When it comes to food security, Mission Food Coalition chair Stephen Evans says Mission should prepare for the worst.
“I think we’re aware of the long-term issues,” Evans says. “But if there was a catastrophe tomorrow - are we prepared for it? No, absolutely not.”
The Mission’s Food Coalition is a collection of over a dozen nonprofit groups and agencies in the area that meet monthly to discuss food security in Mission.
“Food insecurity and food independence are very important to us,” Evans said. “Our coalition is working to address both of those issues.”
Evans is originally from Newfoundland and Labrador and grew up working on fish plants. He’s been in BC for over 30 years with experience in the raspberry industry and food innovation.
Evans says most people associate food security with people standing in line at food banks and soup kitchens. However, he says the issue has a broader impact.
“Homeless people and those without [are still struggling] but now your neighbours are having a hard time and your seniors are having a hard time making ends meet.”
The demand for services at the St. Joseph’s Food Bank and other local nonprofits in Mission have increased since the pandemic.
“You’re seeing all kinds of different people coming - students to single moms to construction workers,” Evans said. “The humility that it takes to go - it’s horrible that they have to experience that.”
Evans says that local nonprofits do incredible work but their finances and donations are stretched. He says the organizations need more help because it’s not sustainable to keep depending on local donors to make food security work, especially when the demand has escalated.
“Even the bag of goods that [the food bank] give out - it isn’t as nutritious as it could be because there’s such demand,” he said, “With so few donors, they’ve got to look at ways to do things differently to make that bag a lot more nutritious and local.”
The coalition plans to implement several innovative strategies to support the food bank and other food service groups.
It plans to develop a food security vertical farm cooperative, frozen food institute, bulk buying food cooperative, and regenerative farm cooperative.
The vertical farm cooperative includes the purchase of vertical 10x10x10 farm sheds in order to grow leafy lettuces and other produce to sell and turn it into cash. Excess revenue and produce over expenses would be donated to the food bank.
The frozen food institute would focus on filling the void for public cold storage in Mission. The project already has an investor willing to donate upwards of $10 million to the project, but almost $10 million more is needed for it to succeed.
Meanwhile, the regenerative farm cooperative would focus on better soil treatment and the bulk buying cooperative is already underway.
“Mission collaborates really well,” Evans said. “We’re all concerned about our citizens, and we all work together to try to get to that better place.”
The projects are intended to not only increase food security but also take steps towards food independence.
“In the old days, our pioneers never waited to go to Costco to buy shrimp from the Yangtze River or waited for bananas to come from South America,” Evans said. “We were food independent. We are not food independent anymore.”
“The pandemic, heat domes and floods really showed how vulnerable Mission is — it’s the same for the Fraser Valley, B.C. and Canada. We are dependent on the global food supply chain.”
Evans says it will take collaboration between three levels of government with additional community support to tackle food security and independence.
On Saturday, March 4 at Northview Church, a food security session facilitated by Mayor Paul Horn will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to develop an action plan.
“We’re going to talk about what actions need to be taken to move the post a little bit forward,” Evans said.
In 2010, the city developed a Mission Food Access Network (MFAN) Final Action Plan with 10 steps to improve food security.
“Governments are really good at writing reports and great at putting together wonderful concepts on paper,” Evans said. “It falls short on implementation. A lot of the items inside that 2010 report are still very relevant today, meaning we have not implemented or delivered on them.”