What makes the youth experience unique? Well, we as youth are in a period of transition between childhood and adulthood. We are living on our own for the first time, trying to make healthy and responsible choices on a limited budget. We’re seeking meaningful careers in a field we are passionate about, or working our way through school. We’re passionate about urban agriculture, nutritional literacy, and farmland preservation – but perhaps more importantly, are the ones that will inherit the problems associated with an unsustainable food system.
Enter… The Toronto Youth Food Policy Council, or TYFPC as it’s known among Toronto foodies. The flame of the TYFPC was sparked a decade before it’s inception in September 2009 as the youth arm of the Toronto Food Policy Council (TFPC).
The TFPC had been successfully providing sustainable food policy recommendations to Toronto Public Health since 1991. However, after the city of Toronto was amalgamated in 1998, Coordinator Wayne Roberts knew that the progressive TFPC would need to make changes in order to survive the newly-formed conservative government. These changes included stacking the TFPC with council members who had recognized credentials, and as a result “people with thinner resumes could not get on the TFPC”. Given their lack of professional experience, youth representatives were unable to become members of the TFPC, causing a “red light” to go off in Robert’s head, one that flashed for almost a decade. Still, the inclusion of more credentialed members did result in several positive outcomes for the youth of Toronto. For example, the TFPC was now able to hold meetings and oversee a large list-serve that reached many demographics. Furthermore, the transparency of the TFPC meetings generated a very large youth audience.
Throughout the 2000’s the TFPC observed an interesting phenomenon – more and more, young people were attending their formal council meeting at City Hall, wanting to become involved in the discussions. As current TFPC member and founder of Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Center Wally Seccombe recalls, “It was obvious that young people were excited about the kinds of discussions that were taking place”. Still, although youth were actively attending TFPC meetings, they were still considered to be part of the audience rather than active participants. Hannah Lewis, founding member of the TYFPC and now a member of the Vancouver YFPC, recalls being one of the younger audience members prior to the birth of the TYFPC. “At first I was not sure why we would need a youth FPC, but suddenly I realized that everyone on my side of the room was under the age of 40, and everyone on the other side of the room – the important side of the room was over 40. And then I started thinking: YES – the TYFPC is absolutely necessary”.
Rod Macrae, coordinator of the TFPC from 1991-1998 felt that the municipal process of the TFPC would benefit from the inclusion of youth. “As adults who may have been involved with the movement for many years, many Council Members may stop looking at issues in a fresh way, while youth often bring a fresh perspective and creative ideas”. Given the supportive climate of the TFPC and the energy of the youth community in Toronto, the time was right for the youth food policy council to turn from a theoretical idea into formal voices. In the spring of 2009, two masters students Tracy Phillippi (Environmental Studies, York University) and Ashley Andrade (Nutrition Communication, Ryerson University) began an internship with the TFPC. Their task? To do something with all the youth coming to TFPC meetings. Tracy and Ashley enthusiastically accepted this challenge, and throughout the summer of 2009 began brainstorming with other like-minded youth around the BBQ at Tracy’s Kensinton Market apartment. By the end of the summer, the small handful of youth decided the best way to have their unique voices heard was by forming North America’s first Youth Food Policy Council.
On September 9th, 2009, the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council took over the TFPC’s fall meeting at City Hall, declaring themselves to be a legitimate voice in food policy. The meeting was attended by youth, academics, politicians, and members of the media; and the room was so full that it actually exceeded the fire code. Wally Seccombe said “I was ecstatic… The TYFPC had the same sense of can-do enthusiasm, a critique of the larger food system and a desire to do something about it. I was sitting beside Toronto City Councillor Shelley Carrol, and we were both muttering to one another, ‘Huh… This is amazing, what a knock out!’ It was a dream come true”.
Throughout the first two years of the TYFPC’s existance, the council grew and changed as it became a recognized organization of passionate youth foodies. Still, the TYFPC retained its reciprocal working relationship with the TFPC and has permanently secured two permanent youth seats on the world-renowned TFPC. The TYFPC uses its relationship with the TFPC to ensure that youth voices are being heard in municipal food policy and to provide monthly updates on the TYFPC’s growth. In addition, the TYFPC developed in a way that accommodates all youth, regardless of their availability or experience. The Three C’s of Council Membership allow youth to become involved with the TYFPC as a council member, committee member, or community member.
Although the TYFPC has many notable accomplishments, the council has found its niche in providing youth with a space to network, learn from one another and share opportunities through our bi-monthly community meetings. These meetings focus on one area of food security identified by participating youth members. Aside from holding well attended community meetings, the TYFPC has also held two major events – So You Think You(th) Can Cook Competition and the Youth Food Systems Fair, in addition to presenting at several conferences across the U.S. and Canada. The TYFPC also created the first youth food journal as a way to help youth build their resumes and publish their work.
As the voice of Toronto’s food-passionate youth community, the TYFPC encourages other groups of youth to form their own food policy councils. The TYFPC believes there is no ‘one size fits all’ kind of model, but rather that many forms exist for engaging youth in municipal. To learn more about starting your own FPC, email firstname.lastname@example.org.