Foundational work has been done, 2020 to see community engagement on issues like food security and environment

The Charlottetown Food Council was established in the summer of 2018. Salty sat down with Karen Murchison, chair of the council, to catch up on what they’ve been doing.

Salty: Does the Council still have the same number of members?

Karen: So we’re seeing a little bit of movement among our membership right now. The reality is, it’s a group of individuals that are very active in their community. So as other projects present themselves, it distracts them…we’re still at 10 members. And we’ve added a couple of [people] to replace a couple of departures, and I think that probably 10 is a good number.

This is the first ever [food council] for any municipality in the province so there’s a pretty steep learning curve for us in terms of what the role, activities, and even goals for the council.

But what we have established is a very strong foundation. You know, all the fundamental foundational elements for a good, functional organization. So, that was a lot of work. Yeah, it wasn’t fun work. But for those that come after us, it’s really important that those pieces are all in place.

Salty: Right, with anything of this nature, you know that the idea is wonderful, but you have to ask what do we need to make it work for the future?

Karen: Yes, and that’s what we really have to look at as this founding council is that our work is really just very foundational…but those that come after us will be able to really execute on more actual active goals and in projects.

Salty: So you mentioned that some members have come and gone. How have you selected new members?

Karen: If you recall but there was a process by which all members were selected. We had to submit a resume and our intentions for the council. And from that, there was a selection committee and that made those [original] selections. So what we have done is we’ve drawn from that pool.

Salty: So you had a pool already?

Karen: A lot of people [who applied] had similar backgrounds and similar skills or talents, so it would have been a duplication to have all those [people] sitting around the table. So now, as others leave, we can bring in some of those that may have had similar skills, that come from that pool. And we’re also finding as we look around the table that there are gaps. Like we don’t really have anyone that represents youth. So we’ve actively gone out and looked for a youth representative. We don’t really have anyone from our newcomer community so now we’re really contemplating how we can bring someone with a different cultural perspective around our table as well. That’s really important because we’ve identified culture as one of the main pillars, right in our Food Charter…so we really do need to work on filling some of those gaps.

Salty: And everyone’s volunteering correct?

Karen: Right, these aren’t paid positions, these are volunteer positions.

We actually talked with Lisa Fernandez from Maine. The New England states have done quite a bit of this work already…it’s called the New England food council…so because we felt like we were struggling over the summer, we really just didn’t feel like we’re making progress…so we had a chat with her. She said, “No, you’re in the right spot in terms of how these things evolve…you’ve done all the work around building the foundations. You’ve got your committee structure, you’ve got your processes and protocols and your basic policies and operational sort of procedures, what you now have to do to start building community.”

So that is what we’re doing, we’re actually going out into the community.

Salty: And what are you going to do?

Karen: We’ve undertaken an asset mapping exercise as part of that foundational work. That was one of the first things that we identified as being really important to understand where we are structurally in terms of food in this community, right here in the city. We’ve identified about 150 or more physical and institutional assets that are present throughout the city that are food related. So that means that places where you can access food, where you can purchase food or different organizations [food related]…so we need to take this to the community. Find out what we’ve missed, as well as find out who are the people in the communities that have skills or talents or expertise related to food, more of these softer assets.

It’s a series of community conversations. What we’re hoping is that we’ll also get ideas for projects that we can support. So it’s not just identifying what the assets are, it’s finding community champions to lead other projects, because we do have a budget. We have an ability to invest in projects.

Salty: What are your hopes? In a year’s time, what do you want to have accomplished?

Karen: One of the things that we’ve developed is the Food Charter which is probably the most solid or physical sort of thing that we’ve achieved. It is a big piece of work. And I would hope that city council will begin to use that document…city council needs to take ownership of that, and they need to start looking through that lens with every decision that they start to make…access to food can be affected by housing and affordable housing, you know, so these are the things that they need to start to also think about. These are elements of the Food Charter.

Next thing I’d like to see is that we would have people in the community, that would define what the goals of the community are. Whether we should be focused on food security, or whether we should be focused on the environment. I’m really interested to see what our community has to say in terms of what are their priorities and defining our project focus and goals around those priorities. And I’d like to see us have, in a year’s time, a significant budget to start to undertake some of these projects…I’d like to see us have more money to spend but only because we have great places to invest in to achieve those community priorities. But most importantly I really like to see city council really take the Charter seriously and use it as the document that is intended to be.

Salty: Is there anything you’d like our readers to know?

Karen: Well, I just think that people need to know that we’re doing these community conversations. I think that’s really important. It will probably be in February and March. And I think that the fact that we have this Food Charter is really important and the community needs to start pushing their politicians to consider food when they’re making any decision or making any change.

About Salty Staff

A diverse group of people, the Salty team works hard each month to bring you great stories about PEI's food and farming community.

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