Last month, we provided you with an update on our ongoing food justice project and how our recent Listening Campaign has expanded the way we envision just, community food systems. This month, we had the pleasure of visiting and learning more about how Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Group (NRG), one of our member organizations, has been striving to enact food justice in their programming.
In sharing Fernwood NRG’s dynamic food projects with us, Jesse Wallis, the organization’s food security coordinator and Chantille Viaud, Fernwood’s Executive director, foregrounded some of the philosophy core to their work, “Dignified food access serves as our primary focus, ensuring that everyone has equitable access to a diverse range of nourishing food options. Within this framework, we recognize the power of food in bringing people together and building vibrant communities. By focusing on community building through food in our work, we can forge stronger connections among individuals and create spaces to celebrate diverse cultural traditions, personal preferences, and dietary needs.”
Fernwood NRG’s Good Food Box program (GFB) reflects these values, providing 250-300 volunteer-packed, locally sourced produce packages each week at low to no cost to community members with a particular focus on reaching those in marginalized situations. Both paid-for and donated boxes are given the same quantity and quality of produce and all recipients have the choice to pick up their produce from one of Fernwood’s 14 partner agencies around the City, or have their box delivered directly to their home.
In addition to increasing the immediate accessibility of diverse and nourishing food, with every food purchase, Fernwood NRG also aims to contribute to the longer-term goal of building a more localized and sustainable food system. As best said by Jesse, “ By consciously selecting food grown on the Saanich Peninsula, we are exercising our purchasing power to support local farmers whom we personally know and who practice sustainable methods. Moreover, the localization of our food system serves as a strategy to cultivate community resilience in the face of an uncertain climate. Rather than relying heavily on distant produce suppliers vulnerable to disruption, like California and Mexico, we recognize the need to establish and support more localized infrastructure. This entails reducing the transportation distances for produce, thereby minimizing the environmental impact and building a more sustainable future.”
Fernwood further strives to uphold the values of dignity, autonomy, and sustainability in their many other community-centred food programming initiatives, including:
- gardens and orchards communally tended and harvested using sustainable practices,
- shared meals and snacks embedded in their childcare programs,
- weekly community meals and seniors’ lunches,
- community workshops in collaboration with the City of Victoria.
Along with enhancing local food access and building community, partnerships key to operating these initiatives also present opportunities for deepened connections and knowledge sharing. For example, partnerships with local farmers supply spare-food donations for community dinners as well as opportunities for participants to engage personally with their supply network and learn about cultivation directly from the source.
While Fernwood NRG is excitingly enacting many key tenets of food justice in their work, Chantille and Jesse reflected that there are still crucial opportunities for growth both within their programming and beyond to bring about a more equitable food system. For example, their GFB produce bags aren’t currently operating to intentionally meet community members’ culturally diverse food access needs. As Chantille notes, “Culturally relevant foods are those which connect people to their home; flavours and smells that bring back memories, and recipes that have been passed down over many generations.” Thus, improving individuals’ access to culturally relevant foods can also serve as a way of supporting their capacity to connect with their own cultural identity. Fortunately for communities in and around Victoria, local grassroots food justice collective and champion, Iyé Creative, is already in the process of gathering stories and insights from the community through a survey to find out which culturally relevant foods folks are finding it difficult to access locally. As a further step in strengthening their commitment to centring justice in their food programming, Fernwood NRG plans to use responses from this survey to start a culturally relevant GFB option.
Our team is deeply grateful to all the folks at Fernwood NRG who we met during our visit and especially to Chantille and Jesse for sharing many details of their food programming with us. Notably, Fernwood’s current programming has emerged from many years of planning, pivoting and ongoing learning. We know that many of you are at varying places with your food access programming and in highlighting Fernwood’s initiatives, we hope to leave you with some inspiration and food for thought about starting and/or continuing to cook up food justice in your organization! Many hands come together to nourish us and many more are needed for the transformation towards a more just and sustainable future.
If you are interested in arranging a conversation or site visit regarding food programming/ advocacy successes, challenges, opportunities, questions, etc. in your organization, please do not hesitate to reach out to our Food Justice Coordinator, Delanie Austin, at email@example.com.
P.S. Stay tuned for the executive summary, final report and resource list from our Listening Campaign in early August!