Bibeau announced that $2.3 million will be dedicated specifically to northern and rural communities
By Jackie Clark
Marie-Claude Bibeau, the federal minister of agriculture and agri-food, joined leaders from food security initiatives to announce that a parcel of funding from the Emergency Food Security Fund would be allocated to northern and rural communities in Canada. The federal government announced a $100-million investment in this fund in April, and an additional $100 million in a release on Oct 9.
Protecting food security “is critical work; it’s not easy. The people helping feed us and provide food to our most vulnerable communities deserve all our thanks, and they also need support and recognition for the work they are doing,” Bibeau said in a Nov. 6 press conference.
“The mental health of farmers and food workers is a major preoccupation of mine, and I wish to extend my gratitude to you all for the amazing but challenging work you do to protect Canadians from food insecurity,” she said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has put extreme pressure on your resources, and you continue to find creative and impactful solutions.”
Farmers in Northern Canada overcome challenging conditions to produce food.
In Whitehorse, “I was amazed to see what farmers can produce in the short growing season and with challenging soil,” Bibeau said, referring to a 2019 trip to the city. “The agricultural community is growing and getting stronger. Yukon alone has approximately 150 farms and buying local is a growing trend.”
Those farmers are contributing to food security in Northern Canada, and “food banks and community organizations help bridge the food-security gap,” Bibeau explained.
The Government of Canada is committing $2.3 million to the Rural and Northern Capacity Fund.
“The goal is to help fill the gaps where no other existing food-security initiatives are available, or where a particular region is currently underserved,” Bibeau said. “Applications are now open to community or charitable organizations, Indigenous groups, not-for-profit co-operatives, food banks, and other food-security organizations in Canada’s rural and northern communities.”
Support from the Rural and Northern Capacity Fund “can be used to purchase and distribute food, expand existing food bank services into underserved rural and remote communities, improve technology, hire temporary workers to help to fill volunteer shortages, cover minor construction projects, support equipment costs … as well as other community-driven projects geared to long-term support for those in need,” Bibeau said.
These funds are part of the Emergency Food Security Fund dedicated specifically to regions currently lacking food banks or food-security services or capacity.
“This investment in rural and northern communities is so incredibly critical right now, especially as restrictions related to the pandemic are not lifting and are getting stronger in some rural communities, and winter is on its way,” said Kirstin Beardsley at the press conference. She is the chief network services officer at Food Banks Canada.
“Food banks and other food-support organizations have been adapting and innovating since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s been a privilege to watch and see, but I get tired on their behalf,” she explained. The pandemic has added costs to acquire personal protective equipment, and increased the need to adapt services to allow for physical distancing. Winter will add to the challenge, for weather will limit the ability for staff and volunteers to use outdoor spaces.
Additionally, “there’s been a reduction in food and fund donations in some communities,” Beardsley said. The number of volunteers available has also decreased, which is particularly pertinent to this funding because “the vast majority of food banks in rural and northern communities are run entirely by volunteers.”
The funding “is not only critical to keeping these operations open and running smoothly over the coming months … but it’s also a signal to food banks and food bankers, volunteer and staff, dedicated front-line workers who haven’t stopped since the beginning of the pandemic – a signal that their work is valued,” she added.
Working in the food industry, from primary production to processing and distribution is difficult, said Bibeau. “I just want to say thank you very much and don’t forget to take care of yourselves.”
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