Toronto’s Poverty Strategy Focuses On Food Security

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Toronto is our home town. If you’re like me, whenever you speak with people from outside the city, it can be hard not to get swept up in the positives. We love the city’s history, cultural vibrancy and diversity. Some days I wonder if I could ever live anywhere else. However, we’ve probably romanticized our city. Toronto has a darker side, serious problems that are too easy to ignore.

Last week you might have notice that the city of Toronto released TO Prosperity, a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy. In the introduction, Deputy Mayor Pam Mcconnell wrote openly about how, despite Toronto’s reputation as a prosperous city and a centre of economic growth, our poverty problem has become impossible to ignore. 1/4 of Toronto’s children live in poverty. So do 46% of new comers to Canada, 33% of racialized groups, and 30% of people with disabilities.

“This inequality is simply unacceptable. Toronto can do better”, wrote Mcconnell.

As the primary food bank for northern Toronto, we whole heartedly agree with this statement. I know you do too!  Everyday at North York Harvest we witness the impact of poverty in our communities, and strategize about how, together, we can continue to make improvements. We’re lucky to know that we can rely on your donations to help put food on our neighbour’s tables, but at the same time, we know that for things to truly get better we need a serious commitment from our city’s government to address the growing poverty in our communities. TO Prosperity is a step in the right direction.

As you probably know, a major contributor to the city’s poverty is lack of access to affordable and healthy food. It’s no secret that a plentiful and nutritious diet leads to healthier kids, more productive adults, and stronger communities. Yet in many of the city’s neighbourhoods, good food is very hard to come by. Since 2008 Toronto’s inner suburbs have seen a 38% increase in food bank visits, with over 1 million visits a year. It’s an alarming number, and one that might have you asking, ‘In a wealthy city like Toronto, with so much food available, why are so many people going without?’

Well, the problem isn’t so much that the food isn’t there, but that it’s unavailable to so many of our neighbours. Farmer’s markets, grocery stores and restaurants are all abundant in TO, but their prices have become so high that they exclude a large part of the city’s community members. Markets and sources of fresh produce also tend to avoid low income neighbourhoods, leading to large urban areas referred to as “food deserts”. To sum it up, the problem isn’t a lack of food, but a lack of income.

To combat this, the committee has put forward some recommendations and actions aimed at bringing healthy and affordable food into Toronto’s less prosperous neighbourhoods. If you haven’t had a chance to look through them yet, take a look, and then head on to Twitter  – Do you agree?  Is it enough? What else can we do?

Some of the key actions that stuck out to us will seek to:

  • “Develop mechanisms that make it easy and cost-effective for community agencies and schools to procure healthy food.” – 11.1
  • “Encourage local markets in public spaces, and open civic land and spaces to host food markets.” – 11.4
  • “Support mechanisms to increase student nutrition programs in collaboration with school boards.” – 11.6
  • “Remove barriers (zoning, licensing, planning) to maximize urban agriculture and food production on public and private space and land.” – 12.1
  • “Create clear policies that support the 30 development of community kitchens, outdoor bake ovens, community cooking classes and other food-oriented activities that support social cohesion and food access, and create economic opportunities.” – 12.3

In particular, action 10.3 –  “Support food banks to improve the quality of their food stock, provide culturally specific food, and increase access and eligibility to food for people in need”, really struck a chord with our team.

Your generous donations keep food in our neighbour’s cupboards stocked, but as the demand continues to grow, we’re constantly striving to improve the quality of our services, by providing a greater quantity of fresh and culturally specific food options. We recently invested in a new fridge triple the size our old one, and a freezer double the size of our old one, allowing us to accept and distribute more of your fresh produce and food donations.  This means that, this month, a young child gets to bring nutritious lunch to camp, or a new Canadian family will get to enjoy seasonal local produce around the dinner table.

If you are as passionate about the Poverty Reduction Strategy as we are, please consider contacting your city councillor and letting them know that you support the plan. The final strategy will be brought to council in the fall, with hopes to include it in the 2106 budget. You can read the entire report here.

In the meantime, please show your support for a food secure Toronto by making a donation to North York Harvest today.



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