BY Sandy Skrzypczyk, MHSc, RD, City of Hamilton Public Health Services
What is the future of food in Hamilton? A simple question, but a complex issue to address. No doubt, depending on who you ask, you will get many different answers. And if you then ask how the city should build a healthy, sustainable, and just food system, you will get even more differing answers.
A RICH HISTORY OF FOOD ACTIONS
Hamilton has a rich history of food actions. The City has adopted a Food Charter and has policies to support urban agriculture and farmers’ markets. The number of community gardens continues to grow, and this year will mark the first season of an urban farm in Hamilton. We have a vibrant food scene made up of entrepreneurs who produce, process, distribute, and sell local food products in restaurants, farmers’ markets, and in other retail settings such as the Mustard Seed Co-op grocery store. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all of the great food actions that Hamilton should be proud of.
CHALLENGES TO OUR LOCAL FOOD SYSTEM
But we also have to face the fact that there are gaps and challenges that need to be addressed. There are too many Hamiltonians that once they pay for other basic needs like shelter lack the income to purchase healthy food. Many residents, regardless of income, lack the knowledge and skills to grow, purchase, and prepare nutritious meals. Too many neighbourhoods are “food swamps,” where residents have easier access to unhealthy food than healthy food options. Local farmers are aging, and new farmers are finding it harder to make a sustainable living by farming alone, leading many to work off the farm to make ends meet. While the demand for local food is strong, we don’t grow enough food to meet that demand.
This is an important time in Hamilton’s evolution of food actions. We need to think strategically to build a stronger local food system now and in the future.
OPPORTUNITY TO DO SOMETHING GREAT
This is an important time in Hamilton’s evolution of food actions. We need to think strategically to build a stronger local food system now and in the future. To do this, the City of Hamilton is in the final stage of developing a food strategy. It will be a 10 year plan to help guide decision-making on where and how to direct resources allocated toward food actions.
A food system framework is being used to create Hamilton’s Food Strategy. A food system includes all the processes that go into food production, processing, distribution, accessing, consuming, and finally dealing with food waste. Food systems are influenced by their local geographic, political, economic, environmental, and social situation.
Hamilton’s Food Strategy will focus on where the municipality has the ability to influence our local food system. This holistic approach means considering all parts of the food system rather than just one part. Ultimately, the Food Strategy aims to connect food policies, programs, and people to build on the great work that is already happening, while addressing gaps and working more effectively together.
The next best thing to eating food is talking about it
BUILT ON COMMUNITY CONSULTATION
The next best thing to eating food is talking about it. And this was very true throughout our community consultation. Between late 2014 and fall 2015, about 2,600 Hamiltonians provided input to inform the Food Strategy. Passionate Hamiltonians participated in a Food Summit, an online survey, town halls, workshops, interviews, events, and open houses. City staff reviewed where City resources (funds and staff time) are currently allocated toward food actions and reviewed other municipal food strategies from Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Thunder Bay, and Toronto to see what they have done. The Food Strategy will be grounded in extensive consultation, evidence, and best practices.
We all depend on food to fuel our bodies, but our relationship with food goes beyond its nutritional value. Food also intersects with how we function within our families, neighbourhoods, communities, and city.
A FOOD STRATEGY WHOSE TIME HAS COME
Our City must decide on some issues for which there may be little agreement – sometimes because there is little or no information or research to help make informed decisions. Sometimes it’s a matter of having many divergent viewpoints on how to address local food issues. A holistic approach that looks at all the parts of a food system can help minimize the chances of making decisions in isolation that have the potential to negatively impact one part of a system while acting on another part.
We all depend on food to fuel our bodies, but our relationship with food goes beyond its nutritional value. Food also intersects with how we function within our families, neighbourhoods, communities, and city. The vision for the Food Strategy is “A city with a sustainable food system where all people at all times have economic and physical access to enough safe, nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences.” Fundamental to this vison is the principle of ensuring we have a healthy, sustainable, and just food system that continues to nourish all of us.
This spring, the draft Hamilton Food Strategy will be presented to the Board of Health for endorsement. However, the Food Strategy will be a living document – not the end point. With the right mix of determination, innovation, and collaboration, we can transform Hamilton from a good food city to a great food city.
In the meantime, please visit www.hamilton.ca/foodstrategy to read more, watch a short animated video, or sign up for food strategy updates.
Sandy is a Registered Dietitian with the City of Hamilton Public Health Services, and is working on creating a healthy food system for all Hamiltonians.
Want more? Continue reading The Food Issue