Chatham-Kent officials see Federal Food Policy as a positive step

© Can Stock Photo / tsmarkley

Officials in Chatham-Kent are optimistic about the Federal Government’s latest announcement of creating a national food policy.

Earlier this month, The Government of Canada announced the country’s first ever ‘Food Policy for Canada.’ The federal government will be investing $134 million through Budget 2019 to help achieve key objectives included in the policy.

The document reads: “The vision for the Food Policy for Canada developed through these consultations is: All people in Canada are able to access a sufficient amount of safe, nutritious and culturally diverse food. Canada’s food system is resilient and innovative, sustains our environment, and supports our economy.”

One of the biggest changes to come from the policy will be the implementation of  Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council that will examine challenges facing the county’s food industry and look at the future of Canada’s food system. Also announced is the launch of a five-year, $50 million Local Food Infrastructure Fund, designed to support community-led projects that improve access to safe, healthy and culturally diverse food.

For Chatham-Kent, a municipality that last year produced 20 per cent of all vegetables grown in Ontario, the announcement comes as welcome news.

“From our perspective here in economic development, any announcement from the government, such as this, announcing new programs or potential funding, that are geared towards agricultural industries, we obviously welcome it with open arms,” said Jamie Rainbird, manager of economic development. “Agriculture is in excess of a $3 billion dollar industry here in Chatham-Kent and we are always very excited and enthusiastic to hear of new government initiatives or programs that support this sector. We look forward to reviewing further details of the recent Food Policy for Canada funding announcement once they are released, and will encourage anyone who qualifies to take full advantage of the opportunity.”

Although Chatham-Kent is a large producer of fresh food, not everyone living in the municipality is getting access to it. According to recent statistics provided by Rainbird, approximately 75 per cent of CK residents are not consuming the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables while seven per cent of households in the municipality are “food insecure,” meaning they are having trouble putting healthy good on the table. The new federal policy will aim to fix similar problems across the country, however, a group in Chatham-Kent has already been working on addressing this concern.

Lyndsay Davidson, a dietitian with the CK Public Health Unit, is part of the CK Food Policy Council, which was established in 2013.

She said the council is excited for the federal government’s new policy because it gives them the opportunity to collaborate outside of the region.

“It gives us the opportunity and ability to be recognized for the work that we’re doing and contribute on a national scale,” said Davidson. ” We tend to look at it from the lens that we work in … but in reality, there are so many opportunities to partner outside of our sector.”

Food security remains an issue for many remote communities across Canada. There are many factors, including economic instability that contribute to the lack of good food available.

“Even in Chatham-Kent we do have food deserts,” said Davidson. “Whether it’s because they have challenges accessing [food] financially transportation or for a whole variety of other reasons, maybe they don’t know how to prepare them .. groups like food policy councils are able to create systems and strategies.”

As a next step, the food council in Chatham-Kent is developing a food strategy for municipalities in the region, with the aim of strengthening the food system, said Davidson.

“[Food policy councils] really do give us more opportunities to push forward the work that’s being done around policies,” said Davidson. “Not only locally and provincially but on a national level as well.”

With files from Michael Hugall