CANMORE – As food insecurity is a top concern for people and food prices continue to soar, Canmore council will soon decide whether to join the Bow Valley Food Alliance’s food charter.
Though all involved in the discussion at the Jan. 18 committee of the whole meeting acknowledged the importance of addressing food security issues, council members were hoping to get a better understanding of what will be expected if they join the Bow Valley Food Alliance (BVFA) charter before signing.
“The ask is that the charter is used as a lens or document to think about council’s work more broadly,” said Lauren Kepkiewicz, a director on BVFA’s board. “When council is thinking of housing, how is food connected to housing and is there a potential win or opportunity to address both housing insecurity and food insecurity at the same time?
“This can go for transportation issues in thinking about how do we ensure community members who do not have access to cars but live far from a grocery store, how are they connected and can they easily get to a place they can buy fresh affordable food?”
With the Town of Canmore having several council-approved policies in place as well as provincial legislation, it’s not uncommon for priorities to conflict with one another.
“In the last few years as we’ve committed as a council to putting things before others, we’ve had those things thrown back in our face. I feel after 11 years in this gig I’m a little burned. There are certain things I’ve signed onto and stuck my hand in the air and wished I could reconsider,” Councillor Joanna McCallum said.
“It’s been used as a weapon and not because we as a council are blind to what’s being asked or the issue on hand, but there’s so many competing priorities. That’s been my largest concern – is that signing onto the charter is going to be weaponized against the community and against council and against me as an individual. I want to understand how that won’t happen.”
Michelle Backhouse, the BVFA’s coordinator, told council the goal is to create a conversation with the charter and food supports, particularly in having different organizations and municipalities work with one another.
“For me, it’s the conversation starter, it’s the uniter and it doesn’t leave anything alone,” she said.
The BVFA was founded in 2016 to address and advocate food concerns and issues in the valley. The organization’s goals aim to support community-based food systems and food security issues that are faced by many residents.
The charter aims to help strengthen local food systems and programs to better address food affordability concerns and accessibility. It also helps with policy guidance for elected officials.
Across Canada, food movements have gained popularity and food charters have been adopted by several municipalities.
In September, the Town of Banff signed the food charter as the second municipality in the valley to do so. Improvement District No. 9 was the first to sign on in April 2020.
Work on the food charter first began in 2018. It include a series of workshops and community conversations over the following year-and-a-half that involved food producers, health practitioners, non-profit organizations, cultural groups and residents.
The charter has eight values that aim to support community-based food systems, accessibility, health and social justice among other priorities.
A two-page letter from the BVFA highlighted how the charter aligns with many of the Town of Canmore's priorities such as its strategic plan, affordability, sustainability, Truth and Reconciliation and wildlife co-existence.
“We are also grateful for the ways that the charter has provided opportunities to begin building relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities as well as between different municipalities across the Bow Valley,” stated the letter signed by Avni Soma, the vice president of BVFA, and Kepkiewicz. “We look forward to continuing to use the charter as a tool to strengthen pre-existing and build new relationships in the future.”
In the summer, the BVFA released a pair of research reports that examined the strengths and weaknesses of food security in the Town of Canmore and the MD of Bighorn. The two papers also outlined recommendations to potentially help the two municipalities.
The 22-page paper on Canmore listed 10 strengths such as community gardens, cultural food groups and community meals. However, there were also 10 challenges in affordability, social injustice and disparities.
The paper had 11 recommendations for the Town, among them being supporting diverse food systems, developing and advocating for ecologically regenerative food systems and increasing support for community food programs.
The formal ask for Canmore council to join the charter is expected to come as early as February.
“In my mind, dealing with food security is dealing with affordability, dealing with food insecurity is dealing with climate change, so it’s a necessary part of those discussions,” said Mayor Sean Krausert, noting the Canmore Food and Friends weekly dinner passed the 95,000 dinners served mark on Jan. 17.