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Drought, floods, pandemic — how Calgary is working to improve food security amid crisis

From droughts to cyberattacks to pandemics, crisis events can compromise a city’s food system.

The City of Calgary, as part of its climate resilience strategy passed in 2018, is developing a food resilience plan to ensure all Calgarians have access to food — no matter the disruption to the supply chain.

It would be the first plan of its kind in Canada.

That’s according to Kristi Peters, a food systems planner on the city’s climate and environment team that’s heading the project.

“The objective of the plan is to support a food system that’s resilient against short-term shocks or crisis events … and then also to look at the longer-term stressors and really think about those Calgarians that are already experiencing vulnerability,” said Peters.

A collage of food, people, gardens
The city is hosting engagement sessions at Carya Calgary from Wednesday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., to hear from Calgarians about their thoughts on the plan. (City of Calgary)

She says a resilient food system is one that assures food is consistently available, accessible and appropriate to all people at all times. It’s focused on supporting Calgary’s most food insecure communities.

Peters points to when widespread floods shuttered the Coquihalla Highway in 2021, which disrupted the transport of food from Vancouver to Calgary. This caused a citywide shortage of culturally appropriate foods that were imported through the Port of Vancouver, she said.

Such a situation in the future might, for example, deprive the city’s South Asian community of the fruits and vegetables they need for making meals.

“Something that the city could do in terms of building more resilience into the system could be working with local growers to start growing more culturally appropriate produce or ingredients, and working with local processors to process these foods,” she said.

While people and businesses have stepped in to find solutions during crisis events, Peter says the food system is run by the private sector, so the city didn’t play much of a role.

But she hopes that can change with the food resilience plan.

“We’d like to convene and facilitate conversations so that if something happens at a larger scale, we have a response plan already.”

Increased collaboration

Nikita Scringer, CEO of social enterprise Fresh Routes, has been involved in conversations with the city as it builds its food resilience plan.

A woman's headshot, sitting in a chair.
Nikita Scringer is the CEO of Fresh Routes. (Submitted by Nikita Scringer)

She says many organizations are working to address challenges in the existing system, but the city’s co-ordination will help fill an important gap.

“I’m hoping that this could be really what’s tying in some of these organizations already doing the work with the city so there’s that support and collaboration,” said Scringer.

Scringer says she’s seen an increase in the number of Calgarians struggling to afford food and relying on Fresh Routes’ services since the pandemic.

While it’s an issue that strongly affects marginalized communities, she says that group has also broadened — and now she sees many students who are choosing to pay rent over food.

“It really is, I think, just that the community of Calgary is struggling.”

To hear from Calgarians about their thoughts on the plan, the city is hosting pop-up engagement events at Carya Calgary, 839 Fifth Ave. S.W., from Wednesday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The city is set to share the plan publicly in September, before gradually implementing it in conjunction with the business sector, non-profit sector and community partners.

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