Backgrounder for the development of a Food Charter for Northumberland County
To ensure strength and sustainability in the food system and best practices, food charters have become a growing area of municipal planning and policymaking, addressing food production, distribution, access, consumption and waste management, and guiding how these systems influence our lives and our neighbourhoods. This backgrounder reviews the value of a Food Charter by highlighting specific principles that if endorsed, will help achieve a healthy and sustainable food system for the residents of Northumberland County.
Why does Northumberland County need a Food Charter?
Northumberland County’s Food Charter focuses on land use planning, agriculture, emergency food distribution, food retail access, community health, waste management, environmental management, and community economic development. Integrating food decisions into these areas of municipal jurisdiction will strengthen a whole system approach in the delivery of services. Best practices can improve energy efficiency, decrease pollution, conserve water, and reduce and redirect waste.
How important is agriculture to Northumberland County?
Agriculture in Canada is bountiful, enabling this Country to be one of the largest producers and exporters in the world. Northumberland County alone has reported over 241 160 acres of farmland in use by 1031 farms throughout the County (Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Canadian Census of Agriculture). It is estimated that Northumberland County agricultural production is responsible either directly or indirectly for employing approximately 6000 individuals and has a $247 million direct and indirect impact on the County (Northumberland County Economics of Agriculture Study, 2001).
Farming and agriculture is the foundation of a healthy sustainable food system and an extremely important economic driver in Northumberland County. The 2012 comprehensive business retention and expansion project revealed that if every household in Northumberland County spent just $10.00 per week on local food we could put an additional $16.4 million into the local economy.
Have other regions adopted Food Charters?
Municipal governments in Ontario that currently have food charters include City of Kawartha Lakes, Durham, Guelph-Wellington, Toronto, Thunder Bay, and Sudbury. Additionally, a proposal was recently presented to the House of Commons to adopt a Canadian Food Charter.
Northumberland County Food Charter
The primary goal of the Northumberland County Food Charter is for individuals, agencies, and local governments to work together to build a vibrant, sustainable, food-secure community. To do this, we need to examine the operation of the local food system, stimulate and lead a dialogue on food, promote projects in the community, and provide policy ideas and recommendations that enhance a sustainable food system.
The Northumberland County Food Charter endorses the following 5 principles as the foundation of a comprehensive food security framework and in doing so is committed to supporting programs and initiatives that enhance these principles:
- Environmental Integrity
- Advocacy and Education
- Local Economic Development
- The Celebration of Culture and Community
- Healthy and happy people making strong and enduring communities
Healthy eating is one of the most important things an individual can do to improve and or maintain general health. Nutritious, balanced meals and healthy snacks may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by helping increase the intake of heart-healthy nutrients, promote a healthy body weight, reduce blood pressure, control blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. It is well documented that adopting healthy eating behaviors can help prevent or delay the onset of chronic diseases such as Type II Diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke. On the other end of the spectrum, hunger, food insecurity, and chronic health problems related to both access and lifestyle influences carry an increasing social cost of poverty and an expanding financial burden on medical systems.
- The Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) found an estimated 3.7 million or 15% of Canadians are “food-insecure.” (Health Report, May 2005). In 2010, 402 000 Ontarians were forced to turn to a food bank to help make ends meet (Running on Empty: A Decade of Hunger in Ontario).
- Many chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease and serious health problems such as malnutrition and obesity are related to food availability, access, knowledge and choices. These diseases absorb an increasing number of health dollars.
- Income limitations may reduce access to nutritionally adequate and quality food on a regular basis.
Everyone has the responsibility in protecting our natural environment. By using and providing support for best management practices and sensible environmental policies and regulations, there can be a sustainable balance between food production and ecological needs. By promoting a local farm system, dependence on environmentally costly alternatives such as long distance food transportation and production on marginal lands can be minimized.
An abundant, clean and sustainable supply of water is a sign of a sustainable ecosystem that is required for a productive agricultural system. When water quality or quantity deteriorates the ecological system and agricultural productivity declines. Therefore best management practices must be used to ensure that water quality and quantity is maintained or enhanced for the benefit of the local ecosystem and food production.
- Conventional farming employs many tools and technologies that enable Northumberland farmers to be among the most efficient food producers globally. We must ensure proper use of these technologies to foster sustainable food production systems. Failure to do so may have negative impacts on our environment and health.
- Urbanization is resulting in loss of productive agricultural land and threatens the connectivity of natural features and functions, which is required for a healthy ecosystem. Through proper land use planning, urbanization needs to occur in balance with food production and the environment.
- Locally-based food and agriculture and environmental policies that support sustainable agriculture and food production enhance efforts to protect land, air and water, conserve ecological linkages, which preserves natural features and functions.
Advocacy & Education:
Northumberland County recognizes that farming involves specialized skills not just a dedicated land base. We must provide support for new and existing farmers in skills development, mentoring and succession in order to maintain the existing local food base.
Moreover, in order to have optimal community health, Northumberland County recognizes the need to have a vast array of health promotion strategies relating to food including nutrition education, safe food handling, food security programs, universal student nutrition programs, and food skill building workshops. We also recognize that it is essential to achieve income security for all residents in order to ensure access to adequate and healthy food.
- The average age of farmers is increasing. Northumberland County must support young and new farmers through education, economic development and environmental and land use policies.
- Children require adequate nutrition to optimize learning. Policies and programs must exist to ensure our children develop properly, for example: the many student nutrition programs supported by Northumberland Food For Thought.
- A variety of nutrition education and health promotion programs are available throughout Northumberland County. Awareness of and access to these programs is essential to community health. Sharing between these programs can help improve their effectiveness.
Local Economic Development:
Northumberland County has a multi-faceted agricultural economic development strategy. Diversification of income and new forms of income, augment traditionally derived farm sales.
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concluded that spiraling food costs and interruptions in food supplies are potential and potent risks (2004 FAO report).
- Investing in ways to meet more of an individual’s basic food needs from sources close to home builds a more sustainable and secure food system and strengthens overall economic diversity.
- The local Business Retention and Expansion program identified food processing, collection and distribution infrastructure as a significant need for a sustainable local food system.
The Celebration of Culture and Community
We celebrate Northumberland for its proud agricultural history and boundless potential. In addition, fair global trading policies for products we cannot produce help ensure the sustainability of foreign cultures and communities.
Through collaboration, coordination and promotion of community gardening initiatives, access to local food has improved for the most vulnerable populations living in Northumberland County.
- Food is perhaps the most significant expression of cultural distinctiveness and the most frequent way that different communities enjoy one another’s cultures.
- Strengthening the interdependent bond between rural and urban people in Northumberland will help to ensure the sustainability of the local community.
- Northumberland County provides and/or supports a wide range of food-related programs and services including the development of farmers markets, community gardens, nutrition education and food skills training, exciting festivals, and the promotion of composting.