Anticipating Manitoba Budget 2014 (Part 3) - Growing Local Food & Food Security

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Budgets are not simply financial documents. They are clear statements of values and priorities. Some people and communities benefit, while others do not. Particular outcomes for society are pursued aggressively, while some are ignored. With this in mind, we eagerly await the Government of Manitoba’s 2014 “Statement of Values and Priorities” to be delivered on March 6th at the Legislature.

St. Norbert Farmers' Market
St. Norbert Farmers' Market

As a network led by its members, CCEDNet – Manitoba works with over 100 community-based organizations to identify what government could do to best support their work, or even to reduce the need for our work at all.  The members have identified a number of impactful ideas, which we have worked with them to advance.

Food matters. A lot. To everyone. Food is a significant determinant of our short and long term health, our kids’ ability to learn, clearly impacts and is impacted by our environment, and is an important piece of our provincial, regional, and family economies.

It was amazing to see hundreds of people gather last week to learn, celebrate, and connect around food security and local food at the 2014 Growing Local Conference hosted by Food Matters Manitoba. The people and ideas were inspiring, the common vision was hopeful, yet the challenges we face in achieving food security and sustainability are significant.

"To change our food economy, we need to ensure that every person in Manitoba at least has access to sufficient healthy food to ensure a basic quality of life."

Food is such an essential ingredient in our lives, yet the way our food economy is structured not only determines who is able to access what kinds of food (if any at all), it also impacts the livelihoods of those who want to be local and sustainable food producers. Our food policies and markets are geared toward specialization, mechanization, commercialization, and export. In turn, we buy most of our food from multinational corporate oligopolies.

We do have lots of food in Manitoba, but not everyone has access to it, and while we produce nearly $4 billion in food, the benefits of this are certainly not reaching local producers as rural family and food producer incomes continue to fall. On average, farmers only receive 27% of the price of a week's groceries while, for grain farmers, this dips to 4%.

Mennonite Village Museum garden in Steinbach
Community garden in Steinbach

To change our food economy, we need to ensure that every person in Manitoba at least has access to sufficient healthy food to ensure a basic quality of life. Raising the provincial EIA rental allowance to 75% of median market rent would help so that people don’t have to spend their food money on rent.

We also need to take action to re-localize our food economy by supporting local, sustainable food producers and making sure that we have the distributors and infrastructure available to get that food to consumers. Changing our massive and complex food system is not easy, and requires action on several fronts. The mechanism that makes the most sense to oversee a shift would be a Food Policy Council that brings together various stakeholders and explores action on multiple fronts. Many cities such as Edmonton, Toronto, and Halifax already have this, and it's why our members prioritized the need for the City of Winnipeg to create a Winnipeg Food Policy Council. The province could also adopt this model with the creation of a Manitoba Food Policy Council focused on strengthening food security and investing in a local, sustainable food economy.

"We do have lots of food in Manitoba, but not everyone has access to it, and while we produce nearly $4 billion in food, the benefits of this are certainly not reaching local producers as rural family and food producer incomes continue to fall."

Of course, Manitobans would feel more confident in producing sustainable food if they knew that there was a growing demand for it. While Manitoban consumers are increasingly looking for these options, larger institutions should also shift their food purchases toward local, sustainable food producers. Diversity Foods, the food services provider at the University of Winnipeg, already does this, and have proven that it is possible with great outcomes for them and local farmers. This is why our members have prioritized a policy around the procurement of local food, and the provincial government responded with resources to test the idea.

This isn’t about ending agricultural production for export, banning strawberries in winter, or risking food safety. It is about creating a shift that ensures that our food is healthy, produced and transported in an environmentally sustainable way, accessible to all Manitobans, supports Manitoba family farms and rural economies, and re-humanizes our food system. Do you know who makes your food? Those who purchase from local producers, farmers markets, and Community Shared Agriculture initiatives certainly do.

Our members will look to Budget 2014 for action that will investment in food security for low income Manitobans and in strengthening the local food economy, knowing that this will generate returns around reduced poverty, increased health and decrease health care costs, create local jobs, and stimulate rural economic growth.