The Cloverbelt Local Food Co-op is holding community input sessions around the district this week to gather thoughts and ideas for a regional food charter.
The project is being run in partnership with Lakehead University's Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, the Northwestern Health Unit, local municipalities, and other organizations across Northwestern Ontario.
Anita Marcotte, the community co-ordinator for Rainy River District, is hosting these sessions, which began Friday in Stratton and will wrap up tomorrow in Emo.
The sessions allow people to learn a bit about local food, as well as have their say in what they want to see in a plan for local food.
Information gathered then will be used to create a regional food charter for the Rainy River and Kenora districts.
“It's an overall vision and plan that guides policy and decision-making,” Marcotte explained during Monday afternoon's session in Devlin.
It will be something municipalities or other organizations can use to have a clear idea of what the community wants when it comes to local food, and hopefully encourage policy and commitment when it comes to supporting that.
The charter is a principal statement, vision, and a series of goals written by a city, town, or region that outlines what they want a local food system to look like.
As an example of something that may be addressed in a food charter or affected by it, Marcotte cited the Dryden Farmers' Market, which has free access to the arena provided by council there.
“If that were written into a food charter, 'We will support local farmers' markets and we will provide and make available to them such resources as they need,' then if somewhere down the road a different city council is in place that wants to change that, and start charging for the use of that arena, the charter would guide that decision,” she noted.
Marcotte also said public health concerns could be put into the charter, then municipalities could look at supporting local producers who produce healthy food.
“They can look into trying to set up a system to make that food more readily available than food grown somewhere else, with no care and concern for anything but profit,” she reasoned.
Marcotte has been happy with the few input sessions she's already hosted and the ideas gathered.
The issue of not having a store was brought up at the Stratton session, meaning residents need to travel to another community just for food.
At the session in Rainy River on Monday morning, similar issues were heard from people concerned about the residents living in remote communities north of the town.
Marcotte also is sure that in the sessions throughout the week, she is going to hear more about the abattoir in Emo and the prospect of two Cloverbelt hubs in the area.
“A food charter, put in place, would look at something like the abattoir and say that it is a benefit for the region,” she remarked, adding she uses it as an example in her presentation.
“This is the only abattoir in the whole district so we don't want to lose that business," Marcotte stressed. ”We want to support it.
“A food charter should be looking at that as a prime resource.”
As for the Cloverbelt hubs, a program that some others thought may replace the former Clover Valley Farmers' Market here in Fort Frances, Marcotte said it comes back to issues with transportation and travel.
The co-op is based out of Dryden and it has yet to find a driver to transport the product every week to the potential hubs in Fort Frances and Emo.
Session continued today at La Verendrye Hospital here from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., then finish up tomorrow at the Emo Inn from 1-3 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.
“Our focus is the ground level and that is why these community meetings are being held,” noted Marcotte.
"To get input from the average consumer, the average producer, and the one who is spending the money either making the food, transporting it, or buying it.
“Once we are finished the data collection at the end of June, the information goes to the university, they compile it, and then write up a survey,” Marcotte explained.
That survey then will come back to the Cloverbelt website so people may participate.
“That gives people a second chance to have their say in the food charter,” Marcotte noted.
She admitted a regional food charter is a hard idea to sell on a poster. And from her experience, people need some time to think about it.
“They might not understand the significance of it," she conceded. ”But after I have talked to people, even for a couple of minutes, they really start to capture what it is about and they realize the importance.
“At this point, we are really raising awareness so that when the survey comes back onto the website, those people can have their say,” Marcotte added.
Other community co-ordinators for Cloverbelt continue to hold sessions in Kenora, Sioux Lookout, Dryden, Ear Falls, and Red Lake to add information for the comprehensive food charter that will cover Northwestern Ontario.