Course:LFS350/Projects/2014W1/T21/Report

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Executive Summary

The Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (CSFS) aims to improve food security through research, education, community engagement and food production initiatives (UBC Farm, 2014). Dr. Hannah Wittman, from the CSFS, helped us develop a project analyzing and documenting changes in the Vancouver food system that have occurred over the last 40 years. The findings will help determine implications for the present and future state of the food system. Our proposed research question was: “How has the Vancouver food system changed over the last 40 years with regards to infrastructure, policy, consumer demand, and sustainability, as seen, experienced, and adapted to by a diverse group of long-term stakeholders?” To conduct the study, we arranged ethnographic interviews with a dietitian, grocery store representative, chef, and farmer to gain an understanding of different perspectives related to food system changes; however contact with Krause Berry Farm was lost in the planning process and therefore a farmer’s viewpoint was not incorporated. The interviews were filmed and transcribed, allowing us to code the findings into specific categories related to the research question and find common themes. We found that our three stakeholders agreed on the rising demand from a widely educated group of consumers for local, organic, healthy and sustainable foods. This has pushed stakeholders towards developing more comprehensive dialogue amongst themselves to promote sustainable practices. By working together as a cohesive voice, supporting policy has been observed to follow. The main concern conveyed by all of our stakeholders is the decreasing amount of agricultural land available for farmers to use, which hampers the ability to produce sustainable, local food. Based on these findings, our recommendations for the CSFS is to continue gathering stories of challenges, successes, and resilience that provides a voice to stakeholders and those who are most vulnerable to food insecurity. These stories can act as a means to raise awareness for improving food security for the community. We also see immense potential in having dietitians involved in discussions; they have extensive experience working with marginalized populations and their investment in the needs of everyone will be a positive asset to the food system. Major limitations with our research include our limited experience conducting ethnographic studies and the our stakeholders may not have had direct involvement in the food system for the 40 years we intended to analyze.


Introduction

Our research team was composed of eight third year UBC Land and Food Systems Students (Group 21) who took on the task of analyzing Vancouver’s changing food system over the last 40 years. Our community partner, Dr. Hannah Wittman, represented the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems. As a prominent stakeholder in Vancouver’s food system, the CSFS is interested in documenting the temporal changes that have occurred, as well as the implications for the present and future state of the food system (H. Wittman, personal communication, September 24, 2014). The current issues of concern are society’s relationship with the land, technology’s role in achieving sustainable food systems, and how to improve the value chain to maximize health and value from our food (UBC Farm, 2014). Through the perspectives of four long-term Vancouver stakeholders, we identified changes consistent with our four dimensions of interest: policy, the guiding principles and procedures that have great influence on food production, processing, distribution, use and waste; infrastructure, the physical assets of the food system; consumer demand, the quantity of a commodity or service desired by consumers in the food system; and sustainability, the ability to use ecological resources “without depleting or diminishing the capacity of the earth’s ecosystems” (Collins Dictionary, n.d.; Food and Agriculture Organization, 2014).


Research Question

Our proposed research question was: “How has the Vancouver food system changed over the last 40 years with regards to infrastructure, policy, consumer demand, and sustainability, as seen, experienced, and adapted to by a diverse group of long-term stakeholders?”

With the insight and guidance from Dr. Hannah Wittman, our collected stories will provide the CSFS with valuable information regarding Vancouver’s developing food system, and add to the framework of a more sustainable food system in Vancouver.

Systems Model

Our systems model represents the boundaries, inputs and outputs of the UBC farm as a component of the Vancouver food system. It communicates the interactions that exist between farm (centre of the model) and the food shed. This includes boundaries imposed by Vancouver’s changing culture, infrastructure, and consumer demands. The system also includes the inputs into the farm from level of the city as well as the farm itself. Finally, the outputs from the farm to the food system are represented.

The most significant interactions are depicted by pink arrows https://prezi.com/snnbwwfeuj8e/copy-of-untitled-prezi/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

Research Methods

To address our research question, we developed an ethnographic research project, which consisted of interviewing a dietitian, grocery store representative, chef, and farmer. An ethnographic approach allowed us to collect qualitative data through open-ended questions and determine themes relevant to our research question (Creswell, 2003). When choosing our stakeholders, we mainly considered how well they aligned with the study’s 40-year window, as well as their level of engagement in the food system. The professions we chose were due to their wide exposure components of a food system. A dietitian was chosen because of their involvement in public health and community (McCullum, Dejardins, Kraak, Lapido, & Costello, 2005); grocers, because they are able to reflect on consumer demand, policy, and supply chains; chefs, because they provide a perspective on the ordering and uses of food and waste management; and farmers, because they are the lifeline of the food system, and respond directly to consumer desires, market conditions, and ecological conditions.

We researched and consulted with Megan Schneider, Dr. Wittman and Gwen Chapman over suitable longstanding stakeholders in Vancouver. With their advice, we sent an email or called the chosen organization to explain the purpose and significance of our research. Stakeholders who met the criteria were Nicole Fetterly, from Vancouver startup, Choices Market; Steve Golob, chef at UBC Place Vanier Dining Hall; and Gerry Kasten, a public health registered dietitian. We also contacted, Krause Berry Farms, but contact was lost near the end of the project. Stakeholders were sent a copy of the interview questions for advance preparation, as well as a consent form that to grant approval for filming the interviews and be a public resource.

The interviews were held at a convenient time at the stakeholders’ worksites, except for our Choices Market interview, which was held at UBC. Two group members were present at each interview to increase efficiency of data collection. All the findings were grouped into the four dimensions of interest and common themes were then extracted through coding. Our findings have also been integrated into a video for the CSFS.

Initially, five common questions were developed collectively by us and groups 19 and 20, as well as ten to twelve specific questions for each profession to determine general changes. We proposed our original interview questions to Dr. Wittman and followed her feedback to refine the project and questions to analyze the food system under four changing aspects: infrastructure, policy, consumer demand, and sustainability.

All group communication was conducted via a private Facebook group and in-person meetings. All documents and files were available for each group member to edit and view on Google Documents, including the filmed and transcribed interviews.

Our CSL hours were completed at the UBC farm, which allowed us to gain a larger appreciation for the work performed by the farm. We gained greater appreciation for the patience and diligence required in a farmed profession. The CSL hours helped us in our goal to understand the food system from the perspective of a farmer.


Findings

After conducting the interviews and analyzing the transcripts, we found that the responses given by our three stakeholders shared similar perspectives which are outlined in Table 1. of Appendix A.

Discussion

Infrastructure

Generally, infrastructural change in the food system has allowed for stakeholders to have greater awareness and ability to do their work. We have found that the largest infrastructural change in the Vancouver food system has been the increase in urban farming initiatives, farmer’s markets, and community gardens thanks in a large part due to increased municipal support. Similarly, Steve Golob highlighted the growth of UBC farm, becoming a place of production, research, and home to food literacy and food security initiatives. Nicole Fetterly mentioned how these changes have increased consumers’ connection to their food while promoting food literacy and food system awareness.

Amidst these perspectives, parallels to DuPuis and Goodman’s (2005) take on how the local food movement is heavily premised on ecological sustainability over social justice arise. The growth of infrastructure has heavily been developed around the concept of fresh, local foods, while some accessibility issues have remained stagnant. As Gerry Kasten noted, despite efforts to educate a population, if they do not have money, they simply cannot afford to purchase locally produced foods. There is a lot of opportunity in the future for infrastructure to meet the ecological and social needs of the food system, especially with the shared concern for the depleting access to agricultural lands. As Nicole (personal communication, November 7, 2014) explained, “farming has decreased exponentially over the past decade...if we lose all our farmers, we are going to be in trouble”.


Policy

Policy has affected all our stakeholders in a multitude of factors. Changing municipal and provincial policies and bylaws over the recent years have supported urban agricultural initiatives, but there remains a lack in protection of BC agricultural lands. Nicole Fetterly noted that in order for challenges like urban sprawl and depleting farmland to be addressed, policies must be crafted with the family farm and farming as a career in mind.

In general, policy changes need to occur simultaneously with the discourse of society. Gerry Kasten outlined that the aboriginal community needs more support from dietitians, which will emphasize integration of ethnicities and cultures into our food system . Other policy ideas include: reducing packaged foods, supporting organic, local, healthy, sustainable food, fair trade, putting BC farmers first. Nicole also touched on how the current economics of organic, non-processed foods is not always economically feasible, and that policy change is an avenue to mitigate such barriers. Dietitians in BC were essential in establishing the Vancouver Food Policy Council, which has a goal to “provide a forum for advocacy and policy development that works towards the creation of a food system that is ecologically sustainable, economically viable and socially just” (Vancouver Food Policy Council, 2014). The council has helped drive the current discourse of the city towards becoming a more sustainable food system focused on fresh, healthy, sustainable and local foods.


Consumer Demand

Over the past 40 years, nearly 200,000 people have moved to Vancouver (Statistics Canada, 2011). With these new residents have come unique values and preferences towards food. As Gerry Kasten mentioned, there is currently a lot of support surrounding community gardens, farmers markets, and urban agriculture initiatives that weren’t previously present. Because of the popularity of these types of projects, there has definitely been a shift in public awareness towards the importance of eating locally and sustainably produced food, and with this awareness comes the desire to do so. This desire is so strong that it has become a consumer demand. This shift is perhaps most evident on the UBC campus, where Chef Steve Golob, has responded to this demand by sourcing as much fresh food as possible from the UBC Farm. UBC students have come to expect that the food they purchase on campus align with our values of fresh, local food. With Vancouver’s food interest, comes the awareness of the importance of supporting local farmers and eating sustainably produced food; however, people are not always willing to pay more for it. Nicole Fetterly (N. Fetterly, personal communication, November 7, 2014) offered, “It is an obstacle that people don’t necessarily want to pay what food should cost,” leading there to be a juxtaposition of a demand for local food competing with the idea the food should be as cheap as possible.


Sustainability

Over the past 40 years, nearly 200,000 people have moved to Vancouver (Statistics Canada, 2011). With these new residents have come unique values and preferences towards food. As Gerry Kasten mentioned, there is currently a lot of support surrounding community gardens, farmers markets, and urban agriculture initiatives that weren’t previously present. Because of the popularity of these types of projects, there has definitely been a shift in public awareness towards the importance of eating locally and sustainably produced food, and with this awareness comes the desire to do so. This desire is so strong that it has become a consumer demand. This shift is perhaps most evident on the UBC campus, where Chef Steve Golob, has responded to this demand by sourcing as much fresh food as possible from the UBC Farm. UBC students have come to expect that the food they purchase on campus align with our values of fresh, local food. With Vancouver’s food interest, comes the awareness of the importance of supporting local farmers and eating sustainably produced food; however, people are not always willing to pay more for it. Nicole Fetterly (N. Fetterly, personal communication, November 7, 2014) offered, “It is an obstacle that people don’t necessarily want to pay what food should cost,” leading there to be a juxtaposition of a demand for local food competing with the idea the food should be as cheap as possible.


Limitations

We acknowledge certain limitations experienced while conducting our research. Inexperience as researchers was a major limitation affecting the quality of our final product. The publication policy of Choice’s Market prevented us from including photos or videos of their store in our final video presentation. Losing the interview with our farmer narrowed the scope of our stakeholders’ knowledge base and having the Choices interview not on location isn’t consistent with an ethnographic framework. Finally, we aimed to examine the changes in the Vancouver food system over the past 40 years, but some of the stakeholders had not been operating as professionals for that duration of time.


Recommendations and Conclusion

To conclude the overall CBEL and flexible learning processes experienced throughout LFS 350 we wrote reflections that are outlined in Appendix B. Based on our findings and CSL experience, we proposed three recommendations that align with our initial four-part framework to improve food security in our community.

The interviews with our stakeholders revealed a wealth of knowledge, which spoke for their resilience amid a fluid food system. By collecting more stories of successes and challenges from stakeholders, the CSFS can analyze the proven methodologies and advocate for gaps found in the food system, thereby further improving food security and food literacy. Secondly, we believe there is opportunity in the future to conduct a study to gather the consumer perspective, which our study did not analyze in depth. This can help gain insight on how consumers perceive their changing interactions in the food system, as well as look at the impacts of resources and the initiatives stakeholders have developed to improve sustainability. Lastly, based on our CSL at the UBC Farm, we strongly feel that there is opportunity to increase urban agriculture in Vancouver, which is consistent with our study’s trend. From our findings, urban agriculture can act as an avenue to increase food production, but more importantly, stimulate dialogue centred around food security.

In conclusion, our project has found from a spread of stakeholders that there has been significant advances in food security with regards to our four dimensions. We hope our findings and recommendations aid the CSFS in analyzing and addressing food security issues in Vancouver.

References

  • Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method approaches. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications. (pp. 3-23)
  • DuPuis, E. M., & Goodman, D. (2005). Should we go “home” to eat?: Toward a reflexive politics of localism. Journal of Rural Studies, 21(3), 359-371. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2005.05.011
  • Wilkins, J.L. (2009). Civic Dietetics: opportunities for integrating civic agriculture concepts into dietetic practice. Agriculture and Human Values, 26(1-2): 57-66.

Appendices

Appendix A

Table 1. Findings across Stakeholders related to Policy, Infrastructure, Sustainability, and Consumer Demand.

Dimensions Findings
Policy
  • ‘Dichotomous’
    • helped and hindered food security
  • Consultation between stakeholders is important
  • Stagnant with regards to protecting current and future farmers
  • Sourcing fresh and local foods
  • Transitioning from packaged, frozen foods
Infrastructure
  • Increased
    • Farmers markets
    • Community supported agriculture
    • Community gardens
    • Competition for stores like Choices Market
    • Technology = efficiency and innovative
  • Decreasing amount of agricultural lands because of development
Consumer Demand * More educated, sophisticated with food choices
  • Fresh and local food
  • Ethnic cuisines and bolder flavours
  • Growing market for locally grown, organic and fresh produce
Sustainability * Sustainable foods in the past still cannot afford it today
  • More focus towards making practices sustainable

Appendix C

Link to video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4jD_U0vL04&feature=youtu.be