(Since I missed half of the meeting, please excuse any inaccuracies or missed names. Feel free to add to this in the comments below!)
|“I’d love to see a new form of social security … everyone taught how to grow their own; fruit and nut trees planted along every street, parks planted out to edibles, every high rise with a roof garden, every school with at least one fruit tree for every kid enrolled.” ― Jackie French, New Plants from Old
Rice, which can be grown in Surrey
I was able to attend part of the afternoon meeting yesterday for ‘Seeds of Change’, discussing food security issues in Surrey. Areas being targeted for projects are Guilford and Newton, the two lowest income centres in the city. They were also chosen because these areas already have some ongoing programs (such as Avenues of Change and the Starfish packs). I live at the edge of Guilford and City Centre, an interesting mix of an area.
There were many government organizations, non-profits and volunteer groups at the meeting, including from the City of Surrey, Fraser Health, Sources, United Way, Surrey Food Bank, Food Action Coalition, Village Surrey, and discussion of projects that were supported by Vancity, A Rocha, and the Rotary Club of Surrey. So lots of groups discussing the issues facing 8% of Surrey’s adult population (and children) that are food insecure.
What does, ‘food security’ and ‘food desert’ mean? I wrote an article on food security last year which goes into more detail on this issue which affects us all. I live across the street from an ‘inner city’ elementary school and my son attends an inner city high school in Surrey, so I see first-hand the challenges that families face. Food or rent? Car or telephone? Heat or lights? Everything is interconnected so we cannot create food security without also addressing rising housing/rental prices and the need for social housing in our city.
If community garden space is available but a person has no experience with growing food, that is a barrier. At the meeting, Kate (Gro-Carts co-founder) talked about the importance of connecting experienced growers with new gardeners. There is also a need to grow foods that people are familiar with (fenugreek for an Indian immigrant family, for example, or purslane for a Middle Eastern couple). Food security involves choice, not just having enough calories.
The issue was broken down to four food security concerns:
This involves things like ‘food deserts’ or areas where people are not within a 10-15 minute walk of a food store. If only a convenience store is available, that means junk food so is not a viable option. 8% of people report abandoning culturally important foods because of lack of access or money.
A big barrier is not having a vehicle. Most people shop at a big box store, where there can be some good variety, but 75% of food insecure people said they did not drive to the store. Furthermore, 51% mentioned time poverty as a problem. If you are working two jobs, have children, and are chronically behind on the bills, finding time to shop, prepare food, cook and clean up every single day is exhausting.
This is a big one. If you have to pay rent or get evicted, you are more likely to skimp on food and visit the Food Bank. Young families are frequent users of food banks, an unsettling situation. 23% of people in a food poverty survey said they go hungry some of the time due to food affordability struggles.
4) Food Literacy
If money is tight, you buy as many calories for your dollar as possible. That means starch, sugar, and less fresh fruits and vegetables or meat. So learning to make the best choices possible (eg. lentils) take a solid education and management skills. You may be new to the area, not speak English, and not know where the nearest good food store is. Having maps online, showing safe walking routes would be a good start. Pop-up markets, perhaps at schools during the afternoon when parents or grandparents are picking up children, or food trading tables are also possibilities.
The barriers and solutions exist on an individual, neighbourhood and systemic level. The city can change zoning to ensure everyone is within walking distance of a good store, a park, and/or a school or community garden. The individual can start sharing backyard spaces with people they know, to grow food or learn gardening tips from people in their area. The community level has the most power to be collaborative, for example linking people with cars with people who want to go glean at a farm in another part of Surrey. Lower income people are more likely to be in the north, farmland in the south.
Asset mapping is very useful, as is thinking about ‘zones’. If a garden space is too far away and time is tight, likely someone will give up that space. But if it is also a place to come and socialize, perhaps meet with others new to the area, attend a workshop on native plant species or go on a ‘edible weed walk’, or swap food that you preserved last week, there is a much bigger incentive to come together. As permaculture says: ‘stack your functions’.
The PLOT in Newton (pictured above) has been a great multi-faceted, community project. There are school gardens, church gardens, community gardens, backyard sharing programs, community kitchen programs, gleaning coordinators, school lunch programs and much, much more. If you know of a project that you want to share, please add to the comments section below! Learning about what programs and resources are already out there helps to know where and what to target. And if we build confidence, there is strength in numbers when we work together from all backgrounds, ages and skill sets. We all have something to contribute!
Kate and Tammas with the Gro-Carts
Silvia offers free gardening, food preservation
and intro permaculture classes