Anita Georgy talks food security during COVID-19, connecting through agriculture

·5 min read

You might find Anita Georgy on a big pile of soil in her front yard, standing proud after digging up her lawn to make space for a garden.

You’ll also find her in the FarmFolk CityFolk (FFCF) office, working as executive director for the province’s largest food and agriculture non-profit organization. The group has a number of programs aimed at strengthening food systems, helping farmers and mitigating climate change caused by agriculture.

Raised on a farm in southern Ontario, Georgy has been in Vancouver since the early 2000s. Canada’s National Observer caught up with her for a chat about FFCF and her thoughts on food systems.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the conversation around food security?

It has elevated it dramatically. People are worried about their basic needs, like what happens if the world as we know it shuts down? What if food can’t come to our stores? People were stocking up on toilet paper, filling their freezers and buying seeds in a way that we have never seen before.

We saw so much interest in this conversation, and we’ve done our best to respond by supporting farmers, many of whom lost sales channels as restaurants were closing this year. We’re thinking about the initial sort of short-term responses, but also the systemic issues that are being unveiled, and figuring out how to move forward with long-term solutions.

Tell me about your Strengthening Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. What is it and how does it connect urban consumers to farmers?

Community-supported agriculture is an awesome way for urban folks to connect with their local farmers. The idea is that people purchase a share of the farm’s produce at the start of the year. They pay for it in advance, which means farmers get the resources when they need it, when input costs are the highest. Then the farmer is assured of a guaranteed sales channel through the year.

In a true CSA program, the purchaser shares the risk and reward of the farming season, so if the farm doesn’t do well, then that consumer gets a little bit less food. If the farm does really well, they get a little bit more. It’s part of sharing that vulnerability with folks.

This year, especially with COVID, we really saw how incredibly important this type of sales channel is for many of our small farmers. This year, we’re going to completely revamp that listing and help advertise those programs. We’re going to launch a webinar series in the new year to help more farmers adopt this as a sales channel and support them through that process.

You worked with non-profits in the Lower Mainland, such as the Vancouver Farmers Markets and the Richmond Food Security Society, for a decade before joining FFCF. What does food security mean to you?

Food security work is really about food access and helping people make sure that they have enough to eat. The heart of the problem is really economics — people need a guaranteed basic income.

There are many Band-Aid solutions that have become commonplace, such as food banks. In the same way that we’ll always need emergency rooms, we’re always going to need some sort of emergency food supply, but the fact that food banks have become so institutionalized is not something we should be celebrating.

The work FFCF does is more of a food systems orientation. We’re looking at the gaps in flow, how does the sort of larger-scale economics of production and inputs connect with consumers? We don’t necessarily try to tackle food security — we look more at creating demand and supporting a local food economy that works for farmers and consumers.

Your bio says that you believe “food is the most powerful way to connect people with some of the biggest issues of our time.” Can you explain that sentiment? How have you seen it in action?

It really is something I just believe in so strongly. Because we all have to eat, it’s a chance for us all to think deeply about how we’re connected to each other, the planet and how we value the role different people play and how food comes to us.

By looking at our food, there are so many different ways that we can stay connected. For everybody, the entry point is a little bit different, but there’s opportunity for everyone to be thinking about what food means. Questions like what are the impacts of our food choices? Some people don't have choices about the food they eat and must choose solely on the basis of economics. What does that mean for their health? And how did we get to a place where not everyone can eat good, healthy food all the time?

Canadians rely on just four plant species for 60 per cent of the calories in their diets — wheat, maize, rice and potato. Your BC Seed Security Program is tackling and challenging that lack of biodiversity. Can you tell me about that program and why it’s important?

It’s related to health. We need diverse foods in our diet. It’s also related to biodiversity. The planet needs diversity in our fields and production systems. It’s important to make sure farmers have access to the inputs that they need to grow diverse crops that do well in their region.

This interview has been edited for length.

Cloe Logan / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Cloe Logan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer