February 2013 Community Meeting – Innovations in Institutional Local Food Procurement Strategies

On Monday February 4th, the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council (TYFPC) Community met at Wilson Hall, at New College, University of Toronto for Innovations in Institutional Local Food Procurement Strategies Right Here in our Backyard. The need for fresh, healthy, and sustainable foods has allowed the localization movement to gain momentum. We had over 90 community members join us in discussing the opportunities and challenges that come with institutional local food procurement in Toronto and across Ontario.

The night started off with our community members mingling over delicious local snacks. Michelle MacIntosh, TYFPC Chair, welcomed our community, our moderator, and panelists. There are three ways to get involved with the TYFPC: council, committees, and community. See below for current committee and external opportunities.

Our very own Council Member Jessica Reeve gave a brief presentation on institutional food procurement policies, the definition of ‘local food’, the benefits of local procurement, current norms in today’s institutions, what Toronto is currently doing and what we, as youth, can do to support local food procurement strategies. Click here to download Jessica’s powerpoint presentation.

Our moderator for the evening, Lori Stahlbrand, is the founder of Local Food Plus, and current professor for the New One program at University of Toronto’s New College. From schools, hospitals, daycares, and more, Lori says, that there are millions of dollars flowing through these institutions. We have an opportunity to make progress, and create a local sustainable community based food system.

Ravenna Nuaimy-Barker is the Director of Sustain Ontario. Sustain Ontario is a provincial alliance in healthy food working on promoting healthy foods, supporting farmers, and researching local procurement. Institutional procurement allows us to build economic strength, healthy populations, increases knowledge about eating, and have deeper connections. Ravenna shared with us lessons, challenges, components of, and ways to support local institutional procurement

  • Lessons: 1) local institutional procurement serves as a great solution to challenges; 2) it is challenging; and 3) it is doable.
  • Challenges: 1) the definition of ‘local’ is not enough; 2) Supplying institutional demand from local farms can be tough. We can bridge gap by building infrastructure (i.e. processing, storage). Cost can also be a challenge; and 3) trade laws make it difficult for governments to support local procurement.
  • Components needed: 1) dedicated staff/volunteer is incredibly powerful; 2) having a supportive community (staff, students); and 3) having a champion in administration (president of university or chef).
  • Ways to support institutional procurement: 1) become part of supportive community; 2) be informed; and 3) advocate for changes in trade laws!

Don Mills is the President of Local Food Plus (LFP), a farmer and a farm leader. LFP is a food systems change organizations: it looks into identifying and certifying organizations that have sustainable practices and moves them into systems. For example, moving sustainable producers into institutional settings. Producers—who provide solutions for climate change, reduce greenhouse gases, provide better food and educate leaders of tomorrow—need a market, and institutions can provide market for these farmers. LFP is working on creating a new supply chain. Don also mentioned the importance of having leaders/champions to help achieve this.

Joshna Maharaj is a Chef and Food Activist. She previously worked with the Scarborough Hospital in transforming their food options, to include fresh, healthy, and local meals to nurture sick patients. She is currently working at Sick Kids Hospital, focusing on the retail menu that nurtures the families who spend their time with the little ones. She is also trying to change the ready-made and outsourced patient food at Sick Kids. One roadblock Joshna has faced is an expensive traceability certification required from the small, local supplier she suggested. Unfortunately, Joshna says that current state of trade and contracts really eliminates chances for local suppliers. Through re-negotiations with the hospital and bringing together the right people, Joshna is very optimistic that this can be done.

Jaco Lokker is the Director of Food Services at the University of Toronto. When Jaco was an apprentice in the kitchen 30 years ago, all food was local and there were certain foods you couldn’t have all year round. In that time, he learned to preserve and can. When he first heard about local food procurement, he thought ‘we are reverting back’. He started using 3 farmers for 15% of the food purchases for the University. He has since requested providers supply more sustainable food purchases. Jaco says the real champions are the farmers who do it the right way, and the individuals/ consumers who choose to buy the food. A change has also been the reality of working with farmers and being able to meet the farmers on campus.


Lori asked the panelists how they make sure that local procurement policies are the real deal, and not just window dressing? How can you ensure that they are able to change the system over time?

  • Joshna said that the different definitions for ‘local’ and ‘local eating’ pose as a challenge. In the healthcare world, any postal code within Ontario would be considered ‘local’ (including large multinational corporations). The idea is that there needs to be a continuum, and we should all be aiming for local, sustainably sourced, and organic foods.
  • From Don’s perspective, ‘sustainable’ groups together local, low energy consumption, low to no pesticide use, and good animal welfare.
  • As a chef, Jaco sees Local Food Plus as checking all the boxes. Personally, he finds that when you take time to find out about the farm, the processes in the farm, there is no need for the rule book. It is up to consumers to ask, and everyone should be responsible.
  • Ravenna suggests that setting a progressive agenda. Although it is a slow and painful process, it ensures that there is a culture shift, people will be educated about the issues, and there will be an entirely different way of understanding the food system.

Lori asked what role public policy plays in local institutional procurement? How can we stimulate this in a public agenda?

  • Ravenna said that there have been some public policies that have helped move things. Unfortunately, there is no culture shift at the provincial level, and sustainability has been left out. There is huge potential for what public policy can accomplish
  • Jaco gave an example of a roadblock: Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) ensures foods are traceable through their production and storage. The issue in traceability is that when food is local and sustainable, the traceability is expected. There is a need to get rid of these roadblocks.
  • Don says that retailers, healthcare industry, and etc., demand certifications. Large farmers have jumped on side with these costly certifications. The governments must invest in this system. It won’t happen unless people go out there to help make it happen. On the upside: if we get food right, we’ll solve so many other problems.
  • After two weeks at the Scarborough Hospital, Joshna knew the solution was to spend more money food in farms and the workers. But how can you say this without having people turn around and walk away? The cost of fresh, local and healthy food should cost less than highly processed foods. The cost for a hospital bed is $1200 a day, while food ingredients for 3 meals and a snack were costing $7.33. There is a need to invest the money, so that the public can save in other ways (i.e. healthier people, students that are geared, nurturing sick people).

some feedback from community members:

Lori asked the panel about issues around cost. For people who can’t afford it (i.e. students and low income), where should that money be coming from?

  • Joshna thinks it should come from the governments, through partnerships, if not through leadership. Access should be for everybody
  • As farmers, Don says, this is not their job. Their job to grow food. The problem is income is not distributed evenly. Lots of money is currently being spent on cheap oil, lobbying, and conventional agriculture, there is a need to redistribute this.
  • By educating people around the costs and value of the food, Jaco has been able to increase the amount of LFP foods. Getting students to understand value of food and work on food waste reduction has helped reduce costs. Teaching people how to use winter crops (storable crops), work with whole foods, and reducing waste has allowed him to reinvest the money saved into programming.
  • Ravenna agrees the government should pay – it helps build a resilient local economy. In local institutional procurement there is also an opportunity for more tax revenues. Better educational outcomes and healthier people.

A community member asked what if there are no supporting members who are high up in administration. Are there lessons on nudging and convincing people who are in the right places?

  • David Klenfield, a former principal at New College in the audience, said from his experiences, that 1) the person who approaches administration must be really exciting; and 2) you have to be clear about the issue, so that the person in administration can take it to the next level.
  • Don recommends pressure from the bottom up (i.e. Meal Exchange providing tools and roadmaps to students).
  • Jaco echoes the bottom up approach, he says that the University’s Food Advisory committee comes from voice of students.
  • Joshna says that because this is such new work, being the ‘first’ and innovative can help convince people. Because there are no prior examples, you can set your own agenda.

One of our community members, and student, echoed Don’s comment about the bottom up approach. If you don’t find a champion and if it takes longer, it may not be right place, or right time. Every single person you connect with will bring it elsewhere. She emphasized cultivating leaders so that these victories can happen elsewhere.

Our community member commented on the use of social media and tweeting as a method of amplifying this discussion online. She then asked the panel how to ensure that there is labour justice and protection/rights for migrant workers in certification and sustainability processes?

  • Don says that at LFP, there is a labour standard requiring no violation against current laws, and they recognize farmers who take an extra step. An issue with current migrant labourers working in food processing (i.e. meat plants), is that those settings shouldn’t be temporary. There is a need to be more concerned about labour.

An audience member asked about the challenge of reliability. What if you can’t get something or it isn’t available?

  • Jaco said that you can use food in alternative ways. We’ll never get to perfection, but we’re running at about 60%. Try to mix it up, make it fun, and let people learn. We don’t have to have strawberries!

A community member mentioned that some producers may be skeptical about making a living in sustainability, local, and organic food business. For example, regulations make it difficult. Where are the supports to help producers who aren’t convinced?

  • As a farmer, Don says this is a real challenge and it is tough. Farmers are heavily capitalized and invested, and can’t change so easily. Fortunately, optimism lies with the younger generations that are not from the farm. By convincing farmer by farmer, you are able to change the game.
  • Ravenna says that this is not so different from institutions. Change is difficult. Keep having conversations, and when you see a spark, help it grow. Pull the revolution, not just one person. Create the market by reworking it and untangling it.
  • Jaco says that from his experience going into a daycare and talking to kids. Kids are able to grasp it and ask their parents ‘is that local?’. The younger we get them to think about it, we’ll be able to change distributors, farmers, and consumers.

Sasha McNicoll, TYFPC Vice-Chair, thanked our moderator, our four amazing panelists, our community, the New One program at New College, Local Food Plus, MealExchange, and Aramark.

Current committee and community opportunities!

  • The Education committee is currently working on five food policy workshops before the end of the year. There is also a call out for submissions for the second volume of the TYFPC Journal Gathering. For more information or to volunteer, contact Kathleen@tyfpc.ca.
  • The Advocacy committee recently identified two existing campaigns/initiatives that the TYFPC will work with: the Imagine a Garden in Every School campaign, also current planning changes around condo building. The Advocacy committee will also be working on developing tools and approaches for deputations. For more information or to volunteer, contact Rebecca.Hasdell@tyfpc.ca.
  • The Network committee is working on reaching out to different groups in the city, and is creating a database with this information. For more information or to volunteer, contact Jessica.Reeve@tyfpc.ca.
  • Community opportunities and events:
    • Research Support Opportunity: Collaborative Research Project on “Community Food Flows”. Needs 1-2 Interested Persons for Unpaid Research Support. Lead Agency: Parkdale Action Recreation Centre (PARC). Contact Joel.Fridman@tyfpc.ca.
    • Livestream of TEDxManhattan, February 16th in Toronto at impossible.ws/events. Free! 10AM-6PM.
    • Access Alliance Danforth Location – Rainbow Community Kitchen Program: “Newcomers cooking together”: For LGBTQ newcomer community, immigrants, and refugees. Free 4 week program to learn and share healthy recipes on a budget. Every Wednesday of February from 2PM-5PM.

The night was also live tweeted: follow us @TYFPC or check #foodTO for live tweets from our community members. Like us on Facebook!

Our next community meeting will be on Monday, April 8, 2013.

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