Two children taking baked goods from a tray held by a woman

CCEDA’s 2022 targets: Easy wins on the road to food security

 Food security is a big issue on Cortes Island. There has been papers, studies and round table discussions, but as the Cortes Community Economic Development Association (CCEDA) COVID recovery coordinator, Filipe Figueira has to deal with practical solutions. Specifically, what projects can CCEDA achieve in a year?

Screenshot of Filipe Figueira taken during the interview

He recently sat down with Cortes Currents in a wide ranging discussion about the first steps towards food security that touched upon local farmers, the food bank, meals on wheels and food storage.  

Along the way, Figueira also touched upon longer range questions, like how a food hub would work within the island’s local economy. 

According to the Strathcona Community Health Network’s 2019 profile,  Cortes Island’s median household after-tax income is $20,000 less than the Strathcona Regional District average. 

The Strathcona Housing Needs Assessment states that close to a quarter of the Cortes Island children and youth under the age of 17 are living in households whose income is below the poverty line.

“That data is now old, it’s 2018,” responded Figueira. “Housing costs have increased significantly since then. Inflation has increased significantly since then and I think the need is going to be grow greater over the next couple of years, post-COVID I think we’re facing a situation where there’s more people who are likely to be food insecure going forward.”

The challenges are complex: people who are food insecure; the stigma attached to reaching out for help; local food producers competing with imported goods that have a fraction of the production; rising food costs; being able to respond in emergency situations. 

Figueira said housing costs for some of the rural poor have now risen to as much as 80% of their disposable income.  

“That’s only going to increase, which means people have less money to feed themselves. They have to make difficult choices and it becomes a real poverty trap where they can’t really move forward,” he explained. 

Figueira added, “There’s been some fantastic efforts in the past on Cortes to address food insecure folks. The food bank has been running on a volunteer basis for 20 years with some sterling work by Samantha Statton.

Then we’ve got some new initiatives like meals on wheels, some wonderful work being done by Desta Beattie in family support, but I feel that the true need is bigger than is really being served and we’ve got the resources to serve.”

CCEDA identified some easy steps towards food security:

  • thanks to a $9,000 grant from the Strathcona food hub, they purchased three large upright freezers – which makes it possible for the food bank and meals on wheels to store large amounts of food.
  • CCEDA is working together with Linnaea Farm to help the Cortes Island food bank become a member of Food Banks BC. As Linnaea is already a registered charity, this association could spare the food bank from all of the paper work and organizational changes needed to obtain charitable status. If they succeed, a whole new level of funding could become available.

“These are pretty easy wins, and I think that’s the first step in this food security thing,” said Figueira. 

Carrots -Photo by David Holifield on Unsplash

CCEDA has not started working with food producers. 

“We haven’t really engaged those folks yet because it’s one stage at a time. We’ll bring them on if they’re interested to build something more sustainable, like a food hub,” he explained “The idea is to have some easily connected infrastructure bits. Could we have a good root cellar? Could we have enough freezer space segregated so that some food producer could be producing stuff that can be sold at the market on the Manson’s every week, that kind of thing.” 

Five years from now, CCEDA could be working with local producers to import raw materials to the island – or develop a Cortes branded produce.

He stressed the idea that new food security infrastructure must enhance rather than diminish the local economy. 

For example, if the food bank obtains funding for supplies it must give priority to local stores. 

“It doesn’t go into a big box store unless it’s can’t find anything here. It tends to buy stuff here or produce gift certificates for people to use for fresh produce at local stores,” he explained. 

So the food bank could generate actually more local economic activity. 

At the moment, the food bank serves about 30 people a week, but Figueira said some of the other local agencies believe the need is much larger.

How COVID 19 Changed The Quadra Island Food Bank
The Quadra Food Bank says their most popular food is Kraft mac and cheese (and it has to be Kraft!) – Photo by Selena N. B. H. via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License) 

“We have anecdotal data that not enough people are being served, that there’s still stigma around using food bank or getting help – which is a shame because we need to get to a culture where there’s absolutely no shame,” he added.  “In 2022, nobody should be: food insecure; or going hungry; making choices about feeding their kids and not feeding themselves, or feeding their pets or feeding themselves or paying a bill. Not feeding is something that shouldn’t happen.”

Cortes Island also needs to build capacity. If a hundred families in need were to emerge, Figueira said we lack the ability to respond.

He has a number of specific questions designed to improve service at the food bank: 

  • Do you use, or need to use, the food bank? 
  • If the answer is yes, is your need seasonal (ex. – because of added costs during the summer, or winter) or ongoing?
  • Does the present location work, or not work for you?
  • Do you need food delivery?

“It would be really useful to hear from people who have either used the food bank, didn’t know there was a food bank and would like to use it, or have suggestions on ways that the service could be improved,” said Figueira. 

Contact him directly at: coordinator@cceda.ca

Click here to access the CCEDA website

Top photo credit: A community food security event – courtesy Visible hand via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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