The food system has been broken for decades. Food banks were created as a short-term intervention to provide access to food among people facing poverty during hard economic times. The Canadian Association of Food Banks was established in 1987 and Guelph has had a food bank and community food pantries for over 30 years. Food banks and neighbourhood food pantries have become institutions even during stronger economic times with lower rates of unemployment. Since food banks have become part of our food system, we need to ensure that what they offer in terms of food and experience is dignified.
In 2010, The Guelph Wellington Poverty Task Force (PTF – https://www.gwpoverty.ca/) began working to address the increasingly challenging issues experienced by providers and clients with the local emergency food system. While these efforts saw some positive progress, a new report was released in 2013 that showed that more work needed to be done (Using Emergency Food Services in Guelph Wellington). Some of the concerns centred around stigma, consistency and transparency of eligibility criteria, accessibility, and food quality.
Following the release of this report, an ad-hoc committee was formed that included representatives from many agencies around Guelph and Wellington, that included the Upper Grand District School Board, Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, Community Engaged Scholarship Institute, Women in Crisis, City of Guelph, County of Wellington, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, and the Guelph Community Health Centre. Together, this committee identified a number of short-term and long-term recommendations to improve the experience of participants and their access to nutritious food. The key long-term recommendation was that a hub-and-spoke model replace the current emergency food system in Guelph-Wellington.
The vision for the food hub was that it would provide central storage and distribution of food with a strong emphasis on improving the quality and quantity of fresh food available to emergency food providers. This vision included recommendations for how to carry it out, that included exploring creative models to increase the availability of quality fresh food to clients, such as a mobile market; develop a system for transporting food from the hub to the spokes, among others. The committee also recommended that after the hub-and-spoke model was established that it should “eventually address issues surrounding food, health and poverty in a more holistic way, with a wide range of programming that could include community gardens, kitchens, nutrition (and other) education, and more”.
In 2014, the committee was awarded a grant through the Ontario Trillium Foundation to begin making this vision a reality, and with the Guelph Community Health Centre as the host agency The SEED was born. Among the first tasks to complete was a Feasibility and Operational Plan for a centralized cold storage and distribution centre. Completed by a consultant (now The SEED Manager), the study sought to collaborate and consult with would-be users of this centre. In particular, consultations with emergency food providers like Hope House, Chalmers, the Salvation Army, North End Harvest Market, the Welcome In Drop In, and the Central Student Association’s Campus Food Bank revealed that there was an opportunity for collective purchasing alongside the need for donated food. This idea lead to the design of this project as a social enterprise. The SEED would take orders from each partner and aggregate them in one big order to negotiate a better price and pass those savings on to the partners. The SEED would embed some margin costs to help offset its operating costs and extend the longevity of the project. This social enterprise was titled Good Food Distribution, and for its first year it operated completely out of a rented vehicle with no warehouse space. The SEED would pick up the food from its suppliers and immediately deliver it to its partners.
In the first year of running Good Food Distribution, The SEED distributed approximately $95,000 of fruits and vegetables to this short list of partners. Eventually this work was supported by rented warehouse space in partnership with Women in Crisis where we installed a 300 square foot walk in cooler and 150 square foot walk in freezer. Compare that to this past year where Good Food Distribution coordinated the purchase, receiving, storage, and distribution of over $1,000,000 in purchased and donated food across all nutritional categories, to over 50 social service agencies/projects including Student Nutrition Programs at elementary and high schools. The growth of our work necessitated a much larger space, and we now have a 30,000 square foot warehouse with a 1500 square foot walk in cooler and 750 square foot walk in freezer.
We have achieved the vision of the ad-hoc steering committee by centralizing the storage and distribution of nutritious food. We have also sought to address issues surrounding food, health, and poverty in a more holistic way, and we will cover how we have done this in an upcoming post, though you can visit our what we do page to see the range of programming The SEED now offers.
While we very successfully established and managed this hub, the need in our community continues to grow. This is evidenced by the number of agencies we support, how quickly the donated food leaves the warehouse, and the stats our partners share about program usage and demand. We need your help to continue building and growing a connected community where everyone has enough good food.
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