Access to healthy and affordable food is a key component of living a healthy lifestyle; it’s also an essential part of creating healthy and strong communities. Food nourishes local economies when locally sourced and ethically produced goods are readily available. A sustainable food system is necessary for minimizing environmental impacts and healing our ecosystems. Finally, as a social and cultural activity, food can bring a community together.
The Canadian CED Network has always recognized the importance of celebrating and learning about community food initiatives at our Annual Manitoba CD/CD Gathering. As this year’s event quickly approaches, we took a moment to connect with Stefan Epp-Koop, a member of the Gathering Planning Committee and the Program Director for Food Matters Manitoba. Stefan offered his thoughts on the connection between food and CED, the local food economy in Manitoba, and gives some tips on where to eat locally in Winnipeg.
Let’s start with some terminology: Fair trade. Local. Organic. These terms are often used to describe foods that might be healthier and more ethically produced and sourced. But what exactly do each of these terms mean, and what are the differences between them?
Stefan: Let’s start at the local level. Here in Manitoba, “local” generally refers to food grown within the province. Certified organic crops have to pass inspections and audits to demonstrate that they have not used any synthetic fertilizers on their crops or fed non-organic feed to their animals. Some farmers use organic methods, but are not certified, so can’t advertise as being organic. Fair trade provides fair prices to farmers in the Global South for products like coffee, tea, and chocolate. In the commodity market, these farmers often suffer, so the fair trade model creates a better life for farmers and their communities. I don’t see local and fair trade competing with each other – usually they are different products and I think that what we want is fair economic arrangements for all producers – whether here locally or in the Global South.
Making ethical and healthy food choices can sometimes feel overwhelming. Are there any logos consumers should be looking for, or any particular stores in Manitoba that carry fair trade, local and/or organic food products?
Stefan: If people are interested in buying local, fair trade and/or organic food products I’d encourage them to check out Dig In Manitoba, which has a great listing of places to buy local, sustainable foods. Fair Trade Manitoba also has a really comprehensive list of places to buy fair trade products across Manitoba.
What is your vision for a fair food economy?
Stefan: My vision for a fair food economy is rooted in the Manitoba Food Charter which calls for both fair prices for farmers, fishers, and harvesters, as well as access to food for all Manitobans. I think that the beauty of this vision is that it was created by many Manitobans from across the province through consultations in urban, rural and northern communities.
Several cities are beginning to adopt food policy councils to address the issue of food security in urban environments. What are some of the innovative food policies you see having an impact in other municipalities? What policies do you think could work here in Winnipeg or in Manitoba at the provincial level?
Stefan: A few years ago it was easy to say that food policies work in big centres like Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal – but in the last few years what has been interesting to me is the work done by municipalities that are not all that different than Winnipeg. Edmonton, for example, has had a really innovative food-centered planning process and has created a food policy council. Calgary did a community food assessment. Support has come from other municipalities across the Prairies for everything from curbside compost pick up to farmers’ markets. Here in Manitoba, Brandon has taken some innovative steps to talk about food at the municipal level.
You are helping to coordinate two workshops on food and food security at the 2013 Gathering. One of these workshops focuses specifically on food co-operatives. How does the co-operative model fit in with food security objectives?
Stefan: What is really exciting about this workshop is that it demonstrates that many kinds of co-ops can take significant action towards improving food security in a community. Whether it is a community service model like Nor’West Community Health Co-op or a retail store like Neechi Commons, co-ops have been used in a variety of ways to create healthier, more food secure communities.
Lunch at the Gathering is catered by local social enterprises and co-operatives. Do you have a favourite restaurant in the city that is helping to create a fairer and more sustainable food economy?
Stefan: When you work on food issues you get to know a lot of really great local restaurants! Our office is located close to Elements Restaurant at U of W which, as part of Diversity Food Services, has been doing some great work around local, sustainable purchasing at an institutional level. I’ve also been involved with Sam’s Place, a social enterprise café and bookstore in Elmwood that serves some great local and fair trade food. But I think what is truly exciting is how many restaurants there are that are now looking to be local and sustainable. Food Matters produces a local food restaurant guide – it used to be hard to find enough restaurants…and now we can hardly fit them all!
About Stefan Epp-Koop: Stefan is Program Director of Food Matters Manitoba. Previously, Stefan has coordinated research, evaluation, and policy analysis at Food Matters and was also Project Coordinator for the Manitoba Alternative Food Research Alliance. Stefan holds an MA in History from Queen’s University. Stefan became interested in food for many reasons – growing up in rural Alberta, involvement in international development work, and an interest in policy issues, to name a few, not to mentio