Community Food Resiliency: Envisioning Our Food System in 2040

Community Food Resiliency:
Envisioning Our Food System in 2040

Guest Authors: Shelby Tay & Jay Penner

Over a hundred people gathered at the Museum of Vancouver on a Tuesday night in February for the follow up event "From Here to There (Part Two): Food, Energy and Transitioning to Community Resilience." At the launch event in December, over a hundred gathered in the same place to start a visioning process around what a just, sustainable, resilient food system might look like in 2040. Both events were collaboratively organized by the Museum of Vancouver, members of Village Vancouver (VV) and the Vancouver Food Policy Council, and was convened at MOV. The night began with a freshly cooked spread of soup, breads and roasted root vegetables and the room quieted to listen to Senaqwila Wyss, 17, of Skwxwu7mesh, Sto:Lo, Tsimsian, Hawaiian, and Swiss heritage (and food security queen in her own right!) who shared a beautiful Musqueam song, acknowledging the unceded First Nations’ land on which the gathering took place.

How did we get here?

Herb Barbolet began the panel presentations drawing from his 30 years of experience engaging in issues relating to the food system. Herb talked about his experience with projects relating to organic food production, cooperative restaurants, collective living, to founding Farm Folk City Folk and Community Supported Agriculture initiatives. It became clear to him early on that people were becoming more and more disconnected with their food and that education was needed – addressing issues of health, social justice, equity – and exploring alternatives to globalization and corrupt capitalism.

Herb explained that since the end of WWII we have seen our agricultural system fundamentally transformed -”industrialized and chemicalized”. Chemically contaminated food systems have been divided into two food systems based on wealth. Herb noted another fundamental change was that the definition of poverty shifted from a “...lack of land to a lack of income” with sustenance farming no longer seen as a viable option. “Wars over oil are also wars over food... the mainstream global food system is not as it appears to us here.” 

“What kind of diet must we have? How can we sustain our populations? How do we rebuild the commons – networks of mutual aid and respect? What was food about before government and corporations?” Herb suggested we need better questions for more sophisticated answers and we need to re-frame what we do and how we think. “A loss of the commons means loss of freedom, personal accountability and responsibility and we must regain control over these parts of our lives.” Despite the challenges ahead, Herb emphasized that there are many inspiring examples of what our future could look like right here in the city, including the forthcoming New City Market food hub, and that each has a role to play in reshaping our food system. “Urban agriculture mobilizes community and breaks down fear, recreating a collective vision and engaging youth.” 

Making food systems resilient

The next speaker of the night, Lena Soots, spoke to the group about creating resilient communities.  Lena has been involved with the Transition Towns Network for several years and works with communities on addressing issues of energy uncertainty, climate change and community mobilization. As a trainer, Lena has introduced communities to the concept of an EDAP, or Energy Descent Action Plan, a model that was pioneered by Rob Hopkins and his students in Kinsale, Ireland and later in Totnes, England and several communities worldwide -- the focus of the night being unique in developing an Energy Descent Action Plan with a focus on food, or FED-AP. “The Transition approach has a fun and experimenting spirit in a serious context...what we’re doing now has never been done before.”

“The term resilience,” Lena explained, “is the ability of a system (person, community, ecosystem) to absorb shocks, stresses and changes while maintaining its essential function. Keeping in mind that the system may change while still maintaining its essential function”.  She cautioned the room about the term and it’s over-use, noting “it often gets thrown around - like ‘sustainability’.” 

Lena discussed three important characteristics of resilient systems; diversity, modularity and feedback, relating each back to food systems. Diversity is the spectrum of activities needed to maintain the central function and depth within each component.  Modularity refers to the interconnectedness of a system but not connected to everything directly so that if one part of the system experiences issues, the system can still function and the entire system does not collapse. Feedback is about communicating the health of the system allowing for a fast enough response to crisis. “Decisions must be made a the lowest level possible - where people are most affected.”

Lena also emphasized the need to look to indicators for resilience - many of which have already become the focus of research; diversified leadership, community member involvement, optimism about the future, mutual assistance and cooperation, and the percentile of people with food production skills. These indicators can help us bridge our past and present with our future and how it relates to the bigger picture.

She finished by suggesting a shift in the language of our narratives, “Resilience isn’t a point that we want to get to – we are already resilient...Lets start telling the story of resilience in Vancouver: How Vancouver feeds itself.

Rural connections

Following the opening presentations by Herb and Lena, Hannah Whitman shifted the discussion to the role of the rural and its connection to urban food systems. She provided an example of the International Peasant Movement, La Via Campesina, a project founded in 1993 involving 150 organizations from 70 countries, representing about 200 million farmers.  Farmers must have a place in local food systems and Hannah argued for a more local focus on diet, local suppliers and institutionalizing relationships through local government.

“Food security means getting food from somewhere but it doesn’t address the autonomy of consumers and producers, where food is coming from, who benefits and under who’s interests and for what purpose?” She explained that what is needed is not food security, but food sovereignty, as well as “frameworks with diverse actions in diverse communities that facilitate choice.”  She ended by providing some examples of food sovereignty campaigns and the various issues they aim to address, including; keeping agriculture out of the WTO; ending violence against women – with women producing more than half the food in rural regions (globally); and peasant rights such as land access and food producing rights.

It started with drop-in spaghetti nights

Ross Moster, founder of Village Vancouver Transition Society, spoke of a need for groups to work together.  “[The] challenges are so enormous that we really need to work together," with VV approaching many different groups to rise to the task of  community-based, local responses to the challenges of creating resilient food systems.

Before founding Village Vancouver, Ross and his partner decided to get to know their neighbours and invited them over for a big pot of spaghetti. They did it to have fun, and realized two days later that what had happened was that rather than everyone cooking in their own homes, they had collectively lowered their carbon footprint and without even thinking about it had become more resilient. Today, Village Vancouver engages in a variety of projects from seed libraries, to neighbourhood food networks to skill-sharing workshops across the city. It all starts with the suggestion, “Get to know your neighbours and see what happens.”

Moving into action

Brent Mansfield, co-chair of the Vancouver Food Policy Council, led a general discussion, getting people to pair up and talk about “what brought you here? What drives us toward a different future?” Brent sees that while 2040 targets are arbitrary, we need to focus on what has to be different and what do we want to be different -- that this process is not just about individual change but how can we re-envision our communities, families, cities and beyond.  These solutions can only be achieved together.

Closing discussion returned the group to thinking about Vancouver communities with one panelist asking the group “What does our FED-AP look like? What does a resilient Vancouver look like?” Transition is not a spectator sport and FED-AP is on the verge of creating working groups and engaging as many as possible.

All of the presenters reinforced the idea that bringing about change to the food system is as much about visioning and storytelling as it is about planning. As the evening winded down, people made their way up to the front of the room to drop their names into paper bags, each marked with the topic of a working group. Participants were invited to join a group of interest for future discussions around various topics to start looking at the next steps from here, building the momentum to weave together relationships, vision, projects, stories of what will become the FED-AP, a collaborative community-based food resiliency plan.

To get involved in a working group, contact Ross Moster by writing an email to ross [at] or through Hanna Cho at the Museum of Vancouver, hcho [at]

See more photos from the event here.

Jay Penner is a graduate student at the University of British Columbia specializing in adult education and a researcher with CityStudio. His interests are in the area of experiential and real-world learning, collaborative learning, environmental education and program planning.

Shelby Tay is a member of Village Vancouver and the Vancouver Food Policy Council and has worked with the Transition Towns movement for several years exploring how we create spaces that foster agency, connection, sense of place and stewardship.


A year later. Did the Olympics make Vancouver a better city? Lance Bereloqitz and Matt Hern debate in the Tyee.

Another question. Can Vancouver become the ‘best place on Earth’?

At Home. A few months ago the Boseman Hotel became home to several homeless people as part of a Canada-wide study about the effects of providing housing for the homeless. An article in the Vancouver Sun looks at it’s progress so far.

Suburban and invisible. More on the changing face of homelessnessness. At a time when great strides are being made to address homelessness in Vancouver, the problem is growing in nearby municipalities. Megaphone takes a look.

The Forgotten. I highly recommend having a look at this series of articles on the Vancouver Observer about the Museum of Anthropology’s cancelled exhibit about the missing women of the DTES and the challenges of exploring such a difficult issue both through art and in a museum setting.

Olympic Village Plan B. Reduce prices and maintenance fees, sell selected condos and rent out others, and rename the whole thing “The Village on False Creek.” Hopefully that will get people to finally live there.

Image: kennymatic, via flickr.




Happy New Year! Wishing you lots of health and happiness in your year of the rabbit.

Favourite places. The Vancouver Heritage Foundation wants to know which places in the city are most important to you. They intend to place 125 plaques around the city to recognize important and previously unrecognized places.

Homelessness. The City has made great strides in providing new housing for the homeless but is projected to fall short of it’s goal of eliminating homelessness by 2015 unless more funding can be produced.

Cultural space. The City has set aside space at 688 Cambie for cultural use but the Vancouver Art Gallery must still demonstrate that it is able to raise the necessary funds to build a new building and operate and there are concerns that the City is trying to fit too many things into the same site.

Internet metering. Vancouverites are taking on the CRTC over the issue of usage based billing, plans by internet service providers to limit downloads and charge people for extra use. To date more than 400,000 people have signed the petition created by Vancouver-based OpenMedia. Another Vancouverite, David Beers, debates the issue in the Globe and Mail here.

Green design. re:place Magazine looks at Canada’s first Passivhaus in Whistler. Formerly Austria House during the Olympics, the building uses 10% of the energy a normal building would and shows the possibilities for sustainable design with wood.

Image: Carol Browne, via flickr

The DTES Kitchen Tables Project

During the display of the Home Grown exhibit, MOV hosted a series of dialogues about food in the Downtown Eastside with members of the DTES Kitchen Tables Project. The project aims to find practical solutions to improve the food security of the Downtown Eastside, through making nutritious, affordable food available and employing people to create and distribute it.

The series began with discussions about the issues that non-profits experience in their efforts to improve the nutrition in the DTES. Many lack the capacity to provide the nutritious food that their clients need, whether due to limited budgets or space or lack of staff. The panelists noted that while food security in the DTES is often discussed, non-profits rarely receive funding to feed people. Instead society must bear the cost of increased policing and hospital use.

Society’s attitudes are a huge barrier. They made reference to the ‘poverty mentality’, the assumption that because people are poor, they are less deserving of basic nutrition and a minimum standard of living. Consequently, non-profits and the people they serve should be grateful for whatever they are given.

But as was discussed in an earlier post, donations of food are not always as helpful as they may seem. The food is often not very nutritious and non-profits have limited capacity with which to deal with the donations they receive. They are often put in the uncomfortable position of not being able to refuse donated food that they don’t need. Consequently food waste is a big issue.

Food programs in the DTES produce a surprising amount of garbage, food that is lost to spoilage, rodents, or simply cannot be used. Disposing of it can be expensive. In some cases, the money saved by accepting a donation of food was equal to the amount it cost to dump the surplus that could not be used.

With assistance from DTES Kitchen Tables, eleven community kitchens in the DTES are exploring ways to reduce their waste. Many are interested in composting but lack the capacity to do it themselves, opening the door to the possibility of creating a composting business that provides employment for DTES residents.

Still, composting costs money that many of the non-profits cannot afford. One proposed solution was to retrofit buildings and appliances to make them more energy efficient. The savings could then be used towards paying for composting. Reducing waste will save organizations money as well, as the cost of dumping garbage is expected to increase over the next few years.

Another waste they are looking to eliminate is disposable dishes. Many organizations in the DTES rely heavily on styrofoam to distribute food because it seems to be the cheapest option available. But once one factors in the cost of disposing it afterwards, it no longer seems to be the best option.

Purchasing food presents it’s own range of problems and issues. Many organizations in the DTES buy from large distributors, but are too small to take advantage of the savings that ordering in bulk would provide. Consequently buying local or organic is out of the question.

One of the roles the panelists envision for Kitchen Tables is as a facilitator for group buying. The organization could bulk order staple foods on behalf of community kitchens and contract with local farmers to guarantee a market for their produce. The food could then be prepared, packaged and preserved by Kitchen Tables on behalf of other community non-profits. This would allow them to produce healthier foods than are available for sale more efficiently than individual community kitchens can.

They are also seeking new ways of distributing food. Joyce Rock, Executive Director of the DTES Neighbourhood House wants to see an end to line-ups in the DTES. The current system of distributing food is impersonal and dehumanizing. People wait in lines for long periods of time in order to sit alone at long tables or carry away some food. She envisions food as a way of creating community and fostering relationships that empower people.

That means eliminating the wait and bringing food to where people are. What if food was given out at clinics or laundromats or other places people gather and wait? There are important benefits to doing so. Hunger and the uncertainty of not knowing where the next meal will come from is stressful, and this can cause people to act erratically or with violence. People are calmer and easier to deal with when they are not hungry.

Food carts were another suggestion for distributing food, and an item that Kitchen Tables could get funding for. But some felt that the money could be better spent elsewhere. Why spend money on a cart when you can use it to employ people instead? If you pay DTES residents to distribute it it they have the opportunity to build skills, earn money and connect with their community, with far more benefit.

DTES Kitchen Tables is currently exploring the feasibility of starting a ‘food incubator’ in the Save-On Meats building. They envision it as a supportive space where people can learn how to start food businesses. People will be able to get professional advice and assistance and have the opportunity to sell their products in a storefront at ground level.

We would like to thank all the members of the DTES community who came to participate and lend their insight during the DTES Kitchen Tables dialogues. The discussion was fascinating and informative and the panelists’ dedication to bettering life in the DTES has been inspiring.


Disappearing lake. The park board is exploring options to preserve Beaver Lake. The lake has been steadily shrinking due to nearby construction projects, sediments and invasive pant species. Now they’re looking for public input about the project.

Underground chickens. Six months after legalizing chickens in Vancouver, only 18 people have registered their birds, and many more people are choosing not to register.

Social housing. Vancouver needs more affordable housing, but where to put it? The City may be backing off from it’s policy of requiring developers to dedicate 20% of new units in their developments to social housing. The property in question is the northeast section of False Creek. The developer, Concord Pacific has proposed that instead of building social housing there, it would give the City two properties in the Downtown Eastside.

Meanwhile activists are currently protesting a proposal to allow the construction of 7 new condo towers in the Downtown Eastside, something they claim will have a detrimental impact on rents and the affordability of housing.

Death at their doorsteps. Also controversial, plans to locate a hospice at UBC hit a snag as residents complained, citing their cultural values. Their concerns have been condemned by some as nimbyism, while others urge more tolerance.

Bike fashion. The Vancouver Observer looks at the colourful world of bike fashion in Vancouver.

Image source: feffef, via flickr.


A belated happy new year and welcome back to our weekly batch of things we’re following!

Van East. East Van is experiencing a renaissance as the cultural heart of Vancouver. It’s affordability is drawing a lot of independent and owner-operated restaurants,  businesses and arts spaces and for the past several years the neighbourhood has been shedding the stigma it once had

The eagles have landed. But there’s nothing to eat. Brackendale’s famous eagle count registered another disappointing turnout this year, blamed in part on a poor chum run.

Home sweet home. After much political wrangling, tenants are starting to move into the Olympic Village.

Roundhouse Plaza. The Park Board is revisiting plans to vitalize the Roundhouse Plaza, which since it’s inception has not been used by the public to the degree that planners had hoped.

Homelessness. 2010 saw a lot of progress made toward housing Vancouver’s homeless, with the creation of new emergency shelters and permanent housing. Yet in spite of all the efforts made in the past year to house the homeless, the number of homeless people grew this year, from 1500 to nearly 1800.

Remembering Gastown. The Globe and Mail looks at some of the early investors in Gastown who saw potential in the neighbourhood.

Our new exhibit SweaterLodge Unlatched opens this week!

Image credit: kennymatic, via flickr.


Food security. The city awarded grants to SOLEfood Farm and the DTES Kitchen Tables Network this week for their projects to create employment and food security in the Downtown Eastside. SOLEfood provides employment for DTES residents on an urban farm, while DTES Kitchen Tables is planning to open an incubator program at Save-On Meats that would help people learn how to start food businesses.

Supporting local food. The Tyee’s coverage of local food this week focused on sharing equipment and other solutions for supporting local food economies.

Social housing. Housing activists are planning a sit in at the Olympic Village to protest the reduction in the number of units dedicated to social housing, a result of budget shortfalls and sluggish sales.

On a more positive note, the Station Street housing complex opened this week, the first of 14 new purpose-built social housing developments around Vancouver meant to get people off the streets.

Bliss? Posts from local blogs will no longer be included in the civic news round-up that is sent out to staff at City Hall.

Washrooms will remain open. The City has revised the budget for the Parks Board, making money available to reverse cuts to washroom maintenance and a decision to charge users of sports fields made last week.

Expanded Playland and PNE. But in spite of opposition from nearby residents for expanding the amount of space dedicated to Playland and the PNE, the Hastings Park revitalization plan was approved this week.

Image source: Gerry Kahrmann/Canwest News Service, NP


Sne’waylh (teachings). There are only 10 remaining fluent speakers of the Squamish language. Orene Askew is trying to change that with her current affairs radio show on Co-op Radio. She begins each segment with a language lesson and invites important people from the First Nations community to speak.

Why rent when you can own? That’s what many small retailers are asking themselves. Rental rates for retail space in Vancouver are rising, forcing many businesses, even profitable ones to close or move to other areas. In response to this gentrification, a growing number of small businesses are purchasing their retail space.

Rest in peace. This week marked the passing of Vancouver historian Chuck Davis. Tributes are pouring in for a man who spent the better part of his life researching, writing and educating about Vancouver’s history.

Olympic Village. The developer of the Olympic Village has gone into receivership and the City of Vancouver has taken over the management and sale of the properties and some other assets.

Hungry. Food bank usage is rising across Canada and people are now visiting at the highest rate since 1997.

Mount Pleasant. The new Mount Pleasant community plan was released, outlining priorities that include affordable housing, encouraging, pedestrians, cyclists and transit, and improving public space for events and activities.

Photo credit: Cindy Goodman, for Vancouver Courier

DTES Kitchen Tables: Buying food for the DTES

Wednesday’s post about the DTES Kitchen Tables Series dialogues covered the poverty mentality and food donations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but the majority of food distributed in the DTES is purchased by non-profits from businesses, and some of the discussion focused on the issues they face in sourcing good food for their clients.

Ruth Inglis of the DTES Women’s Centre shared a bit about how she goes about purchasing food for the meal programs in her organization.

When she first took on planning meals for the Centre, food orders were made through a large distributor, and due to the low volume of their orders and the supplier’s minimum purchasing rules, the supplier would only deliver once per month. She was concerned that she was unable to know where the food had come from and how it was grown and wanted to support local and organic growing if it was possible.

She began to look for alternative sources and ultimately settled on another large distributor. In the end, price won out as her main consideration.

Searching for alternatives

There are several organizations that are working in the DTES to provide better access to food. One that was mentioned was Quest Food Exchange, an organization that works with restaurants and grocery stores to divert food that would normally be considered waste toward people who are in need. Some of the food is donated to local charities while much of it is offered for sale to low-income people and non-profits at below cost.

Inglis mentioned that while she was interested in purchasing food from Quest, uncertainty about what goods would be available was a disadvantage. Their stock and prices fluctuate, making it difficult to budget and plan meals, and food may be at the end of it’s shelf life, making storage an issue.

For her organization right now, going with a large commercial distributor is easier and makes more sense.

Large distributors are not necessarily bad. Darren Stott, former director of purchasing for SPUDcontributed some thoughts about distributors and sourcing ethical food. SPUD lists the location that the food it sells comes from so that consumers can make informed choices. Other distributors don’t do this. This is because many other larger distributors are so big and have so many sources that they may not know where their food came from and it is not yet part of their corporate culture to make note of it.

However, this is not to say that it is not possible. SPUD’s decision to list food where food came from was a direct result of consumer pressure. Large distributors have greater capacity and are more efficient at sourcing and purchasing. They would source more ethical products if they felt there was consumer demand.

Kitchen Tables Project

Rock’s vision for the Kitchen Tables Project is a resource that enables easier access to food for organizations in the DTES.

These organizations are small and often acting in isolation from each other. There is a need in the DTES for an organization that helps coordinate communication between different organizations about their needs. This organization could help facilitate collective purchasing directly from farms or from suppliers to drive down the price and support local producers at the same time.

Come join us for the next Kitchen Tables talk this Sunday, November 21, where the next topic will beMaking Food, Making Jobs: Downtown Eastside Residents working in their local food economy.

To learn more about the DTES Kitchen Tables Project, visit

DTES Kitchen Tables: the trouble with donations

The DTES Kitchen Tables Series is a series of dialogues at MOV that put a lens on the issue of providing nutritious and affordable food to people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The first dialogue centred around the ‘poverty mentality’, the assumption that because people are poor, they are less deserving of a minimum standard of living. This mentality provides a huge barrier to access for many people in need of nutritious food. Many Downtown Eastside residents have health and mental issues that are exacerbated by their lack of access to adequate nutrition, and while they may not have the money to pay for it, the need is still there.

On October 24 we were joined by Joyce Rock, Executive Director of the DTES Neighbourhood House, Ruth Inglis of the DTES Women’s Centre and Darren Stott, former director of purchasing for SPUD to talk about practical solutions to the food problem in the DTES. The dialogue, “Harvest… What harvest?” centred around the issue of distributing quality food in the DTES and the discussion uncovered several issues that face non-profits as they try to help those in need. 

The trouble with donations

Downtown Eastside non-profits are often the recipients of food donations from well-wishing donors and businesses that often unintentionally put the recipient organizations in a difficult position.

While they are desperately in need of donations and resources, they are often the recipients of donations that they are not able to use. Often donations are of food that is of low nutritional value - high in sugar and fat - food that is not well suited to meeting the nutritional needs of their clients who may suffer from diabetes, HIV, malnutrition or other conditions.

At other times food donations may be difficult to process. A donation of vegetables or fruit may be at the end of it’s shelf life and an organization may not have the resources - the staff time, volunteers and storage space to make use of it. The organization must then take on the burden of dealing with it’s disposal.

So why accept these donations in the first place?

Once again, the poverty mentality rears it’s ugly head. What right do these organizations in need have to refuse this help that is offered to them? The panelists revealed that it is often difficult to refuse food donations regardless of the fact that they may not meet their organizations’ needs. Non-profits and charities do not want to burn their bridges or be seen to be ungrateful for the assistance that is offered to them.

These organizations recognize that donors mean well, but that better communication is needed so that organizations in the DTES are the recipients of donations that they can actually use. And, in addition to this, there is a need for organizations to be comfortable with refusing donations, to script a depersonalized and non-alienating ‘no’ so that non-profits have more say in what they ultimately distribute to their clients.

Come join us for the next Kitchen Tables talk this Sunday, November 21, where the next topic will be Making Food, Making Jobs: Downtown Eastside Residents working in their local food economy.

To learn more about the DTES Kitchen Tables Project, visit

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