Connecting communities through food

Communities have huge power to shape their local food system – but it requires the input of all community members to make change happen. That’s been the mission of the Community Food Connections Association (CFCA) in Medicine Hat. CFCA’s food security coordinator, Alison Van Dyke, has been building up an inclusive food community for the past four years that she’s been with the organization.

“A big part of our organization is not just skill building but also community development,” she explains. “So that, to me, is a big part of how to get people included, especially people that might be in isolation, or marginalized groups. We want to see relationships built, not just skills. A big part of what I do in working with other agencies and groups in the area is trying to figure out how we can be really inclusive in our programming and opportunities for volunteering.”

CFCA runs three main programs: community gardens, community kitchens and a wholesale produce purchasing club. They also run regular workshops and information sessions on things that their community wants to learn about.

Medicine Hat is only a five hour drive from Edmonton, but the local food landscape is quite different. Being over two hours away from any major urban areas presents both challenges and opportunities unique to their community.

“We kind of feel out here on our own, so it’s kind of having to be self reliant in a lot of ways,” Van Dyke says. “Yet on the other hand, we have a lot of opportunity down here that a lot of communities don’t have, particularly in accessing market garden-style produce. We have a lot of greenhouses and then we have market gardens and Hutterite colonies. It’s interesting how climate and agricultural practices can influence accessibility.”

 

Accessing local food and strengthening the regional food system is a top priority for many no matter where they are located, Van Dyke believes. She’ll be a panelist at the Cultivating Connections conference and is looking forward to learning how similar organizations operate in Edmonton and other areas across the province.

“People don’t realize how much food influences their life, not just the eating of the food, but where they’re getting it from and how they’re getting it and how much it can become so much a community supported endeavour; how much influence community can have on supporting local food systems,” she says. “Because that’s a big part of our food club, is supporting local farmers. Year after year when we do surveys, that’s the thing that people say is the most important thing to them, is purchasing local.

“There is a place for everybody in being involved,” she continues. “It’s just for us to figure out how it can work.”

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For more information Community Food Connections Association, visit their website.

For more information and to register for Cultivating Connections, click here.

Tweet your food questions to #AskEFC and #Cultivate2017 or email them to info@edmontonfoodcouncil.org. Three regional mayors (including Edmonton’s Don Iveson) will be answering your questions at Let’s Talk Food, the free opening event of Cultivating Connections.

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