In New Brunswick, we are self-sufficient in a handful of products: seafood, blueberries, potatoes, fish, and sometimes strawberries. Yet overall, New Brunswick only produces 8 per cent of the fruits and vegetables we need. By comparison, a few generations ago almost all the food we ate was produced in our province.
To explore how we could do better, the RAVEN (Rural Action and Voices for the Environment) research project at the University of New Brunswick launched its “Growing A Better Future” initiative at the start of 2020. 20/20 is normal vision. The beginning of this new decade is a time of reflection on the past and lessons learned related to community food security and the climate emergency experienced by local communities as well as globally. The start of the new year also involves looking to future innovations and opportunities that will define how communities survive the challenges ahead.
According to the project website: “New Brunswick has significant assets that can support more local food production and consumption: available farmland, active networks of local food producers and champions, and a rich and living history of farming held by hundreds of New Brunswickers in rural communities.”
Project Lead Amy Floyd of Taymouth is also the founder and administrator of the Permaculture Atlantic Network and a Community Food Mentor. She explains that her team plans to meet with different groups involved in food production and distribution in the Nashwaak Valley and Fredericton Area. “We want to develop simple, flexible systems that other rural regions across New Brunswick can adapt to their own community. Whatever we do should be cost-effective, easily adapted and fit the social dynamics of the community. With a changing climate, we don’t have four or five years to run pilots. We just need to experiment and make changes season to season as needed.”
Jessica Wall, a Masters student in the UNB Applied Health Research program, will be conducting thesis work for the project related to community food banks. Wall has experience working with many food security organizations in the province including the New Brunswick Food Security Action Network, the Farmers’ Truck in Moncton, and Cooperation Agri-Food New Brunswick.
The project defines “community food security” as “a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally appropriate, nutritionally sound diet through an economically and environmentally sustainable food system that promotes community self-reliance and social justice.” (reference) The project notes that the focus is on community rather than gardens for individual households, although that is also important.
A recent event post by Scott’s Nursery in Fredericton reminds every one of the need for looking ahead to our gardens. Their one-hour “Seed Starting Seminar” is offered on Saturday, Jan 11 for people interested in starting their seeds indoors. Now is the time to be thinking about growing the foods everyone requires to survive.
RAVEN launched its second cell-phone music video contest this week in conjunction with their community food security research project. The contest entries will be short music videos highlighting creative solutions addressing local community food security initiatives. More information about the video contest is available online.
The RAVEN project will be networking with many other food security groups in the province. One important New Brunswick network, Food For All NB supports a New Brunswick that is informed, connected, and engaged in food security for all. This organization recently rebranded itself after operating for 10 years as the New Brunswick Food Security Action Network. Its website explains that: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
Immediately prior to joining the RAVEN project in January, both Floyd and Wall attended the Food For All NB networking gathering in Bathurst. The December gathering was made up of regional food group staff and supporters. They gathered to share updates, strategies and to celebrate the re-launch of the Community Food Mentors program. Community Food Mentors are a province-wide network of trained individuals who share their skills in food and nutrition within their own communities. The gathering’s hosts in Bathurst (Chaleur Region) led a volunteer afternoon of packing wholesale food for their monthly affordable vegetable and produce packs, which can be ordered by anyone in the community regardless of income level. This gathering was a valuable first step for the RAVEN project team.
Another organization heavily invested in food security across NB is the Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick (AANB). Their annual conference for the province’s farmers is scheduled for January 16 and 17 in Fredericton. Their Open Farm Day service in September supports visits to participating farms for everyone to learn about the food being produced and the people working to provide this food to everyone.
Among the other Canadian university research teams working on food security is a joint project of the universities of Guelph and Dalhousie. “Already, one in eight Canadian households is food insecure,” says Simon Somogyi project lead for the University of Guelph and faculty member of the school of business and economics. “With wage growth stagnant, Canadians aren’t making more money, but they still have to eat. The ever-increasing use of food banks across the country is an example of how Canadians can’t afford to put food on their plates.” That research team produces the annual Canada’s Food Price Report. The food pricing for 2020 is based on their December 2019 survey that found almost 9 out of 10 Canadians believe food prices are rising faster than income.
Food security across New Brunswick is a critical issue affecting everyone. Creating local and regional environments and networks of people engaged in this work builds cooperation and collaborative opportunities for all.
Brian Beaton is the NB Media Co-op calendar coordinator and a friend of the RAVEN project.