Everyone should have access to food that is safe, nutritious, affordable, and personally acceptable, and our local food systems should be equitable and sustainable. This is not a reality for many individuals and communities. Food insecurity is rising and our food systems are experiencing more pressure than ever before. An increasing number of households in Canada are worrying about running out of food, compromising the quality or quantity of their food because it’s unaffordable, and going without food due to financial constraints. In addition, there is rising concern about the environmental impact of our approaches to growing, transporting and consuming food, as well as the ways we manage food waste.
Food insecurity is a complex issue, inextricably linked to and profoundly impacted by systemic forms of oppression. Particularly troubling is the way in which the design of our food economy has led to the staggering prevalence of food insecurity among Black, Indigenous and Racialized members of our communities. Conversations about food security and our food systems often include their relationship to other complex social issues like housing and homelessness, mental health, and substance use.
With structural inequities in food systems on the rise, TNC is committed to partnering with organizations who are dedicated to critically examining and addressing these complex issues. By applying a holistic food systems lens to our work together, we examine food chain activities within their social context to understand the dynamic interplay between the systems’ multiple objectives, as well as the factors that influence them. Through our partnerships, we seek to understand the multiple components of food systems, how they interact, and how we might promote positive change.
We take a participatory approach to strengthening community food systems by actively involving community members in project design, delivery, and discussion to amplify their voices. We work alongside co-researchers with lived experience of food insecurity who are passionate about making a difference in their community.
Some examples of the food systems work we have done with our community partners include:
10C’s Nourish as Community Enterprise (2021). 10C Shared Space is a hub for community changemakers in Guelph, and also the space where TNC’s offices are housed. The Nourish Kitchen is a shared commercial kitchen space on the 4th floor of 10C. We developed an evaluation framework for a project housed in the Nourish Kitchen that provides coaching, support and kitchen access to emerging entrepreneurs in the food sector.
The SEED’s Pilot of Groceries from The SEED (2021): Groceries from The SEED is an online grocery store and delivery service designed to increase access to fresh and healthy food for everyone in the Guelph-Wellington community. Customers can choose to pay retail price or a discounted price based on what they can afford. By creating a social enterprise model in which retail-customers support discounted memberships, The SEED hopes to strengthen community ties and create a sustainable way to provide fresh groceries to the community. Our partnership with The SEED promoted ongoing learning by developing tools that could be used to generate action-oriented data both during the pilot, and in the future.
United Way Greater Toronto’s Community Food Systems Grants Program (2019-2021): In 2019 United Way initiated a new, two-year grants program that provided financial investments and capacity building support to a cohort of six Mississauga-based organizations delivering innovative, community-driven initiatives designed to strengthen the food system and increase the community’s access to food that meets their nutritional, cultural and economic needs. We partnered with United Way to provide evaluation specific capacity building, supports, coaching and technical assistance to each grantee, and worked collaboratively with the cohort to develop a shared measurement framework, while also providing a flexible approach to evaluation that would meet the unique needs of each grantee.
Community Food Centres Canada’s Pilot of Market Greens (2018-2021): The Market Greens pilot project was designed to increase access to and consumption of affordable fruits and vegetables among families who have young children and are living with low-income through the distribution of fruit and vegetable incentives. The incentives were redeemable over a 20 week period at two low-cost food markets: The Local Community Food Centre in Stratford, Ontario and the Miijim Market out of the Chigamik Community Health Centre in Midland, Ontario. We worked closely with Community Food Centres Canada, staff from both of the market sites and a team of co-researchers (individuals with lived experience of food insecurity and/or a deep knowledge about the community) to co-design and implement an evaluation framework that produced meaningful insights about the program’s design and delivery. Together we learned that participants and their children were eating a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, eating more servings of fruits and vegetables every day, felt more connected to their communities, and noticed improvements in their health. The evaluation generated learnings that have been incorporated into the next phase of the Market Greens program which includes a roll-out to 30 additional communities across Canada.
The Good Food Work Experience (2018-2021): A partnership between The SEED, Everdale Farm, Ontario Works, Lutherwood Employment and 2nd Chance Employment provided experiential learning and employment opportunities in the food system to youth who faced barriers to employment or education/training, within The SEED’s social enterprises and at Everdale Farm. In collaboration with the partnership, TNC designed and implemented a developmental evaluation that included pre/post-test surveys on pre-employment skills, youth focus groups and interviews, and interviews with employment supervisors and partners. In line with a participatory approach, TNC also hired a youth researcher who was concurrently employed at The SEED. With support from TNC, the youth researcher developed research skills through the design of surveys and interview protocols, data analysis, and interviewing key informants. As the project evolved, the evaluation was instrumental in informing programmatic changes and improvements.