With the days growing longer and (finally!) warmer, our thoughts turn to fresh herbs, salad greens, berries, and other locally grown garden delights. Here in the Sea to Sky region, growers of all varieties have spent the past few months planning, prepping, and planting fields and garden boxes alike, not to mention weeding, weeding and more weeding. For those in the warmer parts of our region, the hard work is already paying off with young strawberries, arugula, and kale ready for harvest.
While a gardener may be obvious from a farmer’s tan, dirty hands and a wide smile, there are a whole host of organizations working tirelessly behind the scenes to advance a sustainable food system by bringing locally grown and culturally appropriate food to table, promoting food security for all, reducing food waste, and growing recognition of our incredible regional food culture.
Many of these regional food organizations participate in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional Food Task Force, coordination of which has recently transferred from us to SquamishCAN and the Squamish Food Policy Council. Building on existing policies and programs in the region, including agriculture plans, municipal OCP policies, gaps and leading practices, the Task Force identified and implemented a number of actions for advancing food sustainability in our region.
Here to shine a little sunshine on these efforts is an update on what the Squamish Lillooet Regional Food Task Force has accomplished over the past couple of years and what lays on the horizon.
In addition to taking over the coordination of the task force, this dynamic duo continues to update the regional food asset map, a resource that shows places where people can grow, prepare, share, buy, receive or learn about food in the Squamish to Lillooet region.
Together, these groups are also advancing the Good Food Pledge and supporting local governments in moving the pledge into policy, for instance procurement policies that emphasise purchasing of local grown food and redistribution to food service groups. The proposed pledge and policy aim to support local food producers and processors through establishing food procurement practices aligned with “good food” values. Now moving into Phase 2 & 3, Squamish Food Policy Council will be focusing on engaging School District 48, hospitals, schools/learning institutions (Quest, private schools), food industry businesses, other food purchasers (private businesses, corporate, offices), and grocery stores and supporting their adoption of the Good Food Pledge and Policy.
Additionally, the Squamish Food Policy Council, in partnership with GOT CANS Recycling, SD #48, Farm to School BC and the District of Squamish, has been fundraising and planning for the development of a Downtown Squamish School Farm. Located between two schools, the farm strives to meet community and students’ needs by providing fresh, nutritious, sustainably-grown and culturally appropriate food for families, community members, and nearby schools, increasing food literacy in students through hands-on learning, connection to land, and various course integrations (i.e. business, food studies, leadership, woodworking and more), and cultivating an accessible, sustainable and interconnected local food system in Squamish (among other aims).
Finally, Squamish Food Policy Council continues to support the implementation of the Agricultural Plan for the Squamish Valley. The plan was developed in February 2019, in partnership with the District of Squamish and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD), with support from the Investment Agricultural Foundation of BC.
Meanwhile SquamishCAN has been working on the creation of a one-acre community farm in Squamish. A seven-year dream in the making, Common Acres Community Farm offers an affordable option for 3 local food producers to grow their crops. The farm is a direct result of one of the 52 action items in the Squamish Valley Agriculture Plan: “increase agricultural land productivity and improve access to foodlands in the Squamish Valley, by removing barriers to support existing farm businesses, encourage new entrants, and attract new producers to the area.”
AWARE continues to run their thriving GROW program, which helps people grow their own organic veggies at four greenhouse and garden locations throughout Whistler, in turn helping to reduce the carbon footprint of our food, eliminate packaging, and strengthening connections to food and community. This year, they increased the recovery and donation of food from community gardens, and, despite the high cost, were able to rebuild a number of the garden boxes this with the help of the Mature Action Committee and Whistler Community Services Society – way to go!
After a hiatus over COVID, AWARE has started up the delivery of Zero Waste programming. In the last 3 years, they have delivered workshops to 166 school groups, engaging over 3000 students in zero waste action in the communities of Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, Mount Currie and Lillooet. Despite the challenges of COVID, a revised online workshop enabled them to reach 669 students over the 2020/21 school year. Zero Waste Events are another facet of this programming, which are returning post-pandemic.
Looking ahead, AWARE is close to completing a community-scale reusables feasibility study and is piloting a reusables program with Squamish Constellation Festivals. We look forward to the new opportunities for moving away from single use items and plastics that these efforts will bring.
LAFS supports local farmers, ranchers, growers and other passionate individuals who are building a sustainable food system. Over the past year, they have worked to develop and promote the Lillooet Grown and Sea to Sky Grown brands.
They continue to work on the Lillooet Grown Cookbook project featuring local Indigenous and settler recipes, stories, artwork and photos of farmers, and run Food Skills for Families workshop.
With new Executive Director, Emily Jones, at the helm, and funding support from BC’s Canadian Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program (CERIP), LAFS is currently working on finding suitable locations for Agricultural Storage in Lillooet, and figuring out the next steps in terms of drawings, plans, organizational structure, and possible business models.
The Lil̓wat Farm, named Qwal̓ímak Nlep̓cálten, meaning “Mosquito Garden”, is an incredible food sovereignty project underway in Mount Currie. Over the past year, strides have been made in fostering connections with the First Nations Food Systems Project (FNFSP) run through the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA); providing funding, logistical and practical support to individual and community gardens; and hosting workshops with Knowledge Keepers on food preservation, tinctures/salves, winter berry use, seed saving and sprouting.
SSCS is a charitable organization that, among many programs, runs the Pemberton food Bank. Recently, SSCS was successful in becoming a Local Love Food HUB; an initiative spearheaded by United Way, and supported by a partnership with SSHS, SD48 and Lil’wat farm, addressing the increased food insecurity that many individuals, families and communities experienced during the pandemic. Local Love Food HUB will also support longer-term initiatives that foster sustainable access to nutritious foods for those living in rural and remote communities.
SSCS is also working with SquamishCAN and SD48 in the high schools to connect food production to education with food security for youth.
As the operator of the Whistler Food Bank, WCSS is committed to a model of food distribution grounded in dignity. Accordingly, they have recently adopted a shopping model approach to food distribution. They continue to run food recovery, food skills and nutrition workshops, as well as the School Food Program across five schools in Whistler.
Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), in partnership with the BC Farmers’ Market developed a nutrition poster on the benefits of eating fresh local foods as opposed to processed “fast” food.
Additionally, VCH has been promoting new the Canadian Food Guide which includes a greater focus on plant-based eating. They are also promoting the “Teach Food First” resource for kindergarten to grade 8 students which, rather than teaching about healthy vs. unhealthy foods, emphasizes an experiential food education. VCH will also be reconvening the Food Security Committee.
WCS Engagement + Planning
In 2021, we completed the Sea to Sky Food Recovery Strategy and Action Plan, and recently helped the RMOW receive UBCM Poverty Reduction funding to lead a Food Resiliency project, with a focus on food insecurity and addressing some of its root causes. We look forward to working with regional food distribution organizations and local governments to improve food security and the resiliency of the regional food system.
Local Governments & Regional District
Throughout the Sea to Sky region, municipal governments and the Squamish Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) have been advancing Task Force actions, primarily through policy measures. Highlights include:
The District of Lillooet developing the “Downtown Park” as a better permanent location for the LAFS Farmers Market and as part of the “Gateway to the Community” space- an arts, culture, and market hub.
The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) adding food and social measures to its procurement policy (2023), identifying opportunities for reducing food waste in the Climate Big Moves Strategy, and Council adopting the Zero Waste Action Plan.;
The SLRD has adopted a taxation mechanism, the LAFS Service Establishment Bylaw, to fund ongoing implementation of the Agricultural Plan. It is also planning a CanadaGap Program Advocacy Letter, and continues to advance recommendations of the Agricultural Advisory Committee including changing zoning of ALR land to AGRI, and advancing agrotourism and new ALC regulations. Many of these new changes are detailed in a new the agricultural land resource pamphlet.
Click here to learn more about the history of this project and project indicators of success.