Innisfil town council recently received a presentation by the Simcoe County Food Council and an update on local programs designed to address food insecurity.
Food Council co-ordinator Michael Ryan explained the group grew out of the county’s 2013 Food and Agriculture Charter, which led to provincial roundtable discussions identifying food insecurity “as a real problem” in Simcoe County.
In 2019, the county adopted a new food security framework “to develop approaches to enhance food security in Simcoe County for all people,” Ryan said, as well as “a sustainable, equitable and secure local food system in Simcoe County that recognizes food as a human right.”
The goals of the framework and the Food Council include raising awareness of the existence of food insecurity; identification of poverty as the underlying cause, leading to support for income and housing solutions; improved access to nutritious food for all; a focus on community food literacy; and support for agri-business to build a more sustainable food supply.
The framework also calls for the fostering of food traditions and Indigenous food knowledge and culture, as well as support for county-wide collaboration, to build community food security.
The collaborative effort involves local food banks, agriculture and local food systems, community gardens, food literacy programs, groups focusing on equity, diversity and inclusion, and the poverty reduction task force, with the aim of building household and community food security.
Ryan provided statistics to support the concept that economics and access to food are linked.
One in eight households are dealing with food insecurity, both on the national level and within Simcoe County – and one in six kids live in food-insecure households.
In Simcoe County, 11.4 per cent of residents are living in poverty and 12 per cent of the population between the ages of 25 and 64 lack a high school diploma.
Economic security is key, noted town health associate Sara Corcoran. On the municipal level, the town has undertaken a number of initiatives, including the Innisfil Community Fridge, the Garden to Give community gardening initiative, and the What’s Cooking Innisfil food skills program.
The Community Fridge, located outside the Innisfil Recreational Complex, is stocked by organizations and individuals to provide access to nutritious food at no cost and is open around the clock. It operates on a “take what you need, leave what you can” basis.
“It’s important that we continue efforts to address food insecurity,” said Corcoran, in particular by pursuing policies that reduce poverty, provide affordable housing, and provide retraining and job support.
The Simcoe County Food Council is “a new organization that’s just getting our feet on the ground,” said Ryan. “Municipalities have a role to play, supporting food assets in the community.”
Coun. Alex Waters suggested that the Food Council contact the planners working on the Mobility Orbit transit-focused community in Innisfil so food security will “get built into the community… and get our foot in the right place at the right time.”
Deputy Mayor Dan Davidson pointed out that access to food supports – whether the Community Fridge or the Innisfil Food Bank – can be a problem. He suggested that lack of transportation is a barrier to access and spoke of a family who were unable to access the food bank through the Uber transit model.
“I’m wondering if there is a way to deliver,” he asked.
“Transportation is a big issue,” Ryan agreed.
He noted that in other communities, food security programs have been able to work with existing volunteers and existing apps to bridge gaps.
Mayor Lynn Dollin noted the town does have a program to provide free Uber transit to the food bank. The struggling family “should have been able to get a free trip,” she said.
“We are always evaluating our community programs and services to make them accessible for all,” said Corcoran, and looking for ways “to make accessing food more equitable.”