Mobile food hub for Island gets financial boost

Conceptual drawing of the Mobile Food Hub. Photo supplied.

AUNDECK OMNI KANING – Years of effort by Local Food Manitoulin advocates and volunteers aimed at creating a solution to food insecurity on Manitoulin Island received a critical boost through a $241,000 injection of capital for its mobile food hub project from the Government of Canada’s $31 million Healthy Communities Initiative. The funding flowed through the Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) and Noojmowin Teg is the parent organization of the mobile food hub project.

The CFC is the national leadership organization for Canada’s 191 local community foundations. Together with community foundations across the country, the CFC helps “drive local solutions for national change on the issues that matter most to Canadians by building a movement that connects community foundations, Canadians and partners to create a just, sustainable future.”

The Healthy Communities Initiative is a $31 million investment from the Government of Canada to support communities as they create and adapt public spaces to respond to the new realities of COVID-19. In the first round, community foundations across Canada received over 3,000 applications. The application from the Local Food Manitoulin Advisory Committee (formerly the Child Poverty Task Force) proved successful.

The re-branding of the organization basically only impacts the name of the committee, Kristin Bickell, Local Food Manitoulin project manager with Noojmowin Teg Health Services assures The Expositor, with the frame of reference and meeting structure, including its round table membership remaining unchanged.

“The concept for the mobile food hub came out of two community engagement sessions,” noted Ms. Bickell. “We recognized that many Island communities have their own unique situations and we wanted to avoid a cookie cutter approach.”

The result was a flexible approach designed to adapt to the unique needs of each community.

The past decade of experience has highlighted a number of facets that needed to be incorporated into the program. One of those facets is a base station for the healthy foods program to centre its operations, rather than relying on ad hoc donations of space from community groups and organizations.

“There is a lot of time spent preparing and then cleaning up when we used those temporary spaces,” said Ms. Bickell. That time could much better be spent working on the front lines delivering services needed in those communities.

While the base station will provide the storage and distribution opportunities for the program, a mobile kitchen facility would enable the program to reach deep into the communities where services are needed.

Like many community-oriented organizations, the pandemic added several layers of complexity and challenges to operations, but for land-based service delivery like Local Food Manitoulin those challenges were multiplied significantly—especially when it came to logistics for staff. It became increasingly clear that coordinating the solutions to those challenges would require a mobile component.

The location of the food hub base station has been firmed up with the transfer of a lease and offer to purchase of a parcel of land originally provided by the Northeast Town to Northern Ontario Permaculture Research Institute, with the food hub’s parent organization, Noojmowin Teg, helping to facilitate the project.

The application to the first round of the Healthy Communities Initiative was supported by letters from the Northeast Town and a number of different organizations with an interest in seeing the project move forward.

The $241,000 funding injection was enough to allow the project to get underway, but the final price tag will be significantly higher.

“We are looking at a phased in approach,” said Ms. Bickell, “with a two-to-three year time frame.” The funding will add confidence to federal and provincial funding sources, it will prove critical to approaching corporate charitable foundations for sponsorships.

Another key component of the Local Food Manitoulin strategic roadmap will be sustainability and to that end a social enterprise component is being designed with an eye to building a dependable revenue stream.

In the meantime, individual donations to Local Food Manitoulin can be made online by visiting the organization’s revamped webpage at LocalFoodManitoulin.com.