For many in our community, access to enough affordable, nutritious food is a real struggle.
Over the past five years, the Ottawa Community Foundation has focused significant effort on the issue of food security. Over that period, we have given a pair of $125,000 grants to local organizations to pilot bold and innovative systems-level work to rewire portions of Ottawa’s food infrastructure. We have also provided many other grants to local groups, such as Just Food and the Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard.
As a result of these engagements with the food community, as well as our work with other social activists and community groups, we concluded that one of the key contributions the Ottawa Community Foundation could make was to fulfill its role as a convener. By bringing together the many different actors and stakeholders engaged and invested in food security we are able to identify synergies, needs, opportunities and partnerships.
In March 2016, we hosted the Ottawa Food Forum - a local gathering that convened highly knowledgeable and engaged individuals from different areas of the food ecosystem, including processing and distribution, food and restaurant, community food security, institutional food services, and public sector food and health agencies.
The Forum explored four structural themes:
- Procuring, storing and distributing food
- Processing food
- Getting food to consumers
- Reducing and managing food waste
In each of these areas, individuals and groups work to make a difference in Ottawa.
During the Food Forum, connections were made, insights were shared, and opportunities surfaced. Among those taking action on food security, we heard from the Ottawa Food Bank, whose Community Harvest Program grows and collects produce in collaboration with local farmers, distributing over 80 tonnes of vegetables annually via community food programs across Ottawa.
We heard how simply getting fresh food to consumers is an enormous challenge when so many people – especially in low-income communities – buy food at convenience stores or fast food outlets. We heard how MarketMobile brings an affordable fruit and vegetable market into communities where income constraints and lack of grocery stores limit access to healthy food. More is also being done to leverage assets and resources between MarketMobile, the Good Food Box and the Good Food Markets and Meals on Wheels. We heard how Ottawa’s Hidden Harvest collects and distributes fruits and nuts that would otherwise go to waste. And we heard much more about the many impactful and innovative food security initiatives underway in Ottawa.
As a result of the exchanges at the 2016 Ottawa Food Forum, we began supporting the planning of an Ottawa Food Hub, which is intended to provide nutritious food at wholesale prices via a centralized purchasing system for local organizations addressing food insecurity.
These are just a few of the ways we – and others – are taking action to improve Ottawa’s access to healthy food, pursuing both improved food security and a stronger local food system to deliver broader and longer-term benefits for Ottawa. The challenge is complex and requires long-term involvement which is why the Ottawa Community Foundation is committed to continuing to make food security a priority area. But through these many local efforts new models are being tested, new relationships put in place and new knowledge being shared, all helping more and more people get better access to better food.
It’s a big challenge, but an exciting one. We invite you to join us in taking action to improve food security in Ottawa. You can contact the organizations mentioned in this article to pursue opportunities to volunteer, donate or partner or get in touch with us so we can help connect you to the people making a difference here in Ottawa!
For more information:
Director, Grants and Community Knowledge
Ottawa Community Foundation
T: 613-236-1616 ext. 222