Building a Provincial Food Network

Across the province of Newfoundland and Labrador we have a food emergency created by factors that include rising food prices, lack of food donations and an established pattern of food waste. These factors are making affordable, healthy food harder to access for Canadians in general, and the situation in our province is exacerbated by loss of farmland (more than fifty percent lost in the past 20 years according to Statistics Canada), dependence on imported foods, and markups in food pricing resulting from a range of factors, including rising cost of fuel and materials during the Covid pandemic.

Clients arriving at food banks have doubled, including many who have never before applied for free food, while a third of these clients are children under twelve. Difficulty of access to Crown land created by bureaucratic requirements has made it hard to re-establish family farms, even while there is a need for a return to local food production. Finally, the foods distributed through the retail system, and through local food banks, are predominantly processed foods, low in nutrient value, and fresh fruit and vegetables that have lost much of their nutritional value in transit.

Food Producers Forum has begun to address this situation by developing innovative approaches to local food production and distribution. But this still leaves the majority of us vulnerable to rising costs and poor- quality food. We have two broken systems– food as commodity and food as charity – that are not answering our need for affordable, healthy food, so we are proposing a new approach to this issue.

The need for a strong grassroots food network was defined by the community representatives with whom we have consulted and in responses to our Where’s the Food? Survey.

The idea is simple: let’s build a network of sites across our province, linked by effective online links, to create a more direct system of food distribution and food education, returning control of food to local communities. We know we have thousands of new growers and gatherers of food, right across our province. We see such a network as a system with three primary goals:

  • First, rebuild local food production by restoring small family farms and cooperative gardens;
  • Second, create regional food hubs, for more direct food distribution and food sharing, and
  • Third, offer multiple types of workshops, mentorships and online sessions to rebuild our food skills

The network of regional food hubs can build on our historic traditions of sharing, independence and local resilience, to address issues of food security, community health, and local economic development. The core of this network will be regional food hubs, located in communities across the island and in Labrador, to provide multiple sites for food production, food sharing and food education. Some of these will be community groups, and some will be family farms, plus several Indigenous communities.

Each hub site will be different, depending on the interests and capacity of the local community. A hub site can potentially host the following functions:

  • Garden Space – a family farm, community garden or community farm producing healthy food;
  • Greenhouse – to help grow food in our challenging climate, an enclosed space will be critical, to extend the garden year;
  • Food Storage Facility – by creating a root cellar or walk-in freezer, each community can store and extend use of the food that the local community grows and gathers;
  • Community Pantry – based on the model used in Prince Edward Island and also in our northern communities, set up a free distribution site stocked by donations from the community;
  • Education Programs – by creating a shared space for workshops, seminars and mentorships, local capacity for food production can be expanded and rebuilt;
  • Student Engagement – connect with local schools, so food education and awareness can be brought into the classroom;
  • Regional Composting – healthy soil is essential to produce healthy food; composting food scraps and garden wastes is an essential way to limit waste and make better use of resources at the local level. It may not be possible for every Food Hub to create all of these elements to begin with, but with several of these functions are in place, the local community can be engaged to create the others.

Food Producers Forum is ready to support the new network with:

  • Food Forums Website – with initial design and programming completed, we are ready to launch a website of online discussion groups, focused on key food production and food sharing skills;
  • Online Training Materials – we will develop and present a series of videos and online workshops;
  • List of Mentors and Workshop Leaders – based on our extensive contacts across and outside the province, we have a growing list of potential workshop leaders and educators;
  • Food Hub Coordination – we are ready to build an online network, linking regional food hubs, providing advice and support to help each site develop, add functions and access financial support.

For further information or to get involved, contact us at:

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