Food Security Raised to New Level of Concern as COVID-19 Continues

By Erin Hitchcock —

The COVID-19 pandemic has threatened our lives and transformed how we live. It also places our economic security at risk, especially for those most vulnerable. As a result, food security is increasingly becoming that much more important.

Lucien O’Connor

Lucien O’Connor, 4, helps water his family’s garden box at the Memory Garden Community Garden this spring. Community gardens help families and individuals access local, nutritious food while also increasing food security and additional urban green spaces. Photo: Jolene O’Connor

Outbreaks at meat processing facilities in Alberta and the United States, at an Okanagan farm, and at a Saskatchewan grocery store have pushed the issue of food security front and centre—if COVID-19 continues to affect the places we currently rely on for food, it will dramatically disturb the food supply chain for all of us. The virus is a reminder of how critical it is for communities to become resilient to food shortages, not just in the face of this pandemic but in the long term as well.

Governments and organizations are responding toCOVID-19-related food security issues by allocating federal and provincial funding to relief efforts.

The Williams Lake Food Policy Council (WLFPC) has also responded by convening regular virtual meetings with representatives from local government and community organizations to coordinate a local food security response.

“Communities are facing an unprecedented challenge in managing the human impact of the pandemic, so there’s no better time to work together on innovative ways to make sure our community stays fed, our local food system is bolstered, and systems are put in place to make sure food security is a priority in our region over the long-term,” says Megan Dark, Williams Lake Food Policy Council co-chair. “Local governments and community agencies are stepping up in a big way to do this important work, and we’re glad we can play a role by bringing everyone together.”
These calls have focused on areas such as coordinating emergency food distribution, recovering good quality un-sold food from stores and restaurants for organizations providing emergency food, creating more opportunities for people to access spaces to grow food, and supporting local farmers and food producers.
Pre-COVID-19, when schools were in session, many students relied on school-based meal programs. After the schools closed, they were no longer able to access those programs. School District 27, Daybreak Rotary, and the Boys and Girls Club, along with some other helpful people, began distributing care kits containing food and personal care items to the youth the district identified most vulnerable.

Farmers markets and community gardens have been deemed essential services. The Williams Lake Farmers Market is up and running—Initially COVID-19 regulations specified that only food items could be sold at markets, but since June 5, the provincial regulations allowed some artisans and craft vendors back. An online platform for food and other market vendors was created and is another way to access products online. Visit https://www.localline.ca/williams-lake-farmers-market. The WLFPC is also considering other online platforms to connect food producers with consumers.

The Memory Garden on Carson Drive and the Potato House provide garden boxes to individuals and families in Williams Lake. Working groups are currently trying to identify possible public and private spaces to build more garden beds. Schools may also be able to allocate space—150 Mile Elementary School is currently working to build garden boxes at the school that will help teach youth about growing food, while also providing them with healthy snacks.

Anyone interested in freeing up some yard space for community garden boxes or volunteering at existing gardens can contact the WLFPC. WLFPC can also help connect new gardeners with some basic gardening skills to help them grow their own food.

“COVID-19 has raised the stakes when it comes to food security for all of us, but especially the many people in our region who were struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic,” Dark says.“The Food Policy Council’s initial focus has been to co-ordinate emergency food efforts to prevent a worsening of hunger issues. We have incredible community agencies in the area that are working tirelessly to keep people fed.”

A large cabbage grows at the Memory Garden Community Garden last summer. Earlier this year, the B.C. government declared both community gardens and farmers markets essential services. Photo: Erin Hitchcock

The Williams Lake Food Policy Council would like to thank all of those who have taken part in food security calls and for those individuals’ heart-felt efforts to help increase access to food in the community. These include representatives from the City of Williams Lake, the Cariboo Regional District, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, Tsilhqot’in National Government, Cariboo Chilcotin Tribal Council, School District 27, the Salvation Army, Daybreak Rotary, Social Planning Council Thrive Poverty Reduction Initiative, the Boys and Girls Club of Williams Lake & District, the Cariboo-Chilcotin Conservation Society, Potato House Sustainable Community Society, Cariboo Friendship Society, the Williams Lake Garden Club, Interior Health, Pregnancy Outreach, the Cariboo-Chilcotin Child Development Centre, Williams Lake & District Seniors Activity Centre Society, Puddle Produce, the Williams Lake Farmers Market, and the Williams Lake & District Chamber of Commerce.

Erin Hitchcock is the Food Action Coordinator with the Williams Lake Food Policy Council.
She can be reached at foodpolicycouncil@hotmail.com

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