A forum that connected residents of remote northern Manitoba communities with the grocers who supply their food has led to new proposals to shore up northern food security.
The Northern Grocers Forums, held in March in Thompson and The Pas, Man., were co-ordinated by the Manitoba Food Charter (MFC) and Bayline Regional Roundtable, to seek input on a strategic plan to reduce retail costs and increase availability of affordable, healthy foods in the north.
The forums included representatives from chain stores, independent grocers and convenience store operators as well as from Winnipeg-based Perimeter Airlines, which transports “food mail” within the province.
“While not all grocers invited were able to attend, those that did
participate were glad to be invited and indicated that these events were a first for them as well,” MFC said in a release Monday.
“The Grocers Forums were also different from past events because the focus was on hearing from and networking with people involved in the business side of the food system, as opposed to previous work with grassroots community groups,” MFC noted.
Among the “opportunities for action” proposed in the forums were:
- a community-accessible refrigerated rail car on each of the rail lines serving the northern regions of Manitoba;
- a “mentorship” program for new and existing northern grocers or northern convenience store owners wanting to scale up;
- a pilot “Food Buying Club” based out of Thicket Portage, a remote community south of Thompson;
- partnerships between grocers and the province on a Northern Food Prices Survey program;
- greater community access to a “food mail” or similar food freight subsidy program; and
- decreasing freight costs for northern grocers.
Topics discussed at the forums had included increasing access to affordable healthy foods in communities; expanding grocery product range and suppliers; school snack programs; helping children and their families eat healthier; creating local employment; and the possibilities for buying directly from farmers.
The next steps, MFC said, include meeting with communities to “determine their priorities for action,” developing a strategic action plan and seeking funding partners.
The March forums were funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Rural Secretariat and the Northern Healthy Foods Initiative at Manitoba Aboriginal and Northern Affairs.
The project was meant to build on the 2003 Northern Food Prices Report and work toward decreasing retail costs and increasing availability of affordable healthy foods in the north, according to MFC, a policy group focused on local-level food security for rural, northern and urban Manitoba residents.