Food security in Nova Scotia is a growing area of interest. The past 5 years have seen a proliferation of organizations and networks to deal with this issue. Alongside this, the 2008 financial crisis increased food insecurity in a number of areas through elevated poverty levels resulting in additional use of food banks. Additionally, the average cost of food (as measured by the healthy food basket) across Nova Scotia has risen 18% from 2002 to 2009. Much of the food that is cheaply available is food that is not nutrient dense, but provides basic caloric needs to individuals resulting in high calorie low nutrient diets, partially fueling the rise in obesity. The picture is thus one of successes and challenges to the food movement as it grows while facing unique challenges. These unique challenges have been met with unique solutions across the province and this brief history highlights the most memorable of them.
Facts and Stats
Many of the challenges faced in Nova Scotia can be related to the struggling economy that is markedly below the national average. Nova Scotia’s increased use of food banks, as shown in the dramatic 33% increase since 2008, indicates a rise in hunger and food insecurity levels throughout the province. The median income in Nova Scotia has been consistently below the national average in 2006-2010. In 2007, 9.3% of households in Nova Scotia reported moderate to severe income related food insecurity, with 63.7% of those on income assistance reporting income-related food insecurity. Those working minimum-wage jobs also face challenges in the affordability of proper nutrition, although the minimum wage has consistently been raised each year since 2008, from $7.60 to $10.30 by the end of this year, these rates just keep up with the low-income cut off. In addition, there has been a reduction in local food dollar spending by 4% from 2000 to 2010, bringing it to only 13 cents of every food dollar spent.
The problems associated with food insecurity present a number of challenges to the individuals and organizations that work towards greater food security in the province. In response to this dilemma several organizations look to creating a stronger local food movement that is resilient to the shocks of the global food system. This local food movement has been encouraged by events like the second Nova Scotia Food Gathering in Debert organized by the Nova Scotia Food Security Network in 2008. In addition, 2009 saw the Nova Scotia Food Summit organized by Friends of Agriculture Nova Scotia (FANS) which educated many working towards food security on a number of different issues and resulted in the formation of the Nova Scotia Food Policy Council.
Many new amazing projects and businesses have emerged during this period. Through the establishment of the FarmWorks Investment Co-operative in 2011, this continued stream of funding will help grow more sustainable and innovative food production systems in Nova Scotia. This program has already financed a number of farms with invaluable start-up money, as well as supporting local food producers. Just US! Has been instrumental in helping the East Coast Organic Milk Cooperative get started as well as creating the Centre for Small Farms as a regional hub for farmers. There has been a proliferation of community gardens like the Pictou County Community Garden Partnership; the Common Roots Urban Farm as well as school gardens like Citadel High and Blockhouse that grow food for their breakfast and lunch programs.
FoodARC has played a large research and advocacy role around the economic limitations to eating a well-balanced diet in Nova Scotia. Their research has focused on participatory food costing to keep up-to-date statistics on the cost of food in Nova Scotia, especially compared to income earnings of those on income-assistance, disability and minimum wage, highlighting the gaps between income and the cost of food. They received funding in 2010 for their project on Activating Change Together for Community Food Security. Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) has also developed a number of programs that encourage organic farming and purchasing of organic products, and teaching people the skills they need to work as organic growers. Lastly, the Tri County Local Food Network in Digby, Yarmouth and Shelburne, is working towards building a more sustainable and community minded food system that contributes to local food security.
The Government of Nova Scotia has shown an increasing commitment to the health of Nova Scotians through their commitment to food security. They did so through committing $2.3 million in funding to encourage local food consumption to farmers and farmers’ markets and through marketing campaigns like Select Nova Scotia. In the newest revision to the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act in November 2012, two goals were adopted for 2020: 1- that “local food consumption is supported and encouraged, with the goal of 20 per cent of the money spent on food by Nova Scotians being spent on locally produced food by 2020; [2-] local food production is supported and encouraged, with the goal of increasing the number of local farms by five per cent by 2020.” In addition, the Thrive! program has received a large amount of provincial funding to promote healthy eating across Nova Scotia in view of reducing obesity and related chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.
Food Production Challenges
While many are working to strengthen Nova Scotia’s local food economy, it is currently at a weak point. Hog production has hit an all-time low, partially because of a lack of federally regulated slaughterhouses in the province. Local farmers continue to struggle to promote their products, especially Nova Scotian beef. These struggles are faced even with an increase in farmers’ market attendance and a strong buy local movement from all levels. On a positive note, Nova Scotia is the only province to see a rise in the number of farm operators over the past few years while accompanied by a decline in certified organic farmers. The fishery sector continues to struggle and more sustainable solutions, like the community supported fishery ‘Off the Hook’, are being advocated by important actors such as the Ecology Action Centre in their call to add value to local small-scale fisheries.
Special thanks to Tim Cashion and Christine Gagnon for preparing this, as well as all those who took their time to fill out the survey, and provide us with other information.