Bob Ewing – The first food bank in Canada was apparently set up in Edmonton, Alberta in 1981. Since then food banks have spread across the country, in response to an insistent and growing demand for their service.
I have worked at a food bank, and have seen, first hand, the shame some feel because they must rely on a hand out, and the desperation others experience when they are told the cupboard is bare.
Food banks do run out of food, but they do not run out of people who need that food. This is an ongoing problem; one I have experienced as a food bank worker on more than one occasion.
Each year, in March, the Canadian Association of Food Banks conducts a survey of food bank usage across Canada.
Consider these figures from HungerCount 2011:
• 93,000 people each month access a food bank for the first time
• 38% of those turning to food banks are children and youth
• 7% of adults helped are over age 65
• 35% of food banks ran out of food during the survey period
• 55% of food banks needed to cut back on the amount of food provided to each household.
There is little doubt that food banks provide a much needed service. They serve food to those who would otherwise go hungry, and therefore, they need to be supported. However, is there not a better way to reduce hunger in our country?
People go to the food bank because they do not have enough money to purchase all the food they need in the market place, especially as costs rise, and their fixed incomes, and this applies to the working poor as well, do not.
Food banks do a good job but they cannot address the income issue. When it comes to ending hunger in Canada or anywhere else, for that matter, what we need is a two fold approach; one, we need to support the food banks and make sure no one goes hungry; two, we need to create the jobs we need, and increase the incomes of the people who are using the services of the food bank. This way they can buy their own food in the market place.
In the case of hunger, the problem suggests the solution, or at least part of the solution. Growing and producing food in urban centres can create jobs, new jobs, and by doing so provide an income for those who need one. Apprenticeship and training programs can help individuals develop the skill set that is needed to work and or operate an urban agriculture enterprise.
When we begin to grow and produce food in and close to urban centres, we relocalize production, and bring food closer to the people who consume it, while creating meaningful economic opportunities, and long term, sustainable employment at the same time. How can this be done, next week, I begin to answer that question.