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The Place of Systems Change: Practitioners Reflect on Moving from Food Security Action to Policy in Revelstoke

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Fun with chard at the Local Food Initiative’s Garden Partnership program in Revelstoke

 

Revelstoke is a prime example of a community with a long history of on the ground food action work that is now transforming the city’s public policy arena through partnerships and a strong community development ethos.

The cast of leaders in Revelstoke championing both grassroots and policy-driven food security include Alan Mason, Director of Community Economic Development for the City of Revelstoke; Melissa Hemphill, Food Security Coordinator at local non-profit Community Connections; and, Linda Boyd, Interior Health Authority (IHA) Public Health Dietitian for Revelstoke. This cast notably represents local government, civil society, and the health authority embodying a multi-sector collaboration.

A conversation with this trio firstly revealed a unique context in Revelstoke of a city existing in relative isolation which, in part, drives an ethic of self-sufficiency.

“There used to be lots of agricultural production,” explains Alan, “but much of that land was flooded when BC Hydro put the dams in and a lot of our fertile land is now under water. That has been the biggest historical impact on food security.”

Melissa further unpacks some of the challenges of being in a relatively isolated community, “91% of our food is imported from over 250 km away and so we’re vulnerable to outside influences. The road could close because of landslides, avalanches, or accidents which would mean we get locked in and the food gets locked out.” This predictably means Revelstoke’s food costs are relatively high.

At the same time, Melissa notes the opportunity and excitement around a new influx of residents who she characterizes as young and excited about sustainable living, gardening, and community involvement, “this helps fuel the work we’re doing.”

This historical and contemporary context provides an ongoing impetus for an active community response to rebuilding local food security in Revelstoke. What has emerged is a rich landscape of food action through urban farming, food recovery, community gardens, school meal programs, backyard hens, farmers market nutrition coupons, the local food bank, a developing idea for a local food co-op – the list goes on. Many of these initiatives are animated with a community development approach by Community Connections and the Revelstoke Local Food Initiative.

As a compact town, embracing community development  has been natural Alan explains, “While small rural communities have lots of challenges, one of the advantages we have is it’s not hard to bring the community together – we pass each other on the street every day.” And so, with a vibrant network of residents, community organizations, existing food action, and political will, it was seemingly almost inevitable that Revelstoke foray into municipal food policy beginning with the passing of the Revelstoke Food Charter in 2013 swiftly followed by the 2014  City of Revelstoke Food Security Strategy.

Today, two years after the strategy’s launch, implementation is key with the IHA Community Food Action Initiative (CFAI) stepping up to fund next steps which has been contracted out to Community Connections. As the Food Security Coordinator at Community Connections, Melissa is ultimately responsible for bringing the strategy to life:

“The CFAI funding opened up all kinds of opportunity to implement all the recommendations in the strategy. I get to now work with the Food Security Advisory Committee that started the food charter, then the food strategy, and who now guide my work.”

IHA moved to providing 3-year funding rather than annual grants through the Community Food Action Initiative (CFAI) several years ago with the explicit intent of providing coordination support in each community for advancing food security plans.

“We’re so fortunate to have CFAI funding to have job security, to feel confident in taking the time to develop things properly and build robustness into what we’re doing. This allows me to bite off bigger projects beyond the usual 6 or 12 months funding timelines,” testifies Melissa on the effectiveness of this shift within IHA.

With this support, Melissa has been able to foster strong public sector allies such as Alan with whom she regularly collaborates on weaving food security into city policy and language. She benefits hugely from having both Alan and a city councilor sit on the Food Security Advisory Committee:

“Being able to have my questions answered and know who to talk to at my fingertips – that I can sit down face to face with the city planner and talk about getting food security into the Official Community Plan, those are all pieces we never experienced before. I can see the advantage to working with the local government and actually making change, getting to speak before city council – this is where systems change carries on.”

On the health authority side, Linda has been a part of Revelstoke’s Food Security Advisory Committee from the beginning representing CFAI and IHA. Not a resident of Revelstoke herself, Linda expresses the magic of what is happening in this community as manifested in its food security work, “Seeing it from the eyes of an outsider, there is something very special about Revelstoke. People really come together and work on these issues [collaboratively].”

Linda is in like-minded company within IHA which is known for modeling a community development and relationship building approach to advancing food security work in the Interior. IHA’s lead on the CFAI, Tatjana Lauzon, points to innovators like Laura Kalina, an Interior Health Authority (IHA) Community Nutritionist in Kamloops and founder of the Kamloops Food Policy Council, as an inspiration and mentor in applying a community development approach to  food security practice since the 1990s.  Laura developed a widely used iteration of the Community Food Security Continuum[1] recognizes the importance of systems and policy change to sustain grassroots food action efforts.

This model is hugely significant in a community like Revelstoke where local community-driven food action has been a prerequisite for public sector and civil society collaborations which are now driving policy; the culmination of which will ensure Revelstoke has a connected, healthy, and sustainable food system for generations to come.

 

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Key Local Funders

 

For more information about this initiative

 

[1] https://bcfoodsecuritygateway.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/11/Making_the_Connection.pdf