As Group 25 of LFS 350 this semester, we were initially assigned the task of creating an inventory of all the food assets for the Hastings Sunrise Community Food Network. However, upon meeting with our community partner it became clear that their goal in collaborating with us was to generate research that would allow them to more efficiently allocate resources and improve their business relationships. We adjusted our research to fit with the needs of the community and continued with those goals as our main points of focus. In order to identify possible overlap in resources allocation of the food network, we wanted to find out what food programs and services were in place as well as where the food used in these programs was purchased or donated from. We also were interested in finding out the sources of funding for each of the individual programs. We did this by creating a survey that contained closed and open-ended questions for the neighborhood house and community center stakeholders to fill out. By following this process, we collected both qualitative and quantitative data about the inventory of resources of the food network as a whole. For the convenience of the individual stakeholders, two surveys were conducted over the phone while one was filled out electronically as an Excel spreadsheet. During this process, one of our group members kept in contact with Joanne, the Network Coordinator, to ensure that we asked appropriate and relevant questions for the validity of our collected data. Using these methods, we found that the community centers and neighborhood houses shared many of their resources. However, the geographical distance between them makes it logistically difficult to collaborate in many instances. Our research into the sources of food used in their programs revealed another important discovery; with increased funding more food may be recovered, thus reducing food waste. This information is based on anecdotal evidence gathered through telephone communications and should be taken with a grain of salt. Due to the nature of this evidence, it may not fully represent the reality of what is going on within the network. As a group, we recommend that the network focus primarily on trying to find more funding by showing sponsors their most successful workshops and true potential. Only then will they be able to fully utilize the resources available to them that are not currently being taken advantage of.
Our group consisted of eight undergraduate LFS students with common knowledge regarding the current food system. We come from different programs with diverse focuses such as food science, nutrition and health, agricultural economics, and food security. Together we conducted a community-based research project within the Hastings Sunrise Community Food Network. Our aim was to learn more about its food programs and services, as well as its business relationships. This was to establish a baseline for resource sharing between the members of the network. The Hastings Sunrise Community Food Network was created in 2012 to better connect multiple food related initiatives in the community. The network includes two community centers (CCs), two neighborhood houses (NHs), and several food gardens. By creating food networks, the City of Vancouver hopes to strengthen its capacity for a sustainable food system (HSCFN, 2014). The network involves multiple stakeholders but is primarily maintained by the network coordinator Joanne MacKinnon. The network is relatively new and it is still in a stage of development. As a result, one issue that has been identified is the lack of communication between the various members. Therefore one of the network’s current strategic plans is to improve resource sharing and collaborative access to the use of space, labor, tools, seeds, and food. In order to address these issues, we framed our research by asking ourselves: How can we help the food network to more efficiently allocate resources and improve their business relationships? Specifically, we wanted to know if food programs and services were in place at the neighborhood houses and community centers as well as details regarding them. If so, where was the food used in these programs coming from and what were the sources of funding behind these programs? Given this information perhaps we could identify overlap between the NHs and CCs and help the network to eliminate inefficiencies. With regards to their business relationships, we wanted to know: Who were the wholesalers and grocers they were dealing with and what were their relationships like? Were the community centers and neighborhood houses acquiring their food from the same sources? If so, would it be possible to take advantage of the situation to increase their collective buying power? Through these and other more specific questions, we hoped to gain insight into the workings of the network so as to provide the community partners with a basis to increase collaboration so that resources can be more efficiently allocated, shared, and utilized to sustain a healthier food system.
We initially made contact with Joanne MacKinnon by email to arrange a meeting for September 25 to discuss the details of our project, its goals, and the desired results for the end of the term. Based on the information she provided to us, we created our first project proposal. The feedback we received from Joanne and our teaching assistant Nicolas was then incorporated into a second proposal. In order to achieve the goals outlined by Joanne, we decided to collect quantitative data around funding and food sourcing and qualitative data in the form of stakeholders’ opinions and anecdotes. To do so we used a mixed methods approach during data collection and analysis (Creswell, 2003). We did this by creating a survey for the stakeholders regarding food services and providers, programs and workshops, and the current business relationships of the community centers and neighborhood houses. Our survey consisted of closed-end questions, each with a number of related open-ended questions for stakeholders to explain and expand upon their answers. We designed questions as a group that we believed would correctly reveal the information that we wished to include in our assessment and created an online survey for the stakeholders. Our point of communication throughout the project was Joanne MacKinnon, the director of the food network. After sending the survey to Joanne for feedback, she requested that we change it into an Excel file so it would be easier for the stakeholders to respond. The revised version was then sent back to Joanne for her to forward it to the stakeholders on our behalf. We hoped to receive responses at least a week and a half before the project due date in order to allow enough time to analyze the data. Unfortunately we did not receive the responses in a timely manner. We decided to talk to Joanne and Nicolas about the issue; Joanne suggested that we conduct in-person interviews but due to scheduling conflicts and a limited time frame, we elected to do phone interviews. In the end we received data through phone interviews with two stakeholders and one response to the Excel survey. It proved difficult to adhere to the format of the survey as stakeholders had a limited amount of time to speak with us and not all parts of the survey were relevant to each stakeholder. However it did provide a useful framework for the interviews even if the responses were incomplete. We made in-person visits to the Kiwassa Neighborhood House and were presented with an overview on the environment and the facilities within the network. We also attended Sustenance Festival events at the Kiwassa Neighborhood House and Thunderbird Community Center in order to gain more insight into the community we were working with. One representative from our group Tina kept in constant contact with Joanne via email regarding events for personal interest and CSL hours and for further information on our project. Participating in the CSL hours allowed us to build a stronger relationship with the food network and stakeholders and provided us with a better understanding of the network and community as a whole. There were no major ethical considerations in collecting the data; however as a group we committed to not sharing any information regarding funding or business relationships that may be considered private with anyone outside of the network
From our online and phone surveys, we compiled data regarding the food programs and services offered within the food network as well as information on their business relationships. We learned that the neighborhood houses and community centers offer regular feeding programs, emergency food aid, special events, community dinners, food rescue programs, and gardening workshops to the community. From our anecdotal data we learned that the feeding programs are aimed at community members who are most vulnerable to food insecurity such as low-income families and seniors. We also found that the majority of the food used in the programs is rescued food donated by wholesalers, bakeries, grocery stores, and food banks. At least 3 of the members of the network received donations from the same wholesaler. The remaining food was purchased at different food outlets with funds from provincial and federal funding as well as gaming grants. Additional recovered food is used in food rescue programs where families are able to collect a limited amount of food. One stakeholder indicated that there exists an abundance of additional food that could be rescued. However with unpredictable funding it is often difficult to plan opportunities to use the rescued food. One of the neighborhood houses also provides emergency food aid. These food bags provide community members with enough food to sustain them for about 3 days and are only available with a referral. The contents of these bags are purchased as opposed to rescued. This aid in addition to the resources available at food banks and neighborhood churches provide short-term food security to the community. Our data showed that Village Vancouver provides most of the food based workshops in the neighborhood houses and community centers. The workshops teach food literacy, cooking skills, and gardening. Depending on funding, the workshops range in cost with the fees going towards the purchase of materials. Gardens within the network are also used by the community as a means of increasing food security. However, the gardens require continuous maintenance and the sustained involvement of the community to thrive. Due to a lack of experience and gardening knowledge among interested community members, participation is minimal. Even with limited participation, there are still many resources available to community members such as the seed library and discounts at garden centers. Due to physical distances between the neighborhood houses and community centers, collaboration within the network is difficult. Key stakeholders are also busy with their own schedule and respective projects.
Based on our findings, we learned that there are a multitude of joint efforts within the network striving to increase food safety, food sovereignty, and food security in the neighborhood. The food network is working well towards its goals of building capacity for food security in the community. Overall, food resources have been efficiently managed in the various programs. The need for collaboration among programs in the network is not as significant as we expected in the initial design of our project. Some involuntary resource sharing is already in place as all programs receive donations from a common wholesaler. We do not recommend consolidating similar programs due to the impracticality of having participants travel long distances in order to attend. We identified that the largest issue the network faces is a lack of funding; this means that collaboration between neighborhood houses is not necessarily the best means to create a more efficient food network. Rather, increased cash flow may be more beneficial to the network than increasing efforts at collaboration. With more funding, all the food service providers could initiate more workshops to utilize the donated resources they receive and more recovered food could be distributed. A professional could be hired for the garden programs that could potentially lead to increased participation from community members. These findings are important because they determine how best to answer our research question of how resources could be more efficiently allocated. However these findings have limitations as the data gathered is merely anecdotal information from three out of six neighborhood partners who completed the survey within a large network. Furthermore participants in the survey were unable to provide or were hesitant to share some information regarding financial or business related details of their community initiatives resulting in a possible lack of a true picture of the community food network. One recurring theme in our results is the issue of reducing food waste. Rescued food makes up a large part of the food donations received by food initiatives in the network. These “not-fit-for-retail” foods are put to good use to increase community food security via feeding programs and food education workshops. As the network has demonstrated, a community-based approach to reducing food waste is proving to be effective. However, an abundance of additional food could be rescued if more fiscal and human resources were allocated to the initiatives. Alternative ways of better utilizing extra food resources in the food system still need to be discussed.
During our community-based learning experience, we noticed that the community centers’ events included efforts to educate neighborhood residents about integrating local food systems such as tips on making delicious and healthy meals with a tight budget or using foods commonly acquired at the food bank. The events also sought to educate the community about the utilization of rescued food in order to cut household food costs and reduce food waste; public awareness of this issue is lacking so we thought that this was a very effective means of delivering the message to the community. As mentioned in our findings, there is food waste in the community that could be more effectively managed. We believe that if the neighborhood houses and community centers were to hold some weekly sessions where low-income community residents could pick up donated foods, more food could be rescued. In that case, community members could lower their spending on food. Food waste would also be reduced without introducing extra feeding programs that can be costly and labor-intensive. We acknowledge that perishable foods must be distributed within a short time frame so the coordinators and the community would have to agree on a mutually convenient time of the week and perhaps instigate a membership system. Through the responses from the survey and interviews, we discovered that limited funding and fluctuations in funding are the two main obstacles that all neighborhood houses and community centers are facing. We propose that establishing a community foundation could be an effective way to increase the funds of the whole network. This foundation would provide a central pool of funds available to the whole food network. Instead of having each neighborhood house and community center search for sponsors, a team would be responsible for fundraising for the entire community. With the funding managed in this way, the expenses of the community could be controlled and monitored while fluctuations in the availability of funds could be reduced.
The project we carried out allow us to look into the food programs that are in place at Hasting Sunrise Neighborhood Food Network along with current business relationships with food providers such as wholesalers and grocers. Findings show that although similar programs are running in different initiatives within the community, cash flow is more of a concern than the need of collaboration. A lack of planning to utilize additional rescued foods (extras apart from the feeding programs) in the system is also an issue. Based on these findings, we discussed the significance of increasing funds, limitations of our data analysis and connections in the result. Lastly we provided recommendations of alternative ways to make use of additional food resources and raise funds for the food network based on our interpretations and community learning experience.
Appendix II Miscellaneous
Finalized Survey Questions
Food Programs Within Your Organization
What are the food programs you offer? Please list all of them and elaborate on each (i.e. What is the focus of this workshop? Who is the program aimed towards?)
- Do you hold cooking workshops?
- Do you hold food education sessions?
- Do you hold feeding programs?
- Do you have a community/neighbourhood garden on site?
- What are other food-related programs taking place in your CC/NH?
If there are too many to describe here, please attach a brochure with details of the programs.
Who provides the food for these programs?
What proportion is donated and purchased food? Please provide an approximate % estimate and dollar value- i.e. 60% donated, 40% purchased.
Out of the donated food, how much in percentage is not deemed fit for retail? (How much in percentage is rescued food?)
Who are your main donors and business partners?
How often do you receive food donations?
Do you receive gift certificate from business partners?
Do you receive any discount from business partners?
What is your total budget for food programs for this year?
Where does the funding come from?
Network Development and Collaboration
Do you know of any food programs outside of the NH/CM of Hasting Sunrise?
Do you think that Hastings Sunrise Community Food Network helps your organization to develop a closer working relationship with other entities in the network? If so, how? If not, why?
Do you find some of your workshops being cancelled due to the lack of participation? If so, would you be interested in collaborating with another CC/NH within the network who hold similar workshops?
What food activities/workshops are you planning in the following 12 months?