This morning, I was invited to be a part of a focus group through Healthy Brandon. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I jumped at the chance to be a part of a meeting at City Hall. Two days in a row now I’ve been admitted through the powerful doors into the Councillor’s Meeting Room. Heavy oak desks and tall windows watching over our conversations, just as I’m sure they had with others, countless times before. I left today feeling energized, my mind racing over the issues we had discussed. My thoughts brimming and overlapping as I walked the few blocks home for lunch. Within minutes of sitting down, my notebook was out, my pen scratching ideas down quickly for fear of losing them. My brain consumed by ways to change things, ways to help.
The focus group today centered around a food assessment project that has taken on the task of working through phase one of their plan: Information Gathering. The main issues outlined by their project are those centered around access, affordability, and barriers to acquiring healthy food. Taking into consideration both income and proximity to food sources, they decided to focus their studies on three main groups of people living in the Westman area. Low income individuals, newcomers to Brandon and Canada, and the Soldiers and their families living out on the Shilo Military Base. It was their hope that this project would have a real community voice behind it and they have worked tirelessly gathering information from participants to help make informed choices and changes for the future. Looking at the food landscape of Brandon, they’re working to highlight where there have been successes and where more supports are needed.
Sitting around the table with the other participants for the day, I was amazed at the sheer amount of shared knowledge in the room. Representatives from all sorts of organizations such as the Brandon Regional Health Authority, 7th Street Access Center, and The Community Garden Network were in attendance. We participated in the survey, answering questions about our own shopping preferences and habits as well as voicing our opinions over frustrations with our current food system. I was amazed to find that almost everyone in the room made the effort to buy local. Almost everyone gardened, canned, and preserved. Everyone who was there was not guided by only a personal desire to see things change, but in hopes that it would provide better opportunities for those in need.
It felt good to share my thoughts and ideas, what I have seen so far through Fruit Share and my own life growing up in Brandon. We discussed what issues our clients and those who we are dedicated to help might be experiencing. Lack of quality food due to too great a distance from full grocery stores. The increasing number of people who are forced to look to places like Giant Tiger for their weekly groceries. The transition of school-aged children from breakfast programs to the soup kitchen with their families during summer months. The lack of diabetic-friendly foods that are donated for a population where the health challenge is all too common. The need for cooking and gardening education to help increase skills for self-sustainability.
I left feeling happy to see that there are people with a genuine desire to make the changes necessary to help those who need it. I also left feeling like even with what i’m doing, it’s not enough, it’s not reaching the full potential of my power. Today I stand steadfast in my belief that our food policies and systems need to change to help provide for those they’re leaving behind. In a city the size of Brandon, we can be that voice that asks for change. That demands change. We can be those hands that give to those without, who know generosity and caring. I look at the conditions within which I live and I see how lucky I am. Living with Samaritan House, Helping Hands, and the 7th Street Access Center all within a stone’s throw from my apartment, I’m seeing each day the people who need our help. Consider doing what you can for those in Brandon who need it the most during the hot summer months. Donate at your local food banks or consider registering with Fruit Share to make sure your produce is used to it’s greatest potential! Visit www.fruitshare.ca and follow us on Twitter @bdnfruitshare.