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Town of Banff signs Bow Valley food charter

“When people think of the Bow Valley, unless you’ve experienced food insecurity, not everyone is aware that it’s an issue."
Banff Town Hall 2
Banff Town Hall

BANFF – Food insecurity and high food prices continue to leave many people struggling in the Bow Valley.

Last month, the Town of Banff took the important step of signing the Bow Valley food charter, a framework that conveys what local people want their food systems to look like, including how they grow, harvest, eat, and dispose of food.

Sophie Welsh, a spokesperson for Bow Valley Food Alliance (BVFA), said the charter aims to strengthen local programs that tackle food affordability and accessibility and provide policy guidance for elected officials across the Bow Valley.

“When people think of the Bow Valley, unless you’ve experienced food insecurity, not everyone is aware that it’s an issue,” she said.

“One of the main things is staff accommodation: they don’t always have a full kitchen, maybe just a hot plate, so it can make it difficult to cook food as well as being able to afford it.”

Community Food Centres Canada estimates that before the COVID-19 crisis, an estimated 4.5 million Canadians experienced food insecurity, which the non-profit defines as inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints.

However during the pandemic – when 85 per cent of Banff’s workforce was laid off when Alberta went into lockdown in spring 2020, for example – people struggled even more to put food on the table.

In recent years, food movements have been gaining momentum across Canada. Food charters have been adopted by many communities, from smaller municipalities such as Salmon Arm, British Columbia, to major cities like Toronto, Ont.

Jill Harrison, the Town of Banff’s community development coordinator, said this charter not only aims to strengthen local programs that tackle issues of hunger and contribute to environmental sustainability, but also works toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

She said BVFA has also worked on this charter with the hopes of creating different relationships within local communities in the spirit of The Buffalo, a treaty of cooperation, renewal and restoration,

Harrison said the Iyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda Nation of the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley have been integral in contributing to the charter process, including highlighting the relationship between the Buffalo Treaty and the food charter.

“The plains bison – buffalo – is a cultural, material and spiritual connection between First Nations and Métis and the land,” she said in a staff report to council.

“The food charter creates an ethical space for both western and traditional knowledge to come together towards a common future.”

Harrison said each Bow Valley community has unique challenges, noting that working together is key to changing access to affordable, nutritious and appropriate food, and offers an opportunity that each community alone could not work on.

“While Banff has many short-term relief strategies – food bank, rescued food distribution, community meals and community greenhouses – a food charter creates the groundwork for longer term strategic systems change planning,” she said.

With Improvement District No. 9 becoming a signatory of the charter back in April 2020, Banff is now the second municipality to sign on, joining a variety of individuals and organizations from across the Bow Valley who have added their names.

“Having the municipality sign-on is a really good step towards a better food system for the Bow Valley,” Welsh said.

“This will help move away from food insecurity and toward food sovereignty so we let people have control over their food system.”

Welsh said there have been initial conversations with the Town of Canmore.

“We do hope to revisit it when the new council is elected,” she said.

BVFA first began working on the food charter in early 2018.

Central to its creation was a series of community conversations and workshops over a year-and-a-half with food producers, health practitioners, non-profit organizations, cultural groups, community-based organizers, business owners, and concerned individuals from Lake Louise, Banff, Canmore, the Municipal District of Bighorn, and the Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda Nation.

“I think it’s important that the Bow Valley food charter was created by the Bow Valley community,” Welsh said.

To find out more information or to carry momentum forward by signing the food charter, visit www.bvfa.ca/food-charter.