Next City Café on Wednesday: Reimagining Green Space

High Line Park, NYC - photo by CosmicAutumn

________

Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 7.00 PM @ Alpha Soul Café, 1015 Wellington Street West, in Hintonburg.

Do you know of a green space in your community that is underused, that is uninspiring, that you avoid, that you wish could be something more?

This week’s Next City Cafe is about how to reimagine these community spaces and make them into something wonderful.

Bring your imagination, a pen, and your wish list for a local community space — and with some experienced panelists, we will dream big — so come on out and spread the word!

Panelists:

  • Chris Osler, Community Developer of the Sandy Hill Community Health Center
  • Aamina Bedran, Co-founder of the Ottawa Children’s Garden

After the bump, the notes from October’s Next City Café, on the topic of Food Security.

******************

Why does food security matter in Ottawa?

In October, the Next City Cafe met to talk about food security in the City of Ottawa.  Surrounded by the food of the Alpha Soul Cafe in Hintonburg -a hot destinations for exciting new restaurants- the discussion focused on opportunities to better food security in Ottawa.  With 80% of the City of Ottawa rural land there is an opportunity for this city to be a leader in innovative and inspiring projects that link local rural landscapes with urban ones.

Talking about food security is a complex issue so the evening began with a question:  Why does food security matter in Ottawa?  The answers all focused on the obvious: food security matters because we all need to eat.  Specifically, improving access to healthy, local food resonates into other areas of our lives, for example: better overall health and prevention of diseases which lessens the burden on the health care system, decreased reliance on unsustainable transportation systems that truck food thousands of kilometers and, increased focus on a local economy that helps build more livable and complete communities.   The conclusion was that with increasing food prices,  widening income gap and the loss of valuable rural farm land close to cities, food security should be a priority. According to Just Food,  “from April 2009 to March 2010, 43,000 people in Ottawa visited a Food Bank every month. 37% of these were children.”  This alarming statistic is further evidence that we need to prioritize food security.

According to the Next City Cafe participants, there are many opportunities to improve food security in Ottawa.  Supporting local farms and businesses, educating people to make healthy and sustainable food choices, making sure that everyone has access to nutritious food, increasing local food distribution networks, providing education and incentives to encourage new farmers, connecting the supply with the demand and developing local food processing infrastructure are all suggestions that were discussed during the evening.

The first panelist Jason Gray, the Community Harvest Coordinator at the Ottawa Food Bank, works with local farmers to harvest fresh produce that is then distributed to people in need throughout Ottawa.  Since the closure of the Loblaws fresh food distribution center in Ottawa, farmers are forced to send their produce to the main distribution center in Toronto where it is then shipped back to stock restaurants and stores here in Ottawa.  The closure of this terminal has left a void in the distribution network and made access to local food difficult for large retailers and restaurateurs who don’t have time to deal directly with many farmers.  The Ottawa Food Bank felt this strongly as they previously relied on fresh food donations directly from this facility.  Jason discussed how the Ottawa Food Bank has had to develop a distribution hub of their own that buys or receives donations of excess fresh food directly from local farmers which it then distributes to food bank hubs across the city.  This year they gleaned, grew and accepted donations of almost 46, 000 lbs of local fresh produce.   Members of the audience representing the Ottawa food industry were interested in how this model could be reproduced to provide a centralized distribution point for local food in the Ottawa area.

The next panelist was Emily Sinclair; an urban planner with MMM Group and an advocate of food security planning initiatives.  She discussed how planners and developers have a wonderful opportunity to incorporate food into new buildings in the city by including space for community gardens, rooftop gardens and neighbourhood food infrastructure.  She also challenged the planning department to make food security a priority in the Official Plan and other planning documents.  The city planning department also needs to acknowledge and preserve existing land uses that contribute to a city’s food security (e.g. community gardens; fruit trees in parks) and ensure that zoning restrictions don’t hinder food retailing in neighbourhoods; e.i. create zoning requirements that encourage diverse and healthy food retailing options – think the food truck debates.

One of the participants identified the Hendricks Farm Project in Chelsea, Quebec as an interesting and local development project that will incorporate an organic farm and food centric retail space into the multi-use housing development.  Other participants discussed how developers working towards LEED certification of their buildings should incorporate urban agriculture into their plans.

The next panelist was Sarah Levesque-Walker, a food security activist who works with Just Food.  Sarah discussed the exciting new Community Food and Urban Agriculture Hub project that Just Food is developing at their new site in Blackburn Hamlet.   This centre will provide land and training for new farmers, infrastructure such as processing and storage facilities for existing farmers and incubation spaces for local food-based businesses.  It will also be a hub for food related public education programs.

Another project that Sarah discussed was the Food for All, a community led policy project that is helping develop a Food Action Plan for Ottawa.   This project has identified policy and programing that will increase food security in the city in areas such as, healthy school food, food access at OC Transpo Stations, edible landscapes, food education and allowing hens and bees within the urban boundary.

Leonore Evans, who works at the City of Ottawa on food security issues was the next panelist.  Leonore works with people from various departments who are all interested in the interdisciplinary issues of  food security. Leonore discussed how the city is examining the Food for All Project results to see what has already been implemented, what can be easily implemented and what is going to require more study before implementation.  In the near future, the city hopes to incorporate many of the suggested policies and program.  It was encouraging to hear that the city is responding quickly to the call for action however because of the interdisciplinary nature of the issues and the absence of a focused city department it is easy to see how food security responsibilities can be passed around from department to department without any results.

The final segment of the evening turned to what actions the participants would undertake to make food security more of a priority.  Many people were encouraged to take-on personal tasks such as approaching local merchants and demanding more locally grown food.  Others were inspired to get involved in providing education on growing food, cooking and healthy eating at local schools.

The evening provided a glimpse at the growing food security movement that is spreading in Ottawa.  In the week following the event there were many news items highlighting exciting new projects such as a burgeoning fruit gleaning projects, a new Eastern Ontario Local Food Conference and the Ottawa Food and Wine show is holding its first ever Farm Tour.   In the coming year it will be interesting to see the rippling effect these inspiring projects have on the movement to increase access of locally produced, healthy food to people in need.  That will be the true test of a successful food security action plan.