New club hopes to put fresh food on capital city tables

Daily Gleaner – Monday Oct 7 p. A 5, BY TARA CHISLETT

A new food distribution club is hoping to put fresh, local produce into the hands of those in the city who need it most. Community Food Smart, a citywide bulk food purchasing club organized by a group of several community partners, held its soft launch last week. The club allows members to access fresh produce, sourced locally when possible and delivered to their neighbourhood at an affordable price.

Jessica Hughes, the community development director for United Way/ Centraide of Central New Brunswick, said the idea for the club for the Fredericton area came up at a New Brunswick Food Security Action Network conference last November. According to research out of the University of Toronto, New Brunswick has the third highest prevalence of children living in food insecure households at 25 per cent. The province is behind Nunavut, which comes in at 57 per cent and Prince Edward Island at 27 per cent. Hughes said before the conference, Moncton and Saint John were already running bulk food purchasing programs and Fredericton had one operating out of the food bank, but there was a strong feeling among those at the meeting that Fredericton could be do­ing more.

The club was developed through funding from the economic and social inclusion corporation. Through a partnership with CÉ D’ICI, the service that provides catering services for École Sainte-Anne, Hughes said the bulk purchasing power of the group makes it possible to provide bags of produce and fruit valued at a minimum of $30 for $15. Each month, the bags will contain six staple items – onions, potatoes, carrots, oranges, bananas and apples – along with five or six other items that are in season ’So if it’s strawberry season, strawberries go in. This time of the year, a lot of root vegetables will go in and then we want to get feedback,’ she said. Along with the food, Hughes said there’s an educational component to the program: each bag will include a monthly insert featuring stories from local farmers and information about one of the fruits or vegetables included in the bag. ’What some places notice is they’ll do these bulk-buying programs, people will get broccoli and on the way out people are finding hundreds of heads of broccoli in the garbage. It’s not that people don’t like it, it’s that people don’t know how to clean, store or cook with it,’ she said. ’We include an insert with the nutritional value, how it can be stored, for how long, how to clean it, how to prepare it, what parts you can and can’t use. ‘ Along with the $15 a month, there will be a $10 fee for a 12-month membership. While the club will have target groups such as students, seniors, newcomers and low income individuals and families, Hughes said the club is open to everyone. ’We don’t know if you’re paying out $50,000 a year in cancer drugs for your wife. That’s not our place to ask those things. If you want to access this program, you can,’ she said.

‘It removes the stigma of, ‘Oh, poor people go here.’ It’s not about being poor. It’s about the right to access affordable, nutritious food that you want.’ For the launch, four hubs were chosen – the Multicultural Association of Fredericton, the Salvation Army Family Resource Centre, the Oromocto Food Centre and the University of New Brunswick – and each hub was able to take on about a dozen orders. The first run of the program is to make sure the kinks are worked out and that the quality of the food is high, Hughes said. ’People aren’t getting second-rate food,’ she said. ‘They’re going to get the best.’ Hughes said she expects one of the key distribution centres for the pro­gram will be the University of New Brunswick campus, which will service students from UNB, St. Thomas University and those living in the surrounding area.

Marc Gauvin, the finance and operations vice-president for the student union, said having a community distribution site on campus will make it easier for students to access fresh, local produce. ’Students struggle with the funding a lot of the time, with the high cost of tuition and low access to student aid,’ he said. ’Most students have to make the decision between Kraft Dinner and celery and apples just because it’s ‘What can I afford on a monthly basis? What’s my food budget?’ To be able to provide about $40-50 worth of produce for $15 is really beneficial to anyone who wants to eat healthier.’ Gauvin said while the idea that students live on things Kraft Dinner and Ramen noodles is a stereotype, price and convenience often play a big role in determining how students stock their cupboards. ’It’s like, ‘Do I go out, go grocery shopping, buy fruit and vegetables, things that are only going to keep for three or four days and can be very expensive or do I spend money on a million Ramen noodles and they’ll last for a long time?’ ‘ he said. ’It’s difficult and that can often be the trade off.’ Ben Whitney, the union president, said the benefit of programs such as this is that it helps students so they don’t have to choose between eating well and saving money. ’Unhealthy food is far cheaper, so if we can provide healthy food right on campus that students can access for cheap, that’s an excellent scenario,’ he said.

Along with promoting the bulk-food distribution site, the union has been taking additional steps to increase access to quality food for students through working with Sodexo and running a new program that uses Safe Ride vans to take students to Sobeys locations on Tuesdays, when they receive a discount. Whitney said the idea is to work on removing barriers around access to food for students, something the union sees as a priority when it comes to addressing student wellness. ’If someone doesn’t eat well while they’re here, for four years, it can have a serious impact on their health later in life,’ he said. ‘University is where students develop habits, long-term habits. So we really just want to work toward a healthier campus. That will just result in a healthier New Brunswick in general.’ For more information or to find a distributor nearest you, go to facebook. com/communityfoodsmart.