News / Winnipeg

Food council could soon take root in Winnipeg

The table is set for Winnipeg to get a food policy council -- a body that will advise the city on what it can do to increase residents' access to healthy food.

Sita Gurung moved to Winnipeg from Bhutan five years ago. She's been growing fresh food for her family in the Garden of Nations and would like to see more community gardens in the city.

Lyle Stafford / For Metro

Sita Gurung moved to Winnipeg from Bhutan five years ago. She's been growing fresh food for her family in the Garden of Nations and would like to see more community gardens in the city.

Locals are one step closer to seeing a municipal food policy council take root in Winnipeg.

On Wednesday, Mayor Brian Bowman’s executive policy committee voted in favour of creating the council, as recommended in a report penned by the city’s chief planner, Braden Smith.

Smith writes that “food councils help identify issues and provide advice related to the local food system.”

A food system, as Smith and other experts have defined it, is the path food takes from being grown or produced, eaten, and eventually disposed of.

More than 200 food councils exist across North America, the report reads.

Rob Moquin, a policy manager with Food Matters Manitoba, says the organization identified the need for a food policy council almost 10 years ago.

Back in 2015, councillors voted to create such a body, and staff have spent the past two years figuring out the right governance model, logistics and costs. 

“Food has been nobody’s responsibility, and yet everyone’s responsibility,” Moquin said.

He believes the city has a part to play in ensuring residents have access to healthy food.

He wants the new council -- which the report recommends be comprised of a city councillor, provincial appointee, health worker, researcher, two food producers, a representative from a community group involved in food security and up to three nominated citizens -- to develop a city-wide food strategy.

So, what else can the city do to help people access healthy food?

For starters, Moquin says planners could help make food more accessible in ensuring grocery options and community gardens are inked into neighbourhood development plans.

City planners told Wednesday’s committee they already intend to study ways to ensure that agricultural lands are protected.

Another option: A set of new guidelines that make it easier to operate farmers’ markets, Moquin said, as well as facilitating more food-based activities in civic institutions.

“Why can’t city-run facilities like community centres have community kitchens and run cooking programming alongside, say, hockey practice,” he said.

Moquin added that Winnipeg Transit could re-route a number of buses, so people who live in neighbourhoods with no grocery stores can get their food more easily.

“We know that without options, without access, either geographically, but also with enough income, that people don’t have the opportunity to make healthy food choices," Hannah Moffatt, who works in the health equity field with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said after Wednesday's meeting. 

She believes it's important the food policy council include members who have personal experiences with food insecurity, and that there are representatives from the Indigenous, newcomer and refugee populations. 

The report says it will cost the city $69,000 annually to operate a food council. 

City council would have to approve that money as part of the 2018 budget. 

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