Food Security Through a Systems Thinking Lens
Food is one of the most basic human needs, but the issues around ensuring all people have access to healthy food quickly becomes complex. Kamloops has developed a unique approach to food policy and community food systems through the work of the Kamloops Food Policy Council (KFPC).
The KFPC has been successfully using a systems thinking approach to make urban agriculture a core community health strategy. The KFPC, which was founded in 1995, is an innovative, multi-sectoral group that engages the entire community around inter-related social, environmental and economic issues through food security programs, policies and partnerships. The Council has accomplished an amazing amount in their 21 years of existence, and has used strong collaborative work and systems thinking to do so.
“Food is not just about what’s on our plate”
One of the keys to the KFPC’s accomplishments is thinking of food from a broader perspective.
This broad approach to understanding food security has been a part of the KFPC from the very beginning. Laura Kalina, Public Health Dietitian with Interior Health and founder of the KFPC, explains how the group started with a simple idea of connecting the dots between food production, consumption, distribution and waste. “When we started over 20 years ago, there were lots of people in Kamloops going hungry and I thought ‘Why not get together and see how we can improve the food security right from the food bank to community gardens and kitchens?’ That thought directly led to our current food policy development with the City of Kamloops.”
“Food is not just about what's on our plate: it's about food production, the land that's available, it's about food distribution, to growing to cooking and eating to celebrating food to how we deal with food waste, and manage our resources and share seeds. It's important that we look at it from a food systems approach.” - Carmin Mazzotta, Social and Community Development Supervisor, City of Kamloops
Systems-thinking is a way of approaching complicated issues through understanding them as inter-related parts of a greater whole – thus forming a system. These systems interact and influence other systems. In the words of Carmin Mazzotta, Social and Community Development Supervisor with the City of Kamloops, “Food is not just about what’s on our plate: it’s about food production, the land that’s available, it’s about food distribution, to growing to cooking and eating to celebrating food to how we deal with food waste, and manage our resources and share seeds. It’s important that we look at it from a food systems approach.”
City Support Key to Success
The City of Kamloops has strongly supported food access and healthy food system initiatives. When Kamloops developed a Social Plan in 2009 with the goal of enhancing health and wellbeing of all residents, they chose food security as one of their priority issues. Rather than dictating the direction of food policy work themselves, they chose to work with Interior Health to put their support behind the KFPC by providing them with meeting space, staff support, and partnership opportunities.
“Interior Health works very closely with the City of Kamloops to develop food policy.” explains Kalina. “We were really excited that in 2009 food policy was in the social plan. That inclusion has resulted in so many positive changes: more public produce sites, more community garden plots for working towards a sustainable food system,”
Inviting Community Participation through Food Action Programs
Food Action Programs have developed under the umbrella of the KFPC. These programs invite participation from the community members through initiatives such as community kitchens, community and collective gardens, a free meal program, Farm to School BC and the Gleaning Abundance Program.
Farm to School BC offers practical skill building by bringing local food education into schools. Keira McPhee, former Kamloops Region Community Animator sees far-reaching benefits: “It is such a holistic strategy. It’s environmental, getting kids focused on eco-system education; it teaches health and well-being, it’s also community economic development because we work with local farmers, hunters and fishers.”
The Gleaning Abundance Project coordinates volunteers to pick fruits or vegetables that people don’t want or can’t pick, and distribute it to people that need it. The picking parties are social occasions that bring out many community members who are excited to connect with other local food enthusiasts, help distribute the harvest, and take home some gleanings for themselves. Sandra Frangiadakis, Community Food Action Coordinator with the Council, is proud of the wide distribution networks that have been established for gleanings: “Every year we get more and more partners.”
“One fellow at a community garden had Type 2 diabetes. He needed to eat more fruits and vegetables, however he didn't have the income to be able to afford that, so he would go to the public produce garden and pick strawberries and tomatoes right off the plants. He said to us, 'If it wasn't for this public produce site, I wouldn't have enough fruits and vegetables.'” - Laura Kalina, Public Health Dietician, Interior Health
Community gardens create shifts in food access at the individual level. Kalina shares the story of “one fellow at a community garden who had Type 2 diabetes. He needed to eat more fruits and vegetables, however he didn’t have the income to be able to afford that, so he would go to the public produce garden and pick strawberries and tomatoes right off the plants. He said to us, ‘If it wasn’t for this public produce site, I wouldn’t have enough fruits and vegetables.”
To ensure that all project partners stay connected, KFPC holds monthly networking meetings with a potluck dinner as a centrepiece of these occasions. Participants gather around the table to discuss how to build capacity and invite more community members to get involved in local food systems. The meetings are a microcosm of the way the KFPC encourages cross-pollination in all they do: sharing ideas, resources, and knowledge to strengthen the food security programs as well as the larger community.
A Catalyst for Community Wellbeing
The KFPC is a unique organization in that it serves as both convening body and catalyst. The food action projects happening in Kamloops have diverse funding sources, serve many different groups of the city’s population, and involve organizations from multiple sectors, all which contributes to the incredible impact the KFPC has on its community. The impact is amplified by the close connections that the KFPC fosters: each program works within the larger framework of the Council, which in turn operates within the plans and policy of the City of Kamloops. By working together at every level, community partners can share resources and knowledge to create significant and lasting change.
- Kamloops Food Policy Council website
- PlanH Healthy Eating and Food Security Action Guide
- City of Kamloops Social Plan
- The Place of Systems Change: Practitioners Reflect on Moving from Food Security Action to Policy in Revelstoke, article from BC Food Security Gateway
- Article from Kamloops This Week on KFPC free meal program