Last night, I attended an event at the Central Lions Seniors Centre put on by Just Food Edmonton and Growing Food Security in Alberta that was seeking input from citizens around the People’s Food Policy Project (PFPP).
The PFPP is a grassroots project that hopes to, in April 2011, submit policy papers for consideration by the federal government. The ten current papers can be accessed here, and will be revised several more times as input is received at these so-called “kitchen table talks” as well as at an upcoming conference in Montreal.
Local food was served, of course, including BC apples and grapes, bread donated from Bon Ton Bakery, and some amazing homemade jam
The first part of the event saw individuals self-select one of the ten papers they were interested in having an in-depth discussion about. With perhaps 30 people in attendance, it wasn’t possible to have every topic covered, but it seemed to work well. I should also note that election candidates were invited to attend, but as the discussions were supposed to be based upon the ideas presented in the papers, I can imagine it would be difficult for someone who hasn’t given food-related issues much thought to jump in (and as a result, only one of the candidates, Brent Schaffrick, ended up staying the entire evening).
Discussion paper topics
I know I felt a bit selfish being there, feeling like I didn’t have much to contribute, but having a thirst to learn. The discussion I chose to participate in was “Access to food in urban communities”, touching on issues of personal food security, accessibility and affordability.
The discussion in the group was rich – touching on food deserts, vertical farming, and the need for small abattoirs, among other things – and perhaps even more so because the passion around the circle was palpable. And like some other events I’ve attended, the networking opportunity was more valuable than the content learned (Maryann Borch for instance, has a farm called Good Note southeast of Edmonton that I’d never heard of before – she participated in the On Borrowed Ground CSA this year). I do think more time could have been given for this part of the discussion, however. By the time we were given our two-minute warning, we had barely scratched the surface of the topic, and scrambled to write something down on our notes sheet.
The second part of the evening was done in an open space format, which allows individuals to start a discussion, and for participants to “vote with their feet” and change groups if they become disinterested with the dialogue.
I sat in at Perry Phillips’ table, where he talked about a new initiative by the Leduc-Nisku Economic Development Association, which has received a loan from Community Futures, to establish a local food value chain. This chain intends on growing the Alberta agriculture and food processing sector by connecting farmers and entrepreneurs with the right resources and expertise they need to succeed (e.g. sourcing products, locating processors, marketing to retail). It sounded like the chain was still in the beginning stages (they are hosting a facilitated discussion in November for the purposes of a needs assessment), but he did mention two things of note: first, the Leduc Food Processing Development Centre sounds like a great facility, a sparkly new incubator for food companies that provide, for a fee, access to state of the art equipment, staff, and assistance in the development of products, among other things. Second, he mentioned that the Executive Royal Inn in Leduc offers a 100-mile menu option for local-conscious folks organizing events and conferences – I had no idea, but will be looking into it.
Sharing our open space key points
Susan Roberts, the host of the event who works for Growing Food Security in Alberta, was asked at the end of the evening if Food: Today, Tomorrow, Together would be holding a conference next year (I attended the first conference she helped put on in 2009). Though the focus will be beyond food, Growing Food Security in Alberta has partnered with Pathways 2 Sustainability to host Food, Fuel and Finance in Red Deer next year, from February 23-25, 2011. Though food will be one of the angles covered, all speakers, she said, will be ready to address issues from all three sides.
The talk was worth attending, as I was able to find out more about the People’s Food Policy Project, and met some others in the city passionate about food! Thanks to Just Food Edmonton and Growing Food Security in Alberta for organizing the event.