There are some issues that I, as your school, trustee, will bring up and follow-through with as a member of the Winnipeg School Division Board. Some are not being discussed much in this by-election. One issue I would like to discuss here is food security (also food sovereignty). It is urgent and needs to be addressed. I plan to make it one of my top priorities.
Food security means communities having access to a stable, affordable and nutritious food supply. There are many definitions of food security, but that’s it in a nutshell. However we define it, we all know of someone who has made use of food banks at one time or another, or perhaps we are using food banks today. More of us still understand the tough choices at grocery stores and supermarkets whereby nutritious choices are sacrificed in the name of a lower grocery bill (hello Wonder Bread). For those who are or have recently been food producers – farmers, hunters, fishers, gatherers, gardeners – and have lost access to their land or faced pollution, food sovereignty is perhaps a better way to frame the problem. Please read this UN Food and Agriculture Organization for more in depth discussion. http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4671e/y4671e06.htm
What we do know is that healthy food creates healthier people, all the more for younger, developing student-age bodies and minds. A nutritious diet goes a long way to helping students learn. Too many teachers know about spaced-out children who have not had an adequate breakfast, if any at all. Too many families see the rise in cost of food outstripping the increase in salaries, wages, or government assistance or benefits.
But are we thinking and planning ahead?
Enter a carbon tax. Prime Minister Trudeau announced that a carbon tax is on its way. As a longtime eco-political actor, I have advocated for a carbon tax, understanding the dire need to create disincentives on use of fossil fuels. But with this position comes a great responsibility to facilitate a social and economic transition to the point where we have replaced high-carbon products and services with lower- or no-carbon-footprint practices. So our food in Canada travels on average something like 3000km from source, mostly by truck if not shipped from abroad first (why buy Chinese garlic when we grow enough domestically?) Therefore a carbon tax is bound to increase food prices and negatively impact those already scraping by, food insecure and struggling to feed their families healthy, nutritious meals.
What we, as a school division, can do?
The Short Term – in Transition
While the goal must be in the long term to change our consumption and production patterns so that we are growing more of our food locally (hello, solar greenhouses!), this infrastructure or culture is not broadly in place yet to face a post-carbon future. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us as trustees to organize with and through the schools to reach the local communities with food security-based projects. A few ideas I have for how I would propose the Board move forward on this:
- Form food-purchasing cooperatives. For the whole community. I used to be part of organic-food-buying clubs that would meet every two weeks or month, put in a collective order, and reduce the cost of our organic food. This same model is possible for almost all food, on a greater scale. Through collective purchasing, say, every two weeks, we can drastically reduce the cost of food for all participants in the community, and the food order could be delivered to the school for pickup by community members every two weeks. A dedicated committee of volunteers – perhaps gaining an extra 5% off of their food order for steady involvement – could research sourcing, working with local farmers and food organizations like the Harvest Moon Society to network with producers so that the efforts both seek out as many local solutions and help grow the local food market. We have the collective numbers to make this a reality.
- Create community gardens on school property. I have asked teachers or principals why their school doesn’t earnestly compost or garden. I am often told they have made efforts, but then summer came and the project dissolved while they were gone over the summer. Many teachers leave the school community from late June until Labour Day, but the children do not nor does the community. Working with community centres, residents associations and local gardeners, we as a board could liaise with the schools to make this a reality. Gardens provide amazing learning opportunities for children – as some schools already well know – and the beautify the grounds to the benefit of the whole community. A dedicated few community gardeners could work with a couple of dedicated school staff to get the projects off the ground in early spring and then work with community groups over the summer months to facilitate the care of the gardens by the neighbourhood children and other keen gardeners. As composting is a necessity for ecological gardening, a dedicated area of school yards could be used for composting – for schools and for community. Of course, clearly demarcated use-times between community use and school use would be established for safety reasons, but there is no reason why these publicly-owned spaces should not get more communal use.
- Try to get real farm-to-school programs going. Throughout North America, farm-to-school or farm-to-cafeteria programs help give students access to local farms and their produce. In addition to being excellent field trips, building city-rural, student-farmer relationships benefits our entire society and helps the local economy succeed in what has become a multi-trillion-dollar global industry. Learn more about farm-to-school programs: http://www.farmtoschool.org/about/what-is-farm-to-school
It is time we get real and say that local food solutions are the best way to help solve food security challenges, especially in a farm-rich country like Canada. Who doesn’t savour the occasional trip to a local market to buy produce directly from the farmers, to avoid the bright supermarkets with their carbon-intensive, imported, shiny, often overgrown or under-ripe produce? For some it has become a way of life, but for most the local food is still too expensive. Through collective, division wide or school-wide (or Ward-wide) purchasing among participants, we are bound to save big on local food. We need more farm-to-school and less of Agribusiness in the Classroom, trying to convince our children that chemicals and genetic engineering are a democratic way to handle a basic human right such as food.
I plan to be research-based and to network with those already running important food security initiatives in Manitoba.
Here are some links to local organizations and to more research on the matter. Let’s get it done! Our children deserve nothing less. We all deserve healthy, affordable, tasty, and locally-grown food. The planet depends on it too.
Food Matters Manitoba: http://www.foodmattersmanitoba.ca/
Harvest Moon Society: http://www.localfoodmarketplace.com/harvestmoon/
Farm-to-School BC: http://farmtoschoolbc.ca/
Food Education for Food Security: http://www.ctf-fce.ca/Research-Library/Issue7_Article5_EN.pdf
Change for Children: https://changeforchildren.org/learn-teach/food-security/
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – food security in context of anti-poverty advocacy: https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/Manitoba%20Office/2015/01/View%20from%20here-5%20Food%20security.pdf
Food Security Research Network: http://fsrn.ca/researchandlearning/
There are so many other organizations working in inner cities and connecting urban and rural areas throughout North America and the industrial world. Of course this is a school trustee issue!