How can we get more local food on local tables?
On Nov. 8 and 23, the Squamish Food Policy Council (SFPC) will host events that explore that question in-depth.
The Good Food Gatherings, as they're called, aim to bring more local food to the tables of the restaurants and institutions of the Sea to Sky by connecting local farmers with food-purchasing institutions, policymakers and restaurants.
Attendees of the gatherings will learn about the regional food system and some of its challenges and gaps.
“What we're trying to do in these workshops is unpack some of the barriers we're hearing and start to problem-solve together and map out a vision of what we want our food system to look like across the region,” said Gaby Barnes, food systems manager with SFPC.
The first event, hosted at the Raven Room in Whistler from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 8, is designed to offer an opportunity for local farmers to network with local restaurants and food buyers throughout the Sea to Sky region.
According to the SFPC, there are currently 138 farms in operation between Furry Creek and Lillooet. Squamish residents are estimated to collectively spend $96 million on food annually, while Whistler's annual consumer spending at restaurants is estimated at more than $400 million.
These events encourage consumers and producers to recirculate food spending into the local economy. A 2019 study by non-profit LOCO BC determined that for every $100 spent with a B.C. business, $63 is recirculated back into the B.C. economy, compared to $14 for multinational corporations.
According to Barnes, the region spends a significant amount of capital on agriculture and agri-food businesses outside the community, and there is an opportunity to shift some of that spending to the local economy.
“The ripple effects of buying food grown locally are felt throughout our region with more opportunities to eat local, opportunities to showcase what our region has to offer, more job opportunities, and the ability to establish a more resilient food supply that can withstand impacts from climate change, extreme weather events and supply chains," Barnes said.
The workshops and networking are essential to helping solve one of the barriers SFPC has heard from purchasers, mainly creating a space for restaurants and farmers to build new relationships.
“The main challenges we're hearing in our region around the barriers to being able to purchase local foods have to do with being able to meet volume requirements, distribution, price points and accessibility, and within accessibility, also time to go out and meet farmers and build new relationships,” Barnes added.
The second event, held at Squamish Public Library from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 23, will focus on policymakers, local government and larger institutions. The SFPC has gained good food pledges from all five regional local governments and wants to turn those pledges into action.
The workshop focuses on the region's institutional food consumers, purchasing managers, policymakers from local government, health-care and post-secondary, and the hotel industry.
For those that can’t make it to the events, the Squamish Climate Action Network has a food asset map where you can find local farms and community garden locations, along with information on the local food system.