Here we grow: Opening more doors for community gardens and sustainable food sources

What’s for dinner? Three harmless words when put together can cause the most rational and prepared person to wander back and forth aimlessly. It’s a conundrum that spans across cultures. This seemingly banal ask tends to spark many more questions: What do we have? What do we want? Carnivore or Vegetarian? Local or organic?

For Kristi Peters Snider, Sustainability Consultant with Calgary Growth Strategies at The City of Calgary, the question of what’s for dinner is something that occupies more than a few of her hours. It’s a question she works on daily as she looks at the sustainability of food production, consumption and food access in Calgary.

“What’s for dinner is always on my mind,” said Peters Snider, who is on the verge of recommending Council adopt a new Urban Agriculture land use. “But when I ponder this question, I am less focused on my dinner and more on ensuring we have a stable food system Calgarians can rely on.”

Since 2012, when the CalgaryEATS! Food Action Plan program was started, Peters Snider has been making it easier for Calgarians to buy local healthy food. She and the Calgary Growth Strategies team at The City of Calgary are creating more opportunities to build a sustainable and resilient food system through policy changes, pilot projects, research, and community partnerships.

“Calgary’s food system does much more than just feed people. The food system impacts and is impacted by everything from urban planning and land use policies, to economic development, to health, diet and well-being. The ripple effects of a vibrant food system are felt beyond grocery sales and local production; it means stronger economic growth and resiliency for our city, it means healthier students who can learn better, a higher quality of life for community residents, and greater equity and social inclusion among residents.” Peters Snider said.

While you may not have heard about the CalgaryEATS! Food Action Plan specifically, chances are good that you have seen or experienced the changes brought about by this initiative. Did you know that through the Food Action Plan there are now over 149 community gardens, 12 farmers markets and more than 20 local breweries?

There are even transit fresh food markets. The City has located fresh food stands along the primary transit network to support increased access to healthy food for all Calgarians. Markets officially launched in 2017 and now operate five days a week in the summer during peak commute times at alternating stations, placing fresh healthy food options in commuter routes. This unique market idea will continue this year, ensuring food remains visible in the urban context and Calgarians have increased access to healthy food.

”The Transit Markets are a fun way to bring more healthy food to Calgarians while at the same time providing much needed retail opportunities for local farmers, ” said Peters Snider.

Policy changes can impact food security, which is why The City made amendments to the Land Use Bylaw in 2017. The City wanted to provide opportunities for small and large businesses to develop indoor farms in the Industrial and Commercial districts. Under the Food Production use. The changes mean more opportunities for the emerging food production businesses of aquaponics, aquaculture and vertical farms.

Next month, Peters Snider is bringing forward more recommendations to City Council to amend the Land Use Bylaw with a new Urban Agriculture use. This new use will create opportunities for outdoor commercial food growing in most districts, supporting even more local food production and economic opportunities.

“In recent years, communities across Calgary have expressed growing interest in local food production, consumption, and sales of locally grown food. As the market for local food expands, new opportunities for local food production emerge, creating the need for The City to support and enable local food businesses,” Peters Snider expressed.

As Calgary continues to grow, The City is responding to new and emerging opportunities in the food system.

You could say that when ‘What’s for dinner?’ is asked, The City of Calgary is working to ensure that we have a sustainable, resilient food system where all Calgarians have access to healthy affordable food.