Saturday, 11 September 2010

BP Report on Oil Spill Disaster Met with Skepticism

10 September 2010 - by: Amanda Bransford | Inter Press Service

New York - The report...

Food of Little Interest to Winnipeg Municipal Candidates

by Laura Rance - WPG Free Press

A small group of Winnipeggers is trying to spice up this autumn's civic election campaign with an issue that is dear to us all, but seemingly bland fodder for duelling politicians. Food.

The Winnipeg Food Policy Working Group has released an election toolkit designed to help the electorate engage municipal leaders on food policy, an issue they've tended to ignore or simply dismiss.

For example, an effort by some Winnipeg residents to gain bylaw changes that would allow backyard poultry earlier this year was permanently put on hold. A request a few years ago for permission to grow vegetables on boulevards was written off as a potential law enforcement problem (people might steal potatoes).

The Food Policy Working Group wants to get sustainable food permanently on the planning agenda at city hall by establishing an advisory body similar to what already exists in other major Canadian cities. Toronto was first to step up to the plate with its food policy council formed 15 years ago. It just approved a policy paper based on "food systems thinking" called Cultivating Food Connections: Toward a Healthy and Sustainable Food System for Toronto.

"Food system thinking is a way of seeing the bigger picture, of developing solutions to food problems by seeing and leveraging their connections to other health, social, economic and environmental issues," it says.

This kind of thinking is behind a renaissance for urban agriculture across North America as cities look to revitalize inner-city neighbourhoods by replacing derelict buildings with productive green space.

Increasingly, urban food policy is seen as a means of building community, improving access to local food, reducing greenhouse gases, cutting transportation costs and yes -- fighting crime.

If this city's youth was nurtured by access to nutritious food and productive activities -- perhaps urban gardening clubs -- would gangs and stealing cars have less appeal?

Granted, the notion of fighting crime with urban agriculture sounds naive and unrealistic. But is it?

A 2001 study by two University of Illinois researchers used crime reports to explore the relationship between vegetation and crime around 98 inner-city apartment blocks. They found residents living in "greener" surroundings reported "lower levels of fear, fewer incivilities and less aggressive and violent behaviour."

"Results indicate that... the greener a building's surroundings were, the fewer crimes reported. Furthermore, this pattern held for both property crimes and violent crimes. The relationship of vegetation to crime held after the number of apartments per building, building height, vacancy rate and number of occupied units per building were accounted for."

Agriculture is seen as a rural issue in this province. With two-thirds of Manitoba's population living in Winnipeg, and 80 per cent of the province's agricultural production going for export, it doesn't typically factor into municipal election debates.

But the document Winnipeg Votes 2010, found online at:, offers several reasons why city slickers should care enough to put their candidates on the spot.

For starters, at least one in eight jobs in Winnipeg is directly related to food and agriculture, not including the spinoff economic benefits of having all those people spending their salaries in the city.

Despite the abundance of food in this province, around 48,000 people use food banks each month. The number of people relying on food banks rose 18 per cent between 2008 and 2009. Half of food bank users are children.

Meanwhile, more than 600,000 Manitobans -- equivalent to the City of Winnipeg or about two-thirds of the province's total population -- are overweight or obese. A similar amount don't eat enough veggies and fruit to stay healthy.

And for all the money we spend on groceries every week -- a bill that keeps rising -- farmers are getting only about 27 per cent -- a share that keeps shrinking.

Not surprisingly, so does the number of farmers.

How policy makers choose to address -- or not -- those realities could fundamentally shape Winnipeg as a community.

The food policy proponents suggest numerous initiatives, such as policies encouraging the procurement of locally produced food, protecting prime agricultural land from development, encouraging urban gardening and farmers markets, creating community food hubs in the city that provide access to food processing and storage facilities.

They suggest urban community gardens become a fixture, just like city parks. They want the concept of "edible landscapes" entrenched in the city's bylaws, and liaisons forged with community groups to build food security awareness and knowledge.

Election debates tend to be dominated by single problems and linear solutions: Got crime? Hire more cops.

Food policy strikes at the core of such issues, but it is a far more complex discussion. Are Winnipeg's civic leaders up to the challenge?

Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator.

She can be reached at 792-4382 or by email: