City Council

Sep
16

Act now: save our food programs

We now know that momentum and public opinion in Toronto is against the deep cuts proposed to our health, social, infrastructure and environmental services and grants.  Hundreds of Torontonians attended a meeting at Dufferin Grove Park to pen the joint Toronto Declaration.  It includes support for food programs, environmental programs and farmer's markets.

Councillors on the fence can we swayed to vote against cuts to food and related programs that make our City a healthier and more prosperous place to live.  Cuts to the Riverdale Farm, Toronto Urban farm, Toronto Environment Office and community grants as recommended by the City Manager are not on our agenda.  Please call or e-mail Councillors today to let them know that scrapping these programs hurts the most vulnerable Torontonians, job creation and our environment, and that our city can do better.  You can still sign our petition before we present it to Council.

In a time when municipal support for food programs like urban agriculture is increasing throughout the world, and the movement explodes in Toronto, we need more City support, not less.  Please spread the word online and ask your friends to call or write too.  Join our political picnic against the cuts at City Council's lunch break September 26.  See our TO Events Hub (above) for more!

Aug
4

Hospital food: local innovations and bigger change

It amazes and inspires me that at 12:30am Debbie Field of FoodShare is deputing to Mayor Ford about the links between student nutrition and reduced violence, better academic achievement and community resilience. She is articulately drawing the links between food and community and individual well-being that also so desperately need to be highlighted in the health care sector. At 12:30 in the morning. That’s the kind of passion and commitment that can really make change in Toronto and hopefully be harnessed to improve health care sector food amongst other things.

As I mentioned in my last post, healthy food is thankfully receiving ever more attention in Toronto area hospitals. The front page article in the Globe and Mail in late June, A cure for the common hospital meal, captured the spirit of excited conversations that are happening between local food entrepreneurs, NGOs and hospital administrators about ways to make health sector food better. The commitment of the Broader Public Sector Investment Fund (BPSF) to support these kinds of collaborations is providing a vital boost of resources.

Look what's possible for hospital food . . . this from France

Celebrated Toronto chef Joshna Maharaj, was recently hired by Scarborough Hospital with funding from the BPSF to revitalize the in-patient food services menu. She is quickly becoming a local foodie hero of sorts as she attempts to prove that patients can eat fresher, healthier, more sustainable foods that are cooked from scratch at the same cost as mass-produced, centrally sourced frozen meals that are defrosted in hospitals “kitchen-less” food service operations.

Food Forward took a field trip to see first-hand how from-scratch cooking can be made possible in “kitchen-less” operations. Leslie Carson, profiled as a 2011 Local Food Champion, took Elena Hall and myself on a fascinating tour of St. Joseph’s Care Facility in Guelph. We happened to visit on the same day as St. Joseph’s annual general meeting so we got to sample some of the delicious special event in-house catering, and meet the food services staff who’ve gone from unpacking frozen lasagne to crafting seasonal menus under Leslie’s leadership.

Seeing the kind of innovation and success that can happen, the first questions that come to mind are, what made is possible? And how can it be replicated in ways that are community and site specific in other institutions?

Food Forward thinks critical components include political leadership and vision, combined with grassroots community support for change.

Joshna suggest in her blog that, “We can make food in health care (and in the rest of our lives, for that matter) an election issue in October and we can push our politicians at every level to consider and address food issues.”

And that’s exactly what Food Forward is doing. Food Forward worked with many community partners to mobilize support for Toronto’s Local Food Procurement Policy (appended to this 2011 update staff report) during recent debates. We petitioned councillors to support local food, and encouraged concerned residents to participate. The resulting municipal win when council overwhelmingly supported Toronto’s Local Food Procurement Policy means that Toronto’s 10 long-term care facilities will seek “to increase the percentage of food that is grown locally when all factors, including costs, quality and availability are equal.”

Given the current climate of cuts in the City of Toronto this support for municipal local food procurement needs to be celebrated and built upon. The opportunity allowed for a rare discussion of local food and institutions and even farmers market's to be discussed in a positive light at Council. But future policy needs to be stronger so that local and sustainable food in a stronger way in our institutions.

At the provincial level Food Forward is collaborating with Sustain Ontario to include institutional and health sector food services in this Fall’s Vote ON Food and Farming Campaign. Healthcare food service, like related food policies, is a multi-level issue that requires municipal, provincial and federal political attention and policy innovations.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, at the grassroots level we are currently looking to connect with anyone who works in the healthcare sector or has had a recent experience of health services as a patient or family member to build our community campaign. Research is our number one need at the moment so if you’re interested please get in touch: linda@pushfoodforward.com

And lastly, just for fun, check out what hospital food trays look like around the world and stay tuned to the Food Forward Blog for further hospital food diversions and campaign developments!

Jul
21

Major cuts on the table for city food programs

Toronto's food movement is using its roots to tell the City what it thinks about potential cuts to the City's urban agriculture program. With over 80 Torontonians registered to give remarks at Thursday's Parks and Environment Committee, community gardens, food centres, neighbuorhood groups, parks users and others are making themselves heard.

Toronto Council committees have been meeting this week to tackle the KPMG reports which have a small scope of reviewing existing City services upon whether they are mandatory, essential, traditional or "other". The Urban Agriculture program and Toronto Environment Office were put in the other category in the report.

Please sign and share this petition to save these programs.

More info on the process of the Parks and Environment Committee can be found here. The Executive Committee which will ultimately set much of the agenda meets next week and will also be open to deputations. The discussions will continue until the budget is decided early next year.

Food Forward congratulates our colleagues in this effort, especially Park People, LEAF, Toronto Environmental Alliance, Fresh City Farms and the Toronto Community Garden Network and the many other groups and individuals who have registered to depute and speak with councillors. Our Executive Director's deputation can be found below, and you can find watch speakers and deliberations live online Thursday, or in person on the second floor of City Hall.

Other resources:

2012 City of Toronto Budget and Parks overview from Park People: http://parkpeople.squarespace.com/parks-budget-watch/?SSScrollPosition=110

Core Service Review Summary to Parks and Environment Office from TEA:
http://www.torontoenvironment.org/servicereview/environmentoffice

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Dear Councillors and members of the public,

I am speaking on behalf of Food Forward, a Toronto-based community organization that provides a people's voice for a better food system. We are made up of members, and dozens of organizational and business partners throughout the City who believe that a healthy, local food system supports economic vitality and diversity in Toronto.
As an avid user of City parks, I appreciate the feedback from other deputants. As someone who has worked in urban forestry, I value the health and residential economic benefits that come from building a strong city tree canopy.

You may not have thought much previously about urban agriculture as a City service, and might be seeing it in this report and wondering if it “core”, and if it should be delivered.

Toronto has actually been providing support for urban agriculture for decades. I’ve been told stories from well before I was born about compost being delivered by the City for allotment gardens at Leslie Spit, with projects in High Park and Thorncliffe Park dating as far back as the 1970s.

Although it has a significant history in the City, today urban agriculture has completely taken off in Toronto like never before. I learn about new projects all the time, in all parts of the City, with neighbourhood groups looking to grow healthy food, and ending up in beneficial situations I’ve seen where seniors and youth work together, where safety has improved in parks, and even programs in which homeless Torontonians have found a place to feel safe and be proud of. We’re using the gardens as springboards for building more projects in our communities, like canning workshops to preserve good food year-round, and providing fresh food for local food banks.

These projects are making a difference in Regent Park, Bathurst and Finch, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Flemingdon Park, Willowdale, Scarborough Village, Jane and Finch, and on and on. Another way to see the interest is by looking at public comments in the Core Service Review where food security, environment, affordable and local food are mentioned countless times.

Work in community gardens now provides employment experience, as entrepreneurs start up companies throughout the City doing urban agriculture for profit, a number of which have begun in the last couple of years.

Toronto is not unique in its dramatic increase in chronic disease, especially in vulnerable areas where access to healthy food is hard to find. But it is a leader in community food and business solutions that are driving positive changes in peoples’ lives.

The Toronto Environment Office and Live Green have been big supporters of urban agriculture, their staff providing needed resources and connections to residents, and their grants helping to provide start-up supplies and valuable internships for youth. Live Green supported a community festival I helped organize in St. James Town that lent an opportunity for kids to interact, learn and become better connected with their community.

The removal of the Toronto Environment Office or urban agriculture program would mean significant loss for many communities who people are working so hard in our neighbourhoods to increase access to healthy, sustainable food.

May there be efficiencies in the urban agriculture program, opportunities to do it better and for the community to become even more engaged? Yes, probably. The biggest complaints I’ve heard are that there is not enough support, lists are too long, or there are too many barriers to get involved. But ignoring the potential for nuanced improvements by eliminating these and related programs as identified in the KPMG report would be the wrong approach.

Torontonians involved in food security have a very clear picture of what would work better: parks and public spaces where gardens, bake ovens, fruit trees, community kitchens and farmers’ markets are welcome and where community innovation and even small business can flourish.

We hope the Committee itself will have a serious discussion about these matters, and we offer our ongoing support to build a stronger, efficient and healthy Toronto.

Thank you.

Darcy Higgins
Executive Director, Food Forward

Jul
19

Food Forward's deputation to Economic Development

This week marks a pile of Committee meetings, all looking at the City's Core Service Review and areas that consultants have identified for potential cuts. We have written to the Economic Development Committee to defend the City's work that enhances good food jobs, in response to the report by KPMG, which can be found in the links on the Committee's Agenda, on ED6.1 (see the bottom of the Agenda to see that our letter has been received). Also find links to write Councillors directly with your own thoughts.

We were caught somewhat off guard with the amount of proposed cuts in these reports, as we have been keen to discuss new good food initiatives in the City that could bring new jobs. "Hiddenlicious" mentioned in the letter is a proposal from the Food Strategy we'd like to pursue among many others, but for now, we have to keep what we have, and keep the vision of what could be...

Dear Councillor Thompson and Committee,

I am writing on behalf of Food Forward, a Toronto-based community organization that provides a people's voice for a better food system. We are made up of members throughout the City who believe in a healthy, local food system which supports economic vitality and diversity in Toronto.

We appreciate the difficult task which you as a Committee have been assigned.

Economic development is an important City function. Food, and its 58,000 jobs, is Toronto's second largest employment sector and a key part of economic development work by the City.

The small amount of staff the City dedicated to its Food and Beverage industry cluster has gone a long way in supporting area business growth. The department has been a key ally for local food business in promoting its products. It has also been essential in facilitating the development of new ventures, through seminars and the development of the Toronto Food Business Incubator, which is often cited as an innovative resource for entrepreneurs. The modest Incubator has a an excellent track record, initiating successful new businesses, which hire employees and have lasting positive benefits to the City.

Just last week, the City voted to renew its local food procurement policy with support of all members on this Committee, recognizing the ability of food to be an economic driver in the City of Toronto. Toronto's food economy, second largest in North America (to Los Angeles) is set to continue its growth, with very low business costs (KPMG Competitive Alternatives Study, 2006) and consumer trends which emphasize local, sustainable, healthy and diverse foods. We have seen City staff in this area being very supportive to new entrepreneurs through events and connections that they have supported us in, and hope Torontonians can continue to benefit from these business services.

Our other key area of interest in which the City supports Toronto business and community vitality is the event planning by the City. It is with great enjoyment that Torontonians attend City-sponsored festivals that highlight local food businesses and provide economic opportunities. These festivals show off Toronto's unique diverse food culture to residents and tourists and provide unique benefits to entrepreneurs, often immigrants, who are able to sell to thousands of happy customers and hire staff and purchase food for these events.

Councillors will recognize festivals that happen right outside City Hall, nearly daily occurrences in the summer, that are key spots for area workers and visitors. Events like Summerlicious also attract dollars to be spent at local businesses. We hope that a "Hiddenlicious" festival will one day highlight the hidden gems of Toronto's cuisine that lie especially throughout suburban Toronto where tastes of the world can be found in our own backyard. These services are part of the City's Food Strategy, which looks to leverage food in all City departments upon direction of the City Manager.

Jobs are the base of a strong City of Toronto. As KPMG's report states, reducing services identified in its report would have an impact on the Toronto economy. Continued support from the City will increase the exciting trend of its food sector, through work by economic development and culture, and continue to allow for an vibrant economy with good food jobs at its base.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Darcy Higgins
Executive Director, Food Forward