Food Insecurity – A Decade in Review
The 2013 Victoria’s Vital Signs Report asked a key question: “Do you know where your next meal is coming from?” The results spurred a decade of focus on food security for the Victoria Foundation to build a food-secure region with less reliance on emergency support, and a strong local food economy. Ten years later, the Foundation is taking stock of successes, learnings, and looking at what comes next.
Better Understanding the Problem
While the Vital Signs report was a first step for the Foundation, there was a need to paint a picture of what was happening locally. Consultant Keith Jones of Victoria Integral Strategy Practice, offered to address a wicked problem in the region using their road-mapping methodology.
Jones led a mapping exercise to review what was working in the region and identify areas for increased collaboration. The process brought together two dozen funders and community stakeholders to develop a shared vision for a sustainable regional food system. This collective vision guided the direction of the Foundation, aligning funding priorities to address key gaps in support, including collaboration and infrastructure.
“We convened local funders to examine where funding was going in the food system,” said Carol Hall, Victoria Foundation’s Director of Strategic Initiatives. “Great projects, like community gardens and meal programs, were being supported, but infrastructure and processing equipment were missing. Without these components, we would be unable to transform the system, forever stuck on a treadmill of keeping people fed while watching the lines for food banks get longer instead of solving the underlying issues.”
Working alongside community partners, the Foundation’s long-term commitment and partnerships contributed to innovative solutions like the centralized Food Security Distribution Centre warehouse, operated by the Mustard Seed Street Church with dozens of partners, including the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable (CRFAIR). The Centre provides space to support initiatives like the Food Rescue Project, South Island FarmHub and more.
Plotting the Course for the Food Security Distribution Centre
Having the road map and the vision as a guide, the next step was taking action. In 2017, with support from the Victoria Foundation, the Mustard Seed Street Church leased a 22,000 sq. ft. warehouse space in Esquimalt as a regional Food Security Distribution Centre.
This space was critical to support the Food Share Network to launch the Food Rescue Project, recovering fresh food from grocery stores and redistributing it to local agencies serving individuals and families in need.
Treska Watson, Director of Operations at the Mustard Seed, shared, “We started with 11 Thrifty Foods stores, rescuing about 4,000 pounds of food per day, and we have tripled in size and grown in every way possible. Today, we have 32 grocery partners helping us rescue between eight and 12,000 pounds of food daily. Our commercial kitchen allows us to turn many rescued foods into sauces, soups, stocks, and smoothies while reducing waste output.”
In 2019, with funding from the Province of BC, Vancity, and Victoria Foundation, the Mustard Seed purchased the warehouse.
Not only has the Centre become a permanent community asset, it continues to evolve to meet community needs and opportunities with cold and dry storage, food processing kitchens and more. The next phase of development will include a Skills Training Centre with training spaces, boardrooms, meeting rooms, and dedicated office space for other non-profits doing food security work in the region.
Another idea from the road map matured during the pandemic: with restaurants closed, local farmers had crops in the ground but no markets to sell directly to consumers. With funding from the Rapid Relief Fund, CRFAIR launched the South Island FarmHub to purchase local, organic food from farmers and processors and redistribute it to the community. Today, the FarmHub’s online market offers local, organic produce and processed goods from over 30 farmers and 25 food processors.
Food banks are still important emergency supports in our community with higher-than-ever demand. However, the Food Security Distribution Centre and partnerships are moving us closer to building a food-secure region.
Applying an Equity Lens
In recent years, the Foundation has started to take a deeper look at the challenges of food equity. This includes working with equity-led groups to support the community’s vision.
In 2020, Iyé Creative conducted a survey of their participant base of racialized communities and people facing barriers to access locally grown food. 24% self-identified as being food insecure and 44% were facing significant barriers in accessing fresh produce and food. These preliminary findings revealed structural issues facing many equity-deserving groups.
Access to culturally appropriate food continues to be a challenge for many communities within Greater Victoria, and the Victoria Foundation is focusing on methods to support traditionally underfunded communities.
Creating a food-secure region doesn’t happen overnight or even in a couple of years. It takes time, commitment, and funding. While there is cause for celebration, there is still a path ahead to achieve the vision as put forth in the road map. Find out more at Victoriafoundation.bc.ca.
A Timeline of Food Security
In 2014, the food systems road map provided a new understanding of the complexity and interconnectedness of our regional food system.
In 2015, the Food Share Network formed and started to coordinate the distribution of healthy food to 45 community groups.
Space is secured for the Capital Region Food Security Distribution Centre to be operated by the Mustard Seed.
In 2019, the Food Security Distribution Centre warehouse was purchased.
In 2020, the South Island FarmHub launched by CRFAIR to purchase local, organic food from farms and processors and redistribute back into our community.
The Province of BC announces funding for the Kitchen Connect program.