Groups that have worked together to keep people fed during the pandemic say the city as a whole can benefit from a new model of co-operation on food policy.
Jen Cody, executive director of Nanaimo Foodshare, presented the idea of a food policy council to Nanaimo city councillors at a meeting Oct. 19.
City councillors recently received an emergency food and nutrition strategy, something they had asked for two weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic had been declared an emergency. Members of a health and housing task force working group, in putting together that strategy, identified the value of a food policy council, noted a city staff report.
Cody said she fully supports the creation of such a group.
“Most communities become involved with food policy councils [for] healthy food access,” she said. “Hunger and emergency food are long-standing issues for any community and Nanaimo is no exception.”
The staff report noted that a food policy council could provide “synergies with local government initiatives” around emergency planning, economic development, land-use planning, sustainability, water supply and solid waste management. The food council could be a “ongoing forum for emergency food response and distribution,” the staff report noted, and could work with the city and stakeholders on food and nutrition outreach, develop a food infrastructure strategy and facilitate partnerships with the regional district, health authority and First Nations.
The working group’s information sharing revealed that “Nanaimo is actually well-positioned to respond to emergency food needs,” said the staff report, going on to detail some of the ways that the food bank and agencies with meal programs have responded in the pandemic.
“It’s been critical to the community response that we co-ordinate so that we’re not duplicating efforts and folks that are new to food security are supported in being able to respond without re-creating the wheel, and benefiting from others’ experience and networks,” Cody said.
She said established relationships lead to understanding about where the resources are and where the gaps are, so the community can plan thoughtfully and develop strategies to respond to food security issues as they emerge.
Coun. Don Bonner expressed thanks to the working group and he reminded his colleagues that there’s “much more” to the emergency food and nutrition strategy than the recommendation about the food policy council. He said he doesn’t want to see the report sit on a shelf, and noted that are opportunities to pursue available COVID-19-related funding now.
Coun. Zeni Maartman said food security is paramount for health and wellness and Coun. Ben Geselbracht also expressed support.
“I’m excited about the strategy and also, these food policy councils, I think, are a really good way to co-ordinate the community and move forward some long-held strategic planning,” he said.
City council voted unanimously to endorse the emergency food strategy as stakeholder input into its master planning process, refer it to a governance and priorities committee meeting for further discussion, and request a staff report on how the city can facilitate the creation of a food policy council.