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May 19, 2020

COVID-19 shines light on the inequality of the food system

Across the world, COVID-19 has disrupted the way we get our food. From the safety precautions at grocery stores leading to long lines to real and perceived supply shortages, this pandemic is testing the security and resilience of food supply chains.

In the last two decades, the supply chain has shifted to “just in time” production, producing and delivering what’s needed at the moment. The stockpiling impact during this crisis spikes the demand for a system that doesn’t have capacity to deliver. While individual companies can adapt, as we’ve seen with distilleries for example switching production to hand sanitizer, it seems the system itself can’t keep up. Even small, sustainable food producers are feeling disconnected from their markets.

The recent breakouts of COVID-19 in large processing plants bring increased attention to the concentration of our food supply management, and raises concerns about labour-and workers-rights, including essential skilled migrant labour that our food production relies on.

With less food items available for sale, and record high unemployment, the need for food relief has increased in low-income households, especially in marginalized and racialized communities.

What is the role of the community food hub?

A community food hub is place-based, unique to each setting - but a common role of these hubs is to support community resiliency and healthy food systems by connecting one another with food, with farmers, and with the Earth. For instance, The Table, affiliate Community Food Centre with Community Food Centres Canada, holds a mission to "foster a community ... to improve access to healthy food, improve food skills and food literacy." Originally by providing food access services to people in Perth and surrounding areas who were living on low incomes, the community food hub now offers self-service shopping, as well as cooking and gardening sessions.

In a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Toronto’s “community of food practice” has found a way to increase their output. Two of the largest city-based food bank alternatives in Canada have stepped up distribution of food boxes and prepared meals. Following the incredible leadership of FoodShare, Greenest City and Black Creek Community Farm’s in providing good food for families and those with precarious work, Evergreen has added a "Healthy Food For All" box, distributed through our community partners.

What role and support do community food hubs offer, particularly in a time of crisis?

The next Future Cities Canada Civic Commons Catalyst webinar, Community Food Hubs: Feeding Resiliency and Connection, will explore this conversation. These centres move beyond food relief in a mandate to share land, infrastructure and resources, and to centre the well-being and connection of communities that food and land can provide. Featuring Ramsey Hart, Executive Director of The Table, and Isaac Crosby, Urban Agriculture Specialist with Evergreen, the webinar will dive into barriers, opportunities, and unique funding models that can apply to community hubs across the country. Register for this free webinar, taking place on Tuesday, May 26 at 12 p.m. EST.