Food Bruce Grey collecting regional data to spark dialogue on food security, poverty

·3 min read

The Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force is tackling regional food security issues through its website and app, Food Bruce Grey, which aims to collect food security data to paint a picture of regional needs and issues.

Food Bruce Grey captures data from food banks, food rescue programs, and meal programs across the region by aggregating information given by volunteer and not-for-profit organizations.

Information can be viewed on both a local and regional basis, including the amount of food rescued or diverted from becoming waste, the number of meals served by food programs, and food bank demographics, among other data sets.

Launched on Dec. 1, 2020, Food Bruce Grey was showcased in a presentation to The Town of The Blue Mountains (TBM) council Nov. 29, where regional food security issues were highlighted for council.

The counties of Bruce and Grey are home to 22 food banks, 19 meal programs, and 15 community gardens, but these programs have faced issues over the course of the past year.

"This year alone three meal programs were forced to suspend operations because their funding was not renewed," said Paul Wagenaar, food security coordinator at United Way of Bruce Grey. "In addition, six of these original Community Food organizations did not and have not reopen their doors because of COVID-19."

"The precarious nature of funding volunteer groups changes from year to year, and many times organizations are only advised funding has been approved days before the previous funding runs out," Wagenaar said. "In addition, most of the volunteers are senior citizens, the most vulnerable age category in the pandemic."

The presentation stated that 20 per cent of homes face food security issues in the Bruce Grey region, which is above the provincial rate of 15 per cent.

Additional issues in the region include a lack of connectivity between food security programs, which creates information and food silos, and the great distances required for transportation in the 8,000-square-kilometre region.

"Many organizations have grown organically in isolation," Wagenaar said. "Some exist in silos and as a result, they don't share protocols ideas or even something as simple as joint purchasing. Unfortunately, this situation has contributed to keeping the scope of the issue out of the public's mind."

"In Bruce Grey, the 50+ organizations rely on an ad hoc volunteer network of seniors in cars," Wagenaar said. "Rural food organizations, particularly in Bruce Grey, provide their services in some of the most challenging and changeable weather conditions anywhere - not only is winter driving difficult, in summer hot weather threatens food spoilage because of the distance and inadequate food storage capabilities."

Wagenaar said that the goal of Food Bruce Grey is to collect data that can spark dialogue and begin to affect change, and that broader systemic issues need to be addressed to ultimately tackle food security issues.

"Given all of these issues, and more beside, we're trying to build collaboration and connection between all the food organizations in the communities by facilitating communication [by] removing those silos, encouraging the sharing of their practices, and trying to remove stigma," he said. "To make people aware and to engage decision-makers, we needed a tool, something to inform, educate, and correct misconceptions."

"We can throw all the food in the world at this problem, but if we don't solve the underlying issue we're going to be doing this forever," he said. "Food banks were designed to be temporary--40-50 years later, we still have them and they're being used far more than ever because, as a society, we didn't address the real problem, which is poverty and the lack of affordable housing."

The Food Bruce Grey website can be found here.

Greg McGrath-Goudie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

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