Halifax ready to dig into plan to tackle food insecurity

HALIFAX, N.S. — The table is set — now it’s time to dig in.

The second part of JustFOOD: Action Plan for the Halifax Region — the action part — is being delivered to regional council on Tuesday. It will also come with a price tag.

Year one of the implementation of initiatives to battle food insecurity in HRM, which is among the worst in the country, is $1.3 million. Nova Scotia Health is kicking in an in-kind contribution of $60,855.

According to a staff report written by Leticia Smillie, HRM planner, the total “municipal ask” for this fiscal year is $856,000. Already, $334,000 is in the operating budget under community safety for this project, so the remaining $522,000 is considered an “option over budget” and would be considered on the Budget Adjustment List (BAL) discussions. 

After that, this plan will require $850,000 to $900,000 a year for the next three years.

Costs keep rising

Planning and public consultation for this plan (Part A) took well over a decade. It’s a collaboration between HRM and the Halifax Food Policy Alliance (HFPA), made up of a number of community groups like the United Way, Community Health Boards and the Ecology Action Centre.

When Smillie delivered the plan to council last March, she painted a stark picture.

“While the region has a rich history of food production and self-reliance, we also have the dubious honour of being one of the highest rates of food insecurity across Canada,” Smillie said. “Approximately one in five households experience food insecurity, higher than the provincial and national average.”

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A graph showing the percentage of people living in food insecure households. – HRM

A year later, and it’s getting worse.

“Rising costs of living have continued to outpace incomes, resulting in ever increasing rates of household food insecurity, with current estimations of more than one in five HRM residents living with food insecurity,” Smillie wrote in the report appearing before council on Tuesday.

“With rising food costs, growing income disparities, ‘greedflation’ concerns, and climate uncertainties, there is even stronger rationale for collaboration and collective action towards increased access to good food, a more resilient local food system, and greater food justice and sovereignty.”

Things to be done

Part B of the plan involves a long list of various to-dos. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Community plots pilot project to create ready-to-garden plots for residents.
  • Community orchard pilot project that would expand urban orcharding at Leighton Dillman Park in Dartmouth.
  • Vermicompost pilot project to provide residents with kits and training for year-round vermicomposting (worms).
  • Backyard sharing/matchmaking program for land sharing to match people looking grow food with property owners with available land.
A high level view of the initiatives in part B of the JustFOOD Halifax Action Plan. - HRM
A high level view of the initiatives in part B of the JustFOOD Halifax Action Plan. – HRM
  • Advance work on the Halifax Food Asset Map, which is in a “preliminary state.”  It will be hosted on halifax.ca.
  • An emergency food truck and community food distribution pilot project would distribute rescued food in partnership with Second Harvest, a no-waste food rescue organization.
  • With Feed N.S., launch a social supermarket, which is “a community-centred approach to selling food in a way that is affordable, offers choice, and maintains dignity.”
  • A rural food access pilot project will reimagine what food access can look like in underserved, rural areas.
  • Support migrant workers and launch an English-for-migrant-workers pilot and a welcome bags pilot.
  • Establish an annual community food grants program for community-based food initiatives.
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‘People sleeping rough are especially vulnerable’

Smillie also writes of a commitment to increase food insecurity for people experiencing homelessness.

“People living in shelters or temporary housing may have some food provided, but it is often not enough to meet their needs and must be supplemented through communal donated food, charitable meal programs, panhandling or precarious employment, income assistance, or other insecure sources,” she wrote. “People sleeping rough are especially vulnerable as they have no way to store, heat, or preserve food and therefore are at an extreme risk for food insecurity and food safety issues, some often not eating for long stretches.”

Starlings feed on some discarded food left in the open at the designated encampment for those experiencing homelessness at Victoria Park in Halifax on Nov, 29, 2023. - Tim Krochak
Starlings feed on some discarded food left in the open at the designated encampment for those experiencing homelessness at Victoria Park in Halifax on Nov, 29, 2023. – Tim Krochak

She wrote that collaboration between governments, housing providers and support organizations is needed to make sure everyone has “dignified and secure access to the food they need.”

Initiatives in the JustFOOD plan like the creation of a municipal food team and the community food distribution pilot would help with this, Smillie noted.

What’s next

If approved by council on Tuesday, most of the work to implement the initiatives in Part B will happen this fiscal year. The community food grants are expected to launch in November and Smillie wrote that she expects to be back in front of council at this time next year with a progress report and an outline of the priorities for the second year of implementation.

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