News at Medicine - May 2022 - Regeneration: Soil, Food, Community: Building a Sustainable Food System in N.L.


Regeneration: Soil, Food, Community: Building a Sustainable Food System in N.L.
May 4, 2022
Regeneration, a province-wide online public engagement conference that will focus on practical details and innovative models for growing food that is good for us and for our environment, will be held from May 5 to 7, 2022.
 

Regeneration, a province-wide online public engagement conference that will focus on practical details and innovative models for growing food that is good for us and for our environment, will be held from May 5 to 7, 2022.

This virtual conference, which is open to the public and free to attend, has been organized by the Food Producers Forum, with support from the Faculty of Medicine and the Office of Public Engagement at Memorial University. The conference program includes speakers with a wide variety of experience and expertise in food production and security.

The interdisciplinary conference focuses on food security at a time when it is being watched closely. It's unclear what the long-term effects of the pandemic on food security will be, according to Statistics Canada. However, research show far shows that some groups are especially vulnerable. And this province is the second most food insecure in Canada, second only to Nova Scotia.

"The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is one of the most food insecure provinces in Canada, despite its great potential to become self-sustained in year-round food production," said Dr. Atanu Sarkar, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health who is involved with the conference at the Food Producers Forum. Reaching that point of self sustenance requires the sustained work of citizens, policy makers, and private companies, Dr. Sarkar said.

Food Insecurity Solutions

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"Food security means consistent access to enough food for an active and healthy lifestyle," said Dr. Nicholas Fairbridge, a research associate with Memorial's Office of Professional and Educational Development.

Bringing food as a resource down to the community level is one way to strengthen food security in the province, he said. That's important because a University of Toronto study showed food insecurity increased from 2011-12 to 2017-18 after previously declining.

The government is working on this problem but there are significant gaps in the information they have to make decisions, Fairbridge said. Local initiatives are not necessarily being captured accurately, he said, which means investment is not necessarily being distributed properly.

But community-based initiatives around the province are working to reduce food insecurity, Dr. Sarkar said. For example, Dr. Fairbridge will discuss the expansion of local food production at the conference with Ada John of Conne River Health and Social Services, Timothy Drew of the Miawpukek Community Garden, and Laurie Haycock of the Gros Morne Farm and Market.

"Discussions such as our Regeneration conference on community food production, or the recent organics waste-to-value conference recently hosted by the Harris Centre, bring together amazing ideas and opportunities for this province -- opportunities that cannot be implemented if our municipalities block development," said Dr. Fairbridge.

Councils around the province need support drafting regulations and guiding discussions in their community, Fairbridge said. His conference session will discuss how changes to the current frameworks can be made to support small-scale agriculture at the municipal level in the province.

Spreading Awareness

Not enough of the public knows about these successful projects, Dr. Sarkar said. That's something the Food Producers Forum hopes to help change with this conference.

The conference will identify, celebrate and build on the growing movement toward food sovereignty in Newfoundland and Labrador, said Dan Rubin, Food Producers Forum board chair.

The Food Producers Forum, a two-year-old non-profit society, supports local food initiatives, Rubin said. "The hope that this conference embodies is summarized in the idea of turning 'Food as Commodity' into 'Food in Community,'" he said. "This change, supported by thousands of home gardens, small farms, community gardens, foragers, fishers and hunters, is already underway."

Conference registration is free and available online through OPED. This three-day event will consist of an introductory plenary, followed by five thematic seminars and four forums to focus on actions we can take to create a sustainable food system. The conference will wrap up with a general meeting to confirm actions needed to restore capacity for local food production and sharing.

Future plans for the Food Producers Forum include the launch of a province-wide survey documenting the extent and variety of home- and community-based food production, Rubin said.