REPORTS

  • A YEAR IN REVIEW: FROM EMERGENCY FOOD RESPONSE TOWARDS COLLECTIVE IMPACT FOR SYSTEMS CHANGE

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Advocacy, Community Gardening and Urban Farming, Dignified Food Access, Food Hub, Food Justice, Indigenous Food Sovereignty, Neighbourhood Food Networks, News, Poverty Reduction, Reports // January 13, 2022

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    The Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks (VNFN) are a network of community organizations committed to promoting health and well-being through a range of food security programs in neighbourhoods across the City of Vancouver each responding to the unique needs and cultures within their respective communities.  

    This past year, many networks continued providing emergency food distribution programs in response to the on-going food inequities and food security needs that many community members have been experiencing during the pandemic. VNFN members also started reintroducing regular programs, and taking stock of the lessons of the pandemic to address the systemic barriers of food insecurity that would serve everyone in the long term. Together, as a collective of networks, we are looking back and looking forward, celebrating the impact of the year past, reflecting on the lessons and setting a vision for a collective effort into 2022 and beyond. 

    Emergency Response and Beyond

    During the pandemic, Neighbourhood Networks have demonstrated the effectiveness of a placed-based community development approach to food security. We collectively produced the Bold Actions for a Food Crisis Report highlighting the efficacy of our approach to food security as well as making policy recommendations for stronger poverty reduction legislation, comprehensive and multi-ministerial provincial food strategy, and Indigenous land and food sovereignty. At the onset of the pandemic, VNFN members were able to swiftly tap into their local networks and the established community relations, to respond quickly and effectively to the emergency by mobilizing people and resources on the ground.

    Grandview Woodland Food Connection volunteer getting ready to deliver food hampers to community members. Photo by Grandview Woodland Food Connection, member of the VNFNs

    While food distribution continues to be an essential function of member networks, the pandemic experience has brought to the fore the weaknesses of the default food charity approach and highlighted a number of systemic barriers to food security in the long-term. It became more clear than ever that things need to change: both in how we address the lack of food security as a society, and in how we build resilience and community well-being for all.

    In 2021, a number of networks began to take stock of the state of food security in their respective communities, considering lessons of the pandemic, and making recommendations to improve immediate food access while working towards the vision for a sustainable, resilient and just food system. 

    Fostering a “Community-based” Food System

    Recognizing the Right to Food, and the importance of food distribution programs,  a report by Kiwassa Neighbourhood House (in collaboration with Gordon and South Vancouver Neighbourhood Houses, Christ Church Cathedral, Jewish Family Services, and Hua Foundation) made a case for a dignified approach to food distribution. Through conversations with food justice advocates and community members with lived experience accessing food supports, the report is a call to action to move away from the dominant  needs-based charity model  towards a strengthening of community-based VNFN type food programs that support food equity, dignity and justice. The report recommends accessible programs that provide fresh, healthy, comforting and familiar food, while being rooted in community and supporting people’s agency.

    Food Asset and Needs Scan by Westside Food Collaborative, in partnership with Planted Network supports a human-centered program delivery that goes beyond immediate food security concerns, but holistically addresses a variety of intersecting needs. Since food insecurity is embedded in a web of issues associated with poverty, folks accessing food programs are also often in need of housing, financial, labour and medical supports. Having built trusting relations with vulnerable community members, food networks are in a strong position to facilitate access to basic necessities, medical and social services, as well as advocacy support for housing.

    Renfrew-Collingwood Food Justice hosted a pilot mutual Aid Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program this fall. Community members helped subsidize other members by contributing to the cost of a weekly box, filled with fresh produce from the Tsawwassen Farm School. Photo by Collingwood Neighbourhood House
    A typical shift at Food for Families where amazing volunteers sort rescued produce and then prepare 1,000 fresh nutritious hampers per week. Photo by Cheryl McManus
    Little Mountain Neighbourhood House hosted the On the Table event in 2019 sharing food and conversation with community members in the Riley Park Community Garden. Photo by Michelle Huisman

    Adopting a Systems Change Approach

    Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks are making strides in deepening our understanding of the current food policy landscape and the systemic issues associated with poverty that serve as barriers to long-term solutions to food insecurity.  Building Collective Food Security Resilience –  a project, in partnership with Little Mountain Neighbourhood House, has developed a theory of change “toolkit” to provide food justice practitioners a resource for personal learning, community development, and collective action to strengthen the resilience of food security and social justice work towards food systems change based on the VNFN model. 

    Gordon Neighbourhood House Food Program is embarking upon a 3-year research project on food justice and poverty reduction. This work will be taking a systems-level focus on the causes and context of poverty and food insecurity in Vancouver’s West End and translating this learning into new food initiatives that can more effectively respond to underlying causes of food insecurity, again through a strong community and food justice approach as the VNFNs advocate.

    Vision for 2022 

    The VNFNs recently came together to revise our collective vision moving forward towards greater systems impact. Members reflected on individual intentions as well as the rich VNFN history, discussed the current context of food security and imagined the aspirational vision of the food system in Vancouver to work towards to – a sustainable, resilient, connected, culturally appropriate food system in Vancouver that is grounded in the principles of justice, sovereignty, and equity. To support this vision, the Network has refined its purpose towards stronger collaboration to communicate and magnify the voices of diverse communities, to educate the public, and to advocate for local policy and systems change towards food and social justice in Vancouver. 

    Achieving our vision of a more just food system must adopt a decolonized approach recognizing the ongoing impacts of colonization, whereby large communities are disproportionately affected by poverty and injustice, and are excluded from the political decision making process. Balancing power relations through deep,  meaningful and anti-colonial community engagement and coalition building is fundamental to equity based systems change.

    South Vancouver Food Network Harvest Fest booths ‘vegetable print painting’: an excellent way for children to connect with food, nature, and their artistic skills! Photo by Ana Pozas

    It is undeniable that a place-based and community development approach to addressing food insecurity in our communities works – by building community relationships and partnerships, we are able to weather the storm and bounce back. And it is by coming together at the community level that we are able to shift the tide towards addressing systemic barriers and realizing the vision for a decolonized, sustainable, resilient, connected, culturally appropriate food system in Vancouver. Together, and onward!

    Story by Ksenia Stepkina and Ian Marcuse with contributions by Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks

  • 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, Reports, Resources, South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network, Strathcona Community Centre, Village Vancouver, West End Neighbourhood Food Network, Westside Food Collaborative // June 18, 2021

    Filling unmet community food needs during COVID-19

    PIctured here: Staff and volunteers from Grandview-Woodland Food Connection wearing masks and loading food hampers into a volunteer's personal vehicle, for delivery to community members.  The title reads: "Bold actions for a food crisis: Filling unmet community food needs during COVID-19"
    Staff and volunteers from Grandview-Woodland Food Connection prepare nutritious food hampers for delivery to members of their community.

    Fostering food-secure neighbourhoods

    Over 25 years, Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks have learned to support people in growing and accessing nutritious and culturally familiar foods close to home, in neighbourhoods throughout the city. We promote access to food with dignity, and without barriers.

    Many of our actions and principles reflect the global Right to Food standards, as outlined by the United Nations (tinyurl.com/UNRightToFood). 

    Our model is unique! We are a citywide network of networks, working together collectively through problem-solving, sharing information and resources, and advocating to increase our collective impact to build healthy food for all neighbourhoods.

    An image showing a map with the locations of all 14 Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks, which doesn't represent all food organizations in the City of Vancouver. //

We carry out our collective work and responsibilities on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.

    Our work shows how investing in a just community food security model builds strong relationships, and quality access to food on an everyday basis. We’ve also demonstrated resilience and adaptability when crises arise.

    Our model is responsive to the unique needs and cultures of each neighbourhood. Investing in community food security promotes individual and collective health, and eases strain on social and health care systems due to poverty and inequity.

    Building resilience for Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks (before and beyond COVID) means:

    • Advocating for food justice, poverty reduction, and Indigenous land sovereignty
    • Urban food growing, including community, school and permaculture gardens
    • Gardening workshops, seed-saving and distribution
    • Community meals
    • Good Food Boxes
    • Cooking and nutrition workshops
    • Community food markets and food distribution
    • Community food celebrations and festivals
    • Food recovery

    Addressing food insecurity

    During COVID-19, people in our city faced a food crisis that lasted long after the shelves were restocked. Many people became food insecure by losing employment and income, as well as access to affordable, nutritious food near home. 

    Our food systems were inequitable before 2020, and COVID worsened these problems. The 2016 Census shows 20% of Vancouverites live below the poverty line, which is closely linked to food insecurity. Numbers are much higher for our Indigenous and Black neighbours, as well as newcomers to Canada—who remain disproportionately affected by poverty, food insecurity and COVID-19.

    These were just some impacts of the food crisis:

    • Long grocery lineups creating barriers for people with limited mobility
    • Limited grocery delivery services
    • Inability for people to afford healthy food
    • Closure of many citywide food services, meaning longer travel times and health risks to reach a central food bank location

    Our work creates a strong body of evidence that community food security builds everyday resiliency and crisis-preparedness in our neighbourhoods.

    Our existing relationships allowed 15 Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network staff (many of them working part-time) to immediately grasp the need for filling the gaps with emergency food assistance.

    Providing emergency food access during COVID was a mandate shift for us, but here are some ways we’ve boosted food security during the pandemic:

    • Food hamper and meal deliveries
    • Pop-up produce markets
    • Online gardening guides & workshops
    • Seed packet mailouts
    • Outdoor community meals at a distance
    An image showing our COVID food crisis response numbers:
7,807 Households Supported /
20,104 Individuals Supported /
105,190 Food Hampers Delivered containing nutritious food that was purchased or donated /
178,239 Prepared Meals Provided /
37,583 Volunteer Hours by 1,332 People / 
215 New Partnerships Leveraged... in addition to our existing partnerships

    Stories of impact from our neighbours

    Investing in resilient food systems

    Billboards, advertising, politicians, and news media have told the public that food banks are the answer to food insecurity. We recognize the role that food banks play in helping people put food on the table, but we know through our work that building thriving, food secure communities requires a long-term capacity-building approach. 

    We need better legislation, more funding, and more support to help communities grow toward their vision of a just, equitable, and food secure future.

    With an annual budget of about $1.76 million (just 0.11% of the the City of Vancouver’s $1.597 billion operating budget), there could be a full-time Food Coordinator in all 22 Vancouver neighbourhoods (CUPE 15, Programmer 2). Our current operating budget from the City of Vancouver is $200,000 per year, through the Sustainable Food Systems Grant.

    We seek the funding to continue our pre-COVID work citywide, creating a future where every neighbourhood has a community food security network, and every household is food secure.

    Read more about our 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

    Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks: Advocating for Food Justice

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


    Help us build capacity and resiliency over charity!

    We invite you to give to community food networks, to support our community food security model.

  • CELEBRATING 25 YEARS OF COMMUNITY FOOD

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Advocacy, Cedar Cottage Food Network, Community Gardening and Urban Farming, 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, Little Mountain Riley Park Neighbourhood House, Marpole Oakridge Neighbourhood Food Network, Mount Pleasant Food Network, Neighbourhood Food Networks, News, Poverty Reduction, Renfrew Collingwood Food Justice, Reports, South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network, Strathcona Community Centre, Village Vancouver, West End Neighbourhood Food Network, Westside Food Collaborative // November 13, 2019

    As 2019 comes to a close, the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks continues to celebrate 25 years of delivering food programs for our neighbours.

    In 1993, Strathcona Community Centre started their first breakfast program and from there, we have grown to a coalition of 15 Neighbourhood Food Networks across Vancouver to meet the needs of those who face barriers to food security. We have provided food literacy, food skills workshops, community lunches and dinners, community kitchens, gardening programs and have shared many meals and celebrations with our neighbours.

    Thank you so much for joining us on our adventures these past years, and here’s to many more together!