Collaborative Policy Development: Moving Our Food Justice  Priorities Forward Post Vancouver Election

An indoor networking event. Meeting room with circle tables, with people sitting around them on the background. Map of Vancouver is displayed on the wall. On the foreground, there is a rectangular table with promotional flyers and community resources. A group of three people are standing next to the table, engaged in a conversation. On the background, two people, standing are also having a conversation.

Ian Marcuse, Coordinator of Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks, reflects on the next steps for food justice movement in Vancouver

Many of us working in the community food sector have long been  asking whether our current policies and funding are matching the current food challenges we are facing in our communities. In late September, prior to Vancouver municipal election, Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks, along with leading food justice organizations, hosted Food Justice Town Hall to start the conversation on the importance of evidence-based municipal food policy.  We assert that Vancouver has never had proper community driven organizational or institutional structures for participatory and deliberative food systems policy development. As such, the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks in partnership with the Food Justice Town Hall organizers are keen to see the development of such structures, post election, that can support a more active policy and political involvement led by community knowledge, including the very important work of strengthening an inclusive and policy engaged Vancouver Food Systems Network.

Vancouver is well regarded as having a vital and collaborative food movement. For example, a varied urban agriculture community is helping to foster local food resilience; a growing number of food recovery organizations are expanding options for accessible, dignified and culturally appropriate food provision; the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network are a best practice in place-based food justice programming; and equity-deserving groups and Indigenous food sovereignty work is gaining a stronger voice within the mainstream food movement.

Despite a relatively thriving Vancouver foodscape, many challenges exist in achieving a fully equitable, resilient, and just food system. 

Vancouver is unaffordable for many and with the rising cost of food, inequities are intensifying with many more people slipping into food insecure. Many community food programs are at capacity and dreadfully underfunded. COVID exacerbated this problem in the wake of a poor pandemic food response from government and traditional emergency food organizations and many of us are feeling trapped in the on-going need to maintain emergency food provision and unable to transition to increased capacity building and systems change work as desired. While the worst of COVID is past us for now, Vancouver still does not have an emergency food plan. 

As of this writing, British Columbia set 11 October temperature records amid a warm and record-breaking drought that has likely killed tens of thousands of spawning salmon in dry creek beds. In the summer of 2021, our food system was drastically impacted by an extreme heat dome, damaging hundreds of fields of crops. The following November the region’s food supply was hit by extreme flooding, impacting most of the Fraser Valley’s food outputs. It took months for farmers, grocery stores and others along the food supply chain to recover leaving serious gaps in our food system to be filled by imports. 

Several important City plans and strategies, including the Healthy City Strategy, the Climate Emergency Action Plan, Resilience Strategy, the Vancouver Food Strategy and more discuss the importance of healthy local food systems, however, these plans remain largely aspirational without the resources attached to fully address the current food vulnerability. Within Vancouver’s 2022 Operating Budget of $1.74 billion, food systems funding totals a mere .06% of this budget. Even more alarming is the City’s $3.5 billion 2023 – 2026 Capital Budget contained no money for food systems, though a last-minute lobby by the Vancouver Food Policy Council, ourselves and a few other community organizations, resulted in a mere $600,000 for food infrastructure reinserted into this budget.

Following the successful Food Justice Town Hall, all agreed that there is a strong appetite for a collaborative convening and deeper dive into food policy priorities and budgeting as our next step. As such, the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks along with others are proposing the following two-year initiative.

  • Outreach that will map and bring together a network of cross sectoral stakeholders, food activists, experts, academics, and lived experience. Key will be to ensure that all important voices are at the table and/or equally at their tables. Creative participatory engagement will need to be considered carefully to guarantee equity and inclusion.  
  • Convening where there have ever existed adequate community forums for food systems policy and budgeting development. The Vancouver Food Policy Council which was to provide such a space is unable (itself under-resourced) to engage in meaningful community policy making. Rather, we envision a community driven convening process with far greater ability to overcome engagement barriers while building a compelling people powered policy vision. 
  • Community Led Policy Development that responds to City staff and elected officials who are telling us that they need and want to hear our priorities. Inclusive convening will allow an opportunity to listen, share, learn, engage in participatory information and data gathering that will inform our food system priorities for the coming years. 
  • Strengthening Government Relations when there is little opportunity for proper public policy input or little capacity and time for community groups to develop policy and politically engagement, then creating opportunities for improved community to government collaboration by advancing meaningful, well researched community-based food systems priorities and budget submissions is key to systems and policy change.

An indoor networking event. Meeting room with circle tables, with people sitting around them on the background. Map of Vancouver is displayed on the wall. On the foreground, there is a rectangular table with promotional flyers and community resources. A group of three people are standing next to the table, engaged in a conversation. On the background, two people, standing are also having a conversation.
Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks – Networking Event, 2015. Photo Credit: VNFN

We expect such an initiative to facilitate important new networks amongst urban farmers, community gardens, cultural and Indigenous led food programs, the many community food organizations, foodbanks, food businesses, food recovery operations, schools, funders, and many other non-food organizations including anti-poverty coalition, health providers, neighborhood houses, housing advocates, and environmental groups where food also shows up. Groups and individuals would come together to share knowledge, provide research and data, and generate bold new food system priorities. This cross sectoral and grassroots convening is essential to the development of an inclusive, community led and comprehensive approach to strengthening local policy and budget development, rarely seen in our local food systems work. Wealso expect that such convening could facilitate improved community organizing and empowerment that can push for necessary change to help reduce food insecurity, better fund community food justice work, address food inequities, help mitigate climate impacts, and decolonize our food systems all via community informed solutions.

If you are interested in joining the conversation, please connect with us at info@vancouverfoodnetworks.com 

Story by: Ian Marcuse,

Coordinator, Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks