Over the last five to ten years, there has been a resurgence of local food movements across Canada and North America. These movements have been rooted in re-connecting primarily urban residents with their local food producers. They have helped foster a renewed appreciation for seasonal, healthy eating, and a better understanding of issues farmers face. Furthermore, it has allowed urban residents the opportunity to directly participate with farms via a community sourced agriculture model. However, even with a renewed focus on eating local, for many people in our city and province, a secure source of healthy food eludes them.
One answer to help foster a more secure source of healthy food is community gardens. While, I do believe that community gardens are one piece of our food security puzzle—I do not think they can fulfill the demand. Presently, the majority of community gardens within HRM that I am aware of are relatively small and in more affluent areas of the region. With the exception of the Hope Blooms garden in the Gottingen St area and the community garden in North Dartmouth, most seem to be more a place for hobbyists. Providing space for people to come together via a community garden is positive, and has benefits; but I believe it is time for us to become serious about food security on a large scale.
With the securing of funding for a Grocery Co-Op in the North End Halifax, and Community Food Centre in North Dartmouth: food security and reliable access is on the mind of many citizens. If you look at the economic realities of North End Halifax and Dartmouth: there is limited access to affordable, fresh, local food. This is because of a present lack of smaller, local grocery stores and larger chain grocers that are more centrally located in those neighbourhoods. Centrally located chain grocery stores present a problem because of affordability and limited access either due to mobility or financial constraints.
Food security is not simply about what people have access but equally to how they have access to it. In HRM and in Nova Scotia, we need to address food security, from the top but more importantly from the grassroots level. Across all neighbourhoods, we need to advocate for our communities and push for city policy that supports full scale urban agriculture and urban hens. On city wide urban agriculture and urban hens, our city is behind so many other jurisdictions. Although, we need to educate our local politicians, the push collectively needs to happen at the grassroots level. As a community, we can create opportunities to grow food on a street, across a neighbourhood, in our community and with work across all of HRM.
There are direct relationships between what one’s diet is and how that determines their health. In Nova Scotia, we have some of the highest rates of cancer, diabetes is on the rise and the health of our youth is falling. People in HRM living in poverty have their health compromised daily because of lack of access to affordable, fresh healthy food. So, how can we change this in our community? Throughout HRM we have green space that is being under-utilized; there are inedible plants and flowers lining the majority of municipal and provincial buildings. A model for action, not for endless municipal staff reports, comes from Todmorden, England. “Incredible Edible” is a movement of making our land one that can nourish us with equal, universal access to plan and harvest. Imagine of all the land throughout HRM, the planters in front of municipal buildings that now house bushes, shrubs, and flowers that we can’t eat. Imagine this same land: that instead of growing flowers and shrubs, we grew food. The potential of how this would transform our local ecosystem, and transform the lives of so many residents across HRM is immense. To walk out in your neighbourhood and have fresh, local grown food: how positive would that change be for you? Food security should be a grassroots response: we can change land use, grow food and change lives.
In 2014, I am excited to see that this idea is starting to take hold. Halifax Diverse has planted several types of fruit trees in Leighton Dillman Park to begin an urban orchard. This is a small step to making our landscapes more interactive and reconnect people with their food. Coupled with the grown popularity of the local food movement, and Common Roots Urban Farms—food security is on the radar for many. However, even with those positive steps there is still much work to be done. We are fortunate to have so much land in our city, and we should do our best to use it our full potential.