Successful Amherst project fighting food insecurity looks to expand

A pilot project that delivered food every week to low-income families in Amherst, N.S., is looking to expand across the province. 

For three months in early 2019, the Food Inclusive Housing project sent boxes of groceries to 10 families that had trouble affording healthy food, but hadn't reached the point where they needed to access a food bank.

People selected food from a list and paid for it when they paid their rent each month. Food cost less than at the grocery store because it was purchased in bulk, and it meant families paid just one monthly bill for both housing and food.

"I would say that the results were astounding," Mike Davis, managing director of Davis Pier Consulting, told CBC's Information Morning. "People ate better than they had before for less money. They felt less stressed. They got more time in their day."

It also meant families had a steady supply of healthy options all month long, not just during pay week.

The consulting firm was tasked with creating and testing a solution to food insecurity as part of the provincial government's four-year poverty reduction blueprint.

Davis said after speaking with the 30 or so people involved in the Amherst pilot project, it's clear that it worked. Now, he's looking for money to keep it going in that community and expand it elsewhere.

15% of N.S. households face food insecurity

In Nova Scotia, roughly 15 per cent households experience food insecurity of varying degrees, from families going days without food to limiting what they buy.

Nova Scotia has the highest rate of food insecurity among all Canadian provinces, according to a 2015 report by the Food Action Research Centre.

Nick Jennery, executive director of Feed Nova Scotia, said there are many low-income Nova Scotians struggling to stretch their food budgets who don't rely on food banks.

CBC

He said to reach these families and truly tackle food insecurity, communities need to take risks.

"What I liked about this is that it was polar opposite to the traditional model," Jennery said. "Instead of giving out food, we were going to charge for food. Instead of asking people to go somewhere like a food bank, we were going to deliver it."

At the end of the three months, he said they met with the participants, which included families, single people and seniors, to find out how their lives had changed.

"The kids were happier," Jennery said. "The moms and dads ... clearly their self-esteem had gone up. People started food-bartering systems. They started to talk to their neighbours. A lot of downstream benefits happened."

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Davis Pier and Feed Nova Scotia are now looking for partners across the province who want to implement the project in their communities. 

The key to making the project sustainable is making sure it grows, said Davis and Jennery. The more people who take part, the more food providers can buy and the cheaper it will be.

"For it to be a meaningful solution to addressing food insecurity, we need to get it to other communities," Davis said.

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