For the past four years the Grey Bruce Poverty Task Force – politicians, 51 social agencies and community-based partners – have examined the root causes of poverty and identified barriers to change.
One of the main issues is food security – having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, appropriate and nutritious food – supported by a Food Charter that values health, social justice, culture, education, sustainable economic development and the environment.
Jill Umbach, Planning Network Coordinator with Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force, and Public Health Dietician Laura Needham asked councillors to consider endorsing the Food Charter, which acknowledges the basic right to food, and is a commitment to work to towards a “vibrant, sustainable, food secure community,” Councillors were also asked to reconsider the way they “treat people who don’t have food.”
She said the 21 food banks in Grey Bruce do not address the main cause of food insecurity, so they need to change the “cultural way that we treat people who don’t have food,” so food banks aren’t the “go-to place for people with low income.”
“Rather than looking at a charitable situation all the time… we want those people to actually access other systems – whether it is connecting with fresh produce from a farmer that’s got excess, or whether its connecting to community gardens that are good for mental health but [where they] also can access fresh food….” Umbach said.
Food banks are still needed for crisis back-up, but Umbach said low-income people need better access to food that involves them more in the food system, including community gardens and school snack programs.
Coun. Mike Myatt said the 17 per cent poverty rate for those under-19 in Grey Bruce “struck a chord” and asked the source of the statistic and if the number was broken down further to give a Saugeen shores number.
Umbach said it was Census Canada data estimating that in Saugeen Shores, the average rate would be 14 to 17 per cent because the economy is stronger in Bruce than in Grey County. After the meeting Umbach said the 17 per cent figure represents the number of people under 19 in a family of four with annual income less than $42,000.
Coun. Neil Menage asked if people could legally give away surplus food – he’d had to compost an over-abundant crop of grapes. Umbach said it is “totally acceptable” noting there are Second Harvest programs and they are all noted on a food asset map. Menage also suggested they could develop community gardens in local passive parks.
Saugeen Shores Coun. Dave Myette thanked Umbach and Needham for “planting the seeds” to develop food security, and said he’d bring a motion to endorse the Food Charter at the future town council meeting.
In related news…
Umbach said the first Grey Bruce Poverty Task Force, Bridges Out of Poverty program – Getting Ahead – holds its first sessions in Port Elgin, starting on August 14 at the Community Housing Centre.
The program offers people receiving Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program benefits, an eight-week program that looks at generational and situational poverty and looks at the resources available for low-income people in the community to deal with housing, transportation and social issues. Anyone interested should contact their worker for a referral. She said some of the graduates of the Port Elgin Bridges Out of Poverty program would be invited to speak to Saugeen Shores Council at a future date about their experiences.