli (Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness) on Unceded traditional territory of the K’òmoks First Nation. The report offers an action plan to design “a local food aggregation and distribution system to support more consistent local food access for people living in social, supportive, and transitional housing across the Comox Valley.” It offers a vision and a roadmap for building relationships between farmers and housing providers, and includes how existing food action programs like good food boxes, gleaning and food literacy programs can bring good food into the social, supportive, and transitional housing systems in the region. It’s a vision that gets at one of the Wicked Questions the Community of Practice keeps asking; how do we support living wages and incomes for those growing food while keeping it affordable for those living on low incomes? Maurita was however super clear that it’s not about making a business (i.e. profitability) case for a non-profit like hers when it comes to getting local food into housing, but rather, that their role is akin to that of a brokerage, connecting food growers, housing providers, and people with lived experience of food insecurity. In her words:

Photo of Maurita Prato

Maurita Prato, Executive Director, Lush Valley

There is pressure for Executive Directors like me to be CEOs [and make a business case] for this work. But there are market failures everywhere, that affect people living in poverty and farmers alike; people living in poverty can’t access healthy quality food, and farmers who are growing food are also living below the poverty line. We won’t have a break even point, we’re not a business, we’re a charitable organization that’s left to pick up the pieces of the issues externalized by the larger problematic economic system.
We can solve this problem if we think of it from a systems perspective. If it’s never going to work in our capitalist mode of production to support farmers while providing food access, don’t we have a responsibility as an organization with a charitable mandate to say this is the work and we can bridge those gaps. So we will find the funding: when we look back at programs that have lasted for 20 years, if it’s a good idea we will find the people who will come to the table to invest.”
  We were pretty excited to learn about this collaboration between one of our colleagues in the food security world the poverty and homelessness sector which brought us back to a conversation in 2018 between the CoP and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. It is an invitation for all of us in the CoP to think about whether we know the anti-poverty and housing advocates and organizations in our region. What do we know about their work and how it intersects with ours? Are we working together? If not, why not? Seriously, read their whole report for a great methodology, poignant critique of the global colonial capitalist food system, and more on this super cool vision for meeting food access needs with locally grown food in Comox.   graphic showing inventory of social housing and food programming needs assessment     Maurita thinks of the CoP a key audience for this report, inspiring thinking about how we can advocate and trial this brokerage role in other communities. There is so much energy and resources into ‘emergency’ charitable food…what would it look like to redirect some of this action upstream, to ‘catch the children upstream’ to borrow the favourite parable of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. What policies and structures do we need to put in place? We haven’t looked closely at it yet, but it made a connection for us to this report just released by the BC government on institutional local food procurement and the ongoing work of organizations like Farm to Cafeteria Canada. While not specifically housing-focused, certainly it sparks the conversation of what different food distribution pathways can look like.