SOUTH VANCOUVER NEIGHBOURHOOD FOOD NETWORK

  • BOLD ACTIONS FOR A FOOD CRISIS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Advocacy, Cedar Cottage Food Network, Community Gardening and Urban Farming, Dignified Food Access, Downtown Eastside Kitchen Tables, Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, Food Hub, Food Justice, Gordon Neighbourhood House, Grandview Woodland Food Connection, Hastings Sunrise Community Food Network, Indigenous Food Sovereignty, Little Mountain Riley Park Neighbourhood House, Marpole Oakridge Neighbourhood Food Network, Mobile Markets, Mount Pleasant Food Network, Neighbourhood Food Networks, News, Poverty Reduction, Renfrew Collingwood Food Justice, South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network, Strathcona Community Centre, Village Vancouver, West End Neighbourhood Food Network, Westside Food Collaborative // November 27, 2020

    Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks are feeding a hungry city, while advocating for food justice well into the future

    9-minute read

    An image of two women smiling while packing boxes full of fresh, brightly coloured produce
    Staff and volunteers from Hastings-Sunrise Community Food Network prepare fresh veggie boxes for delivery to members of their community.

    During COVID, a group of hardworking organizers have been helping neighbours throughout Vancouver feed themselves and their communities. In fact, the collective known as Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks has been responding to the unique food security needs of neighbours in different parts of the city for more than 25 years.

    For Vancouverites who know what it’s like to be well-fed every day, larger charities like Greater Vancouver Food Bank are more likely to be familiar household names. But the work of large organizations is in many ways linked to the far-reaching and deeply meaningful work of Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks (VNFN). While charitable responses have been a key component of feeding people during the COVID crisis, the VNFN collective supports their communities to strengthen interdependence and self-sufficiency—instead of perpetuating a culture of one-sided charitable giving that can be disempowering.

    VNFN Coordinator Sarah Kim and her colleagues believe their work is essential to food security because their organizations have long-standing interpersonal relationships with residents, business owners and organizations in each unique neighbourhood. Over many years, they have learned to adapt to the changing needs of their communities, while moving away from ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions.Today, VNFN represents 14 networks throughout the city of Vancouver, and they’re working harder than ever to help neighbours access nutritious and culturally familiar foods with dignity, and without fear. These principles are among those defined in the universal human right to food by the United Nations, yet the ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ mindset remains commonplace in many privileged Canadian cultures.

    Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network organizations are located on the stolen ancestral lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples, on Turtle Island (which includes Canada).

    Working harder than ever to fill gaps in food systems

    Sarah Kim and her city-wide network of colleagues have been filling the gaps of emergency food response over the past eight months, as the COVID crisis illuminates the systemic crises of poverty, racism, and oppression. Social services agencies like neighbourhood food networks and neighbourhood houses have been responding to these crises for a long time, but now the unjust foundations of our systems are causing more challenges than ever, says Kim along with Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network coordinators.

    During the first few months of the pandemic, it was easier for everybody to see the dangers of food shortages when grocery store shelves were empty. Now that supply chains have recovered and shelves have been restocked for quite some time, thoughts of a food crisis are a distant memory for households who don’t have trouble putting food on the table. 

    “Our entire food system was turned upside-down because of COVID,” says Blain Butyniec of Hastings-Sunrise Community Food Network, and he and his colleagues see the challenges of food insecurity persisting for many.

    Food shortages were an issue in many stores and homes in March, 2020. Photo by Sarah Kim.

    Business-as-usual a dangerous precedent for those living in poverty

    Kim and her colleagues know first-hand that returning to business-as-usual is dangerous for the many Vancouverites who are affected by food insecurity. These same people are disproportionately affected by poverty and housing insecurity, racism, and greater risks of contracting COVID-19. In the minds of many Neighbourhood Food Network coordinators, business-as-usual means reliance on a deficit-based charity model where people think of food banking as the only solution to food insecurity, and have few choices when it comes to feeding themselves and their families—despite the fact that different homes have widely different nutritional needs and traditions around food preparation.

    An image of brightly coloured garden veggies on a neighbour's dining room table
    A neighbour shared this photo of fresh fruit and veggies purchased with the vouchers Gordon Neighbourhood House distributed during early COVID.

    In fact, it’s hard for many Canadians to think of solutions to food insecurity beyond food banks. That’s why VNFN Neighbourhood Food Network coordinators started spending time in calls together when the COVID crisis hit. In addition to supporting one another through sharing information and ideas, and collaborating on bulk purchasing and distribution for emergency food relief, these organizational leaders found their experience and expertise was needed at the table when larger organizations, institutions and governments convened online meetings around emergency food response. This expertise comes from a place-based community development model, where strong relationship-building is the foundation of resilience and social change.

    Since March of this year, VNFN member networks have quickly deployed their experienced staff and volunteers to creatively respond to the unique challenges of the food crisis in their neighbourhoods. From sourcing fresh local produce to meet neighbours’ nutritional and cultural food needs, to sending care packages along with seeds and do-it-yourself gardening resources along with home food deliveries, and coordinating food donations from the community, Kim and her colleagues leveraged existing relationships to maximize their emergency food response efforts.

    Read more about Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks’ bold actions in response to the food crisis


    Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood Food Network
    Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House Right to Food Network
    Gordon Neighbourhood House
    Grandview-Woodland Food Connection
    Hastings-Sunrise Community Food Network
    Little Mountain-Riley Park Neighbourhood Food Network
    Renfrew Collingwood Food Justice 
    South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network
    Strathcona Community Centre Food Security Program
    Westside Food Collaborative

    Seniors have been among the hardest-hit by the food crisis, says Gillian Der of Renfrew-Collingwood Food Justice. Many older adults living alone rely on outings to local fishmongers and greengrocers for social connections with small business owners and members of their communities. COVID-19 restrictions have made these outings more difficult, meaning many seniors are losing out on opportunities for health and wellness, are less likely to have access to familiar and affordable foods, and are at greater risk for social isolation—particularly with the onset of the rainy months, limiting comfortable access to safer outdoor gathering places.

    A summertime image of the Queen Alexandra School garden
    Mount Pleasant Food Network volunteers tend to the Indigenous foodscape garden at Queen Alexandra Elementary School.

    Emergency food response intersects with unjust food systems

    Most Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks and neighbourhood houses focus on systems change work, supporting BIMPOC (Black, Indigenous, Multiracial and People of Colour) communities, including immigrants, migrants and refugees of all generations and walks of life, from youth to seniors. Their collective food justice work includes Indigenous land and food sovereignty advocacy, decolonization and anti-racism work, as well as poverty reduction, and community leadership development through participant-led projects like community kitchens and urban gardening. 

    Emergency food response isn’t at the core of most VNFN organizational missions, but member networks have filled the gaps out of necessity when the Greater Vancouver Food Bank food hubs hosted by local organizations were closed. This change meant the majority of people could no longer access food in their own neighbourhoods. 

    The Greater Vancouver Food Bank says the decision to change the distribution model was based on BC health authorities’ guidelines for staff, volunteer and public safety, and prioritizing getting greater amounts of nutritious foods into the hands of clients more quickly. 

    While food banks are doing the best they can with the resources they have, there are still concerns that many people are falling through the gaps in the system during their time of greatest need. Many VNFN organizations see the charity model of food assistance as an outdated system our societies have inherited, and a band-aid solution that doesn’t address the root causes of food insecurity. 

    For Ian Marcuse of Grandview-Woodland Food Connection, COVID-19 has magnified the underlying complexities and systemic exclusion of the most vulnerable in the community, many of whom are struggling—financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Instead of a charity model, Ian and his colleagues advocate for the more wholistic capacity-building approach of the community food security model practiced by Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks.

    An image of a volunteer wearing a mask as she prepares to make deliveries by bicycle
    A volunteer helps safely deliver fresh food for Grandview-Woodland Food Connection participants.

    Joey Liu of Gordon Neighbourhood House observes that while smaller grassroots organizations were poised to be nimble and flexible around emergency food response, it has been extremely challenging for these local networks to feed their communities during a global pandemic. Most VNFN member networks have taken on a great deal of extra work, with very small teams, few supports and resources, little financial support from various levels of government, and comparatively little capacity for fundraising compared to larger organizations—all while their physical locations have been closed to the public. For the neighbourhood food networks, it seems as though their expertise is needed more than ever in delivering solutions for their unique communities.

    An image of VNFN Coordinators participating in a Zoom call
    Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network Coordinators strategize during a Zoom meeting earlier this year.

    Struggles for food justice are very much interconnected with climate justice, housing affordability in the housing crisis, with anti racist struggles, and anti-colonial struggles. The recent “Balance the Budget” tool promoted by the City of Vancouver invited citizens to give feedback on the budget by requesting more funds for certain areas by removing it from other areas. “It’s kind of difficult to have to rank things, as if they are discrete issues that don’t interact with one another,” says Khalid Jamal of Strathcona Community Centre’s Food Security Program

    Many VNFN coordinators feel the City missed a critical opportunity for taking a more integrative approach to asking questions about and supporting human rights on a municipal level, instead of fostering a spirit of competition for resources. They collectively acknowledge that this is the type of thinking seen in many levels of government and bureaucracies. For VNFN, it simply doesn’t make sense to address the complex issues of food insecurity without meaningful engagement from, and support of the organizations most experienced with developing community food security. 

    “If people don’t see that we’re in a food crisis, we won’t receive the investments of resources we need to change our unjust food systems,“ Kim says.

    An image of participant gardening at one of the Downtown East Side Neighbourhood House's Right to Food Network sites
    A participant of the Downtown East Side Neighbourhood House Right to Food Network works to help grow food for the local community. 

    Food justice: Whose responsibility?

    The view of Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks and its member organizations is that we are all collectively responsible for food justice, which includes human, land and animal rights in every aspect of food systems—from production to supply, but not limited by the capitalist supply-chain view of food as commodity and humans as consumers. Instead, food justice as VNFN sees it can play a role in reconnecting people to the land, to food production, preparation and sharing, and to each other.

    VNFN continues coordinating with the BC Food Security Gateway Community of Practice to be able to advocate to the provincial government, and collaborates with organizations like Food Secure Canada and Community Food Centres of Canada, which operate on a federal level.

    Leaders in nationwide food justice conversations that VNFN are following


    Dawn Morrison, Secwepmc | Chair, Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty 

    Jolene Andrew, Gistxan & Wet’sewet’en | Just Transition Coordinator, Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty & Indigenous Food and Freedom School (former Neighbourhood Food Networks Coordinator)

    Paul M. Taylor | Executive Director, FoodShare Toronto

    Nick Saul | CEO, Community Food Centres Canada
    FoodSecure Canada

    Food justice: The questions, the answers, and the difference

    Many Neighbourhood Food Network coordinators would like to see the City of Vancouver, the province of BC and Canada’s federal government doing more to support the right to food as a human rights priority particularly in recovery plans. VNFN and partnering food security organizations throughout the country are asking questions like: 

    • How can we support resiliency response throughout our food systems?
    • How can we invest in community-based food security? 
    • How can we ensure people at all levels of our food systems are better prepared for when another emergency—or another wave of food insecurity arises?

    What Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks sees as a whole is that decentralized networks of social services organizations are already resilient. Yet greater investment is needed by all levels of government and affluent communities in order to support growth and regenerative practices in the social services sector. VNFN sees their greatest opportunities in providing ongoing community supports, to move beyond a charity model and toward food sovereignty—where communities have greater self-determination in their own food systems. 

    Together with their nationwide food justice colleagues, they’re leading a shift toward policy changes that support thriving local economies, prioritizing the voices and needs of people through fair and dignified practices that support anti-oppression and poverty reduction.


    Story by Jenny van Enckevort, with contributions by Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks.


    Help us build resiliency over charity

    This season, Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks invites you to give to community food networks, to support their community food security model.

  • CELEBRATING COMMUNITY FOOD ACTION WITH SOUTH VANCOUVER NEIGHBOURHOOD FOOD NETWORK

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Advocacy, Community Gardening and Urban Farming, Dignified Food Access, Food Justice, Mobile Markets, Neighbourhood Food Networks, Poverty Reduction, South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network // September 8, 2020

    This is the seventh in a series of blog posts featuring each of our Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks.


    Laura Gair (she, her, hers) has worked with South Vancouver Neighbourhood House for four years as the South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network Coordinator. Laura is a second generation Canadian visitor on these lands, with Scottish, German, English and Hungarian roots. She is a mother of one adorable toddler. Laura has lived in Vancouver since 2008, after moving from the farm belt in Southwestern Ontario where she learned from her grandmother to always have extra food ready for friends and visitors.

    South Vancouver Food Network (SVFN) is an active collaboration of community members and organizations working to enhance health and wellbeing in three neighbourhoods through the power of good food. They support and coordinate local food security initiatives and offer healthy, dignified, community-based food programs. The Network aims to create a more sustainable and just food system in the city. 

    An image of four people smiling and working together at a kitchen counter full of food

    SVFN covers the largest footprint in the city, with boundaries encompassing the three neighbourhoods of Sunset, Victoria-Fraserview and Killarney. These neighbourhoods make up one-fifth of the land in the City of Vancouver, and are home to 100,000 people. South Vancouver is the most racialized area of Vancouver, with 80% of people identified visible minorities and 68.6% of people speaking first languages other than English (compared to 46% in Vancouver overall).  

    Despite representing such a large area of Vancouver, these neighbourhoods are underserved and underrepresented when it comes to community services. With such a large geographic area, each neighbourhood is unique and the communities experience different challenges. The Network’s neighbourhoods have a “commuter culture,” where community members have had to travel to other neighbourhoods to access programs and resources. SVFN works to change that by building more food assets to create stronger community and personal resilience, while also developing stronger social connections in each neighbourhood. Since the opening of Marpole Neighbourhood House inn 2019, they now partner with organizations in the Marpole-Oakridge area.

    An outdoor image of a smiling adult teaching children to use a cider press

    South Vancouver Food Network is known for its gardening and urban farming programs and workshops, as well as community meals, food distribution, and cooking and nutrition workshops. 

    Many pre-existing programs were put on hold to COVID-19 and the need for physical distancing. In place of regular programs, they began focusing on emergency food distribution in early March. 

    Emergency Food Distribution

    South Vancouver Neighbourhood House established a temporary emergency food distribution program along with Marpole Neighbourhood House. This initiative replaced the Greater Vancouver Food Bank’s Food Hub model, which was cancelled around the onset of COVID-19. The emergency food distribution response met urgent needs for seniors and community members with compromised health who felt unsafe travelling beyond their neighbourhood to access other food supports.

    Some of the Network’s emergency food response efforts have included: 

    Safe Seniors, Strong Communities: Cooking frozen prepared meals for delivery to seniors who are isolating

    Cooking programs with seniors by phone, including guided cooking classes and recipe sharing through the South Vancouver Adult Day Program

    Grocery gift card distribution, and referring families for South Vancouver Neighbourhood House hamper deliveries and grocery gift cards through Vancouver School Board, BC Housing, South Vancouver Family Place (SVFP) and Fresh Roots Urban Farm

    Distributing bagged meals to go, in place of indoor community meals at Faith Fellowship Baptist Church, St. Augustine’s Church and Ross Temple. St. Augustine’s Church will reopen and resume Greater Vancouver Food Bank distribution in September.

    Growing Food Support

    SVNH, SVFN and partner organizations are continuing food support efforts through the following programs:

    “Hi Neighbour” food hamper delivery for families, along with South Vancouver Family Place (SVFP) and Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS)

    “Safe Seniors Strong Communities” Hub Agency, which includes grocery and medication delivery, friendly phone calls, and delivering frozen prepared meals for seniors ages 65+

    Virtual Community Kitchen in partnership with BC Housing

    The newcomer youth garden club grows produce on the Rooftop Community Garden

    Hosting Food for Families Mobile in the Killarney neighbourhood through CityReach Care Society

    Gardening Together Safely

    These garden and farm programs have been adapted for physical distancing and sanitizing:

    Farmers on 57th, South Vancouver Neighbourhood House & SVNH: Growing Eden Garden Program

    Sunset Community Garden and Fraserlands Community Garden

    Fresh Roots Urban Farm: Farming, youth programs and pop-up markets are all running with new protocols

    An image of people gathering under tents at an outdoor market

    Needs and Goals

    The Network is also working to find long term solutions to replace the emergency food response program. They are making plans to increase the availability of community gardens and garden programs, as well as community meals and community kitchen programs in South Vancouver.  

    At Marpole Neighbourhood House, they are completing construction of a new garden, in order to begin gardenng programs, and continuing to grow the community lunch events.

    The Growing Eden program is adding an online virtual gardening and cooking component to the project.

    Fresh Roots Urban farm is continuing the SOYL program, as well as markets with new safety protocols.

    Across the board, the South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network is working with community partners toward poverty reduction goals and advocating for the needs of our diverse community. A positive side effect from COVID-19 is that there is now attention being paid to the inequity in resource distribution across Vancouver.  It is time for our neighbourhoods and the people who live in them to be heard.

    Learn more, contribute, and celebrate community food action with South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network:

  • FOOD JUSTICE REQUIRES RACIAL JUSTICE

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Advocacy, Cedar Cottage Food Network, Dignified Food Access, Downtown Eastside Kitchen Tables, Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, Food Justice, Gordon Neighbourhood House, Grandview Woodland Food Connection, Hastings Sunrise Community Food Network, Indigenous Food Sovereignty, Little Mountain Riley Park Neighbourhood House, Marpole Oakridge Neighbourhood Food Network, Migrant Justice, Mount Pleasant Food Network, Neighbourhood Food Networks, Poverty Reduction, Renfrew Collingwood Food Justice, South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network, Strathcona Community Centre, Village Vancouver, West End Neighbourhood Food Network, Westside Food Collaborative // June 5, 2020

    The Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks’ ongoing commitment to food justice and food sovereignty means committing to racial justice.

    We stand in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and Racialized Peoples.