Farmers’ markets in B.C. highlight need for food security

Eat Your Vegetables: A market goer points out produce at the Harrop Schoolhouse Market in Harrop, B. C. on June 14. Food security has been a topic of discussion for Canadians due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created an interest in local food producers. (Photo by Shelby Daughton/The Press)

As farmers’ markets open in B.C. for the summer, local farmers and foodshare groups are seeing increased interest and challenges related to food security.

The issue of food security has been pushed to the forefront of Canadian’s minds due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and with that, questions have been raised about what food security means. 

“Food security is access to healthy fruits and vegetables that is equitable, [it] is culturally appropriate and [it] is food that is produced in a local [and] sustainable way,” said Jen Cody, the Executive Director for the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. 

The Nanaimo Foodshare Society provides several educational programs and food services like the gleaning program. The gleaning program allows volunteers and farmers to connect and provide surplus food to the community.  

They also support the BC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program, which provides lower-income families, pregnant women and seniors with coupons that can be redeemed for food at local farmers’ markets. 

Cody says that nutrition security is often missed when talking about food security. She says that just because foodbanks are operating and doing reasonably well, it doesn’t ensure that people who are accessing them are getting good nutrition. 

“The challenge with food banks is that they’re also reliant on traditional ways of where food is coming from,” said Cody. “[Food security] doesn’t consider the quality of the foods that [are] available to people who are accessing community certified programs like food banks.” 

Cody says surplus foods received from grocery stores are often highly processed and not very nutritious, which can lead to foodbank users being malnourished. 

Laura Francis and her husband, Nigel, own Cartwheel Farm in Creston, B.C.. 

Cartwheel Farm produces food for members of the surrounding community and local restaurants 

Francis says that they have seen increased interest in local organic food since the pandemic started.  

“In a lot of ways this year has felt a bit like a blast from the past, in terms of communication with customers, because we’re suddenly dealing with a lot of people who are new to the idea of local food and [are] thinking about where their food comes from, for the first time,” said Francis. 

Francis says that their focus as a farm is more on food sovereignty than food security. 

“That means how much knowledge, control, and connection people have to where their food comes from,” said Francis. 

Francis says that the pandemic has been reminding people of the importance of food and community connection. 

“Food ought to be what connects us, in a daily way, to each other and to the land where we live, and we are so far from that,” she said. 

Francis says that Cartwheel Farm will be growing food for 140 families this year, many of which have been with them since the beginning. 

Cartwheel Farm has also been navigating through several issues such as accepting monthly payments instead of their traditional request for season long commitments and looking after some of their older customers whose health is compromised.  

Food security is access to healthy fruits and vegetables that is equitable, [it] is culturally appropriate and [it] is food that is produced in a local [and] sustainable way – Jen Cody

Francis says that current food systems are not bringing food to people in positive ways.  

I think so much of how we eat now is basically dehumanizing. Food doesn’t come to us in good ways or in ways that we understand, or in ways that nourish us, she said. 

Francis says that if people can shift the way they eat, it will be powerful socially, politically, and environmentally. 

“Eating good food brings pleasure, and we all need a little bit more of that in ways that are wholesome and genuine,” she said.