Reflections on the journey from the centre of the storm.
The people of the Comox Valley have always had a special knack for community organizing, but the COVID-19 crisis has taken us to the next level. There is a remarkable story unfolding here about our collective capacity to respond, adapt, and develop resiliency.
The circumstances we find ourselves in impact the most vulnerable in our community first: those who are food- and housing-insecure. Before the COVID crisis hit, many of us were already living paycheque to paycheque, managing income-to-housing ratios that were unsustainable. Daily healthy-food programs at local schools provided essential nourishment for hungry kids. Community programs and service clubs were feeding individuals and families though the food bank and soup kitchens.
This need is only growing. The number of people who are hungry in our community is increasing every day. In response, Valley non-profit organizations—with support from compassionate local businesses—have been helping to ensure emergency food accessibility for our vulnerable residents by coordinating donations and proactive distribution.
Maurita Prato, Executive Director of LUSH Valley Food Action Society, says “countless partner agencies” are involved in the response efforts, including the Comox Valley Food Policy Council, the Coalition to End Homelessness, the Community Health Network, and more, adding: “The necessarily collaborative nature of this response cannot be overstated.”
This work has only just begun: emergency food accessibility is only one step on the road to food security, which has been defined by Canadian Feed the Children as: “the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.” But it has always been part of the mission of LUSH Valley Food Action Society, a group that exists to “support the Comox Valley community in gaining food-systems skills and knowledge to increase food security, self-sufficiency, and local food production.”
This mission is more important than ever, and in partnership with members of the Food Policy Council, LUSH is also facilitating local connections and knowledge building that will be needed in the weeks and months ahead.
LUSH recently started a public Facebook group called “Grow Food Everywhere Comox Valley” that has over 700 members and counting. It’s a rich resource filled with advice and information, including livestreams, for local gardeners. Members are sharing knowledge, links, seeds, and supplies, along with hope and inspiration.
The path to food security will require government action as well, and local policy advocates are hard at work looking at ways that public lands, land-use policy, and common resources can help to provide food for those in need. Local government has the potential to play a strong leadership role in local land-use decision making and in advocacy to other levels of government.
The Comox Valley is fortunate to have some very knowledgeable and passionate food advocates at local government tables, folks like farmer and Area B Director Arzeena Hamir and Cumberland Councillor and BC Farmers Market Board Chair, Vickey Brown.
“All the work that is currently underway will have a great impact on food security in the long run,” says Brown. “The pandemic is forcing innovation in existing organizations and at the municipal and provincial level.” She adds, “This work was started long before the pandemic, but is getting its spotlight as a result of it. If support for the work had not been in place—Ministry of Agriculture programs, CVRD’s food policy council, backyard chickens, etc., in Cumberland—we wouldn’t be able to be as responsive as we are now.”
The ability of the Comox Valley to meet more of its own food needs, collectively and individually, is extremely important. Over the past few years, our knowledge of the potential impacts of climate change on food security has heightened this awareness. But it’s always felt like an “over the horizon” threat, one that many of us thought, “we’ll work on when we’re not so busy.”
We were always so busy.
But now, we’ve arrived at that horizon. The interconnectedness of our global food supply system has never been more apparent. The ability for workers to cross borders to tend and harvest crops across North America has been severely impacted. The potential for disruption to a food distribution chain that most of us have taken for granted is significant.
We are incredibly fortunate to live in one of the best places possible to cultivate resilience and food security. The Comox Valley has a long growing season and lots of land, and we are surrounded by incredibly talented farmers and food producers, community leaders, and business owners who make up a network that nourishes local food security.
“We have a unique opportunity to support local farmers AND improve food security in the community. If the demand is there, farmers rise to the challenge, and I’m seeing it already,” says Hamir.
LUSH Valley envisions “a region where healthy, local food is at the heart of community wellbeing.” We have the framework in place, including our collaborating agencies, the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market, local grocers, restaurants who source locally, and farmers who sell roadside. More than ever, this network needs our support to help us all shift toward a more food-secure future in the Comox Valley.
To find out more about the work of LUSH Valley visit www.lushvalley.org
To find out more about the Food Policy Council visit https://lushvalley.org/resources/food-policy-council/
For more on the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market visit https://cvfm.ca/