Food security study says now is time for action in Arrow Lakes area

·3 min read

A new report on food security in the Nakusp/Arrow Lakes region says it’s time for local community food groups to come together with local policy makers to work on the issue.

The Arrow Lakes Food Security Assessment was delivered to Nakusp Village council last week. Begun in early 2020 by the Old Fire Hall Collective Society, the report looks at the status of food security in the area, and the capacity of existing community resources to provide sufficient quantity and quality of foods to local households.

The report says there’s concern in the area about food security. Climate change, COVID and other factors are disrupting supply chains and driving up food costs, a real problem for many in the region.

“For a community with annual earnings that are 32.5% less than the provincial median, rising food costs represent a significant risk to our future health,” the report says. “Certain members of the community already report severe food insecurity and children arrive at school in need of the nourishment needed to learn and thrive.”

An online survey done by the collective is by its nature limited, the authors said, but gives policy-makers a hint of the issues involved. A quarter of respondents reported running out of food during the month before having money to buy more. While 13% said they occasionally couldn’t afford balanced meals, 6% said they often encountered this situation. That group reported going entire days without food, and losing weight because they didn’t have enough money.

This is a region that used to produce nearly all of its food locally before the flooding of the Arrow Lakes Reservoir, the report notes, yet now has fewer than a dozen market gardeners and farm producers to feed the region.

Meanwhile, significant barriers keep local producers from growing. The assessment noted gaps in the production of dairy and fish, the lack of an abattoir or other value-added processing facilities, uncoordinated institutional (hospital and school) meal programs that can’t take advantage of local producers’ crops, the difficulty for local producers to get their goods on local grocery store shelves, and the lack of distribution service options.

“Access to markets, both local and outside the region, has been cited by many producers as a major constraint to expanding production capacity,” keeping local food producers hobbled for growth, the report notes.

Steps for food security

The 25-page report is intended to help local decision makers and local groups involved in food security plan the best approaches to the issues of food access, food literacy, and food economies.

“The first step toward achieving local food security is to coordinate the efforts of the various local groups who are already involved, and to gain the support of policy makers,” the report suggests.

That would include distributing the report to local politicians, government departments, social service agencies; establishing a local Food Security Committee and local information network to oversee and engage in the sustainable implementation of a food security plan; hire a development coordinator to keep the committee’s work on task; and look for funding opportunities to continue the effort.

“The opportunities to expand and strengthen local food production have been well documented in the RDCK’s Agricultural Area Plan,” the report says. “…The Arrow Lakes region has an opportunity to improve food security at a local scale in conjunction with these regional initiatives, but must not wait for others to take the lead.”

“The time for action is now,” the report concludes.

Nakusp council received the report as information.

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

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