The Power Of Food And Community

On Saturday the Farm To Fork team headed to the Centre Wellington Museum for the Food For Thought event. The goal of the day – discuss accessibility to sustainable healthy food by all people. Approximately 100 people took part in the event, discussing such things as What is a food bank? What is already happening in the area around the ideas of accessibility and local sustainable agriculture? and What are the priority items that will make the area even more accessible and focused on sustainable healthy food?

As part of the event, co-founder Danny Williamson spoke about what inspires him about food and community. His words are below.

My name is Danny Williamson and I’m the co-founder of the Farm To Fork project.

I was asked today to talk about what inspires me about community and food. To me, it’s the same answer: their capacity to spark change for the better.

And it’s that change I want to talk about. But more specifically, I want to use my five minutes to talk about two things: numbers and circles.

Look at this number: 800,000. Memorize it. Got it?

That number, 800,000. It’s how many Canadians accessed the emergency food system in 2013. Every. Single. Month.

How does that make you feel? It upsets the hell out of me. We live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world. But that prosperity is uneven. If you do the math, 1 in every 40 Canadians used the food bank last year – many of them children.

We’re in the midst of a food revolution. Collectively, we care more about where our food comes from, who grows it, and how it’s prepared than we have in a very long time. And for good reason.

A healthy diet means we’ll live happier and we’ll live longer. It means our kids develop healthy bodies, healthy minds, and healthy habits. It impacts every aspect of our learning, our work, and our lives.

And those people who access the emergency food system; who desperately need to be part of this revolution aren’t even a part of the conversation.

That leads to circles. The Farm to Fork team likes to talk about circles – big ones vs small ones.

We’ve all been taught to see the world in big circles. It’s how we understand problems. War, poverty, hunger – we’ve always seen them as big circle problems; ones that are too big to tackle – so we don’t.

We just look at them and wish they could be solved.

But that’s a big fat lie. The world’s problems aren’t big circles. They’re just a collection of tiny ones. And that presents us with an opportunity to do something about them.

Here’s another lie: only “special” people do really important things. That’s not true. The truth is, we can all make a difference.

What does that mean? It means we can save the world. Not all at once, but we can.

Now we’re talking about bite-sized problems instead of giant ones and millions of people who can help instead of just a few.

How do we do it?

Here’s how the Farm To Fork team approaches saving the world:

Start with people. From our community advisors to our student team to the emergency food providers we work with: Farm To Fork is technology, but it’s about people. If you want to create change, real change, you have to put people at the centre of everything you do.

Ask the right questions. We thought we wanted to use technology, but we didn’t want to be a problem in search of a solution, so we asked a lot of questions to people who really know what they’re doing. If you want to help, you can’t be afraid to ask. Honestly, what’s the worst that could happen?

Start small, but dream big. Remember earlier when I talked about small circle problems? Well the answer to small circle problems is small solutions. Pick something in your community, in your neighbourhood. Pick something that matters to the people who live there. Tackle that. But, and here’s a big but, look for solutions that can grow. We built Farm To Fork in Guelph, but we left ourselves room that if it worked, we could easily share it with anyone anywhere.

Use technology – when it makes sense. Technology has the potential to be a major tool in your toolkit, but it’s a means and not an end. Use it to help you grow and connect and share, but make sure it supports your work. And don’t be afraid to ask for help – just ask the students who work with us.

Never give up. This might be the most important one. When I said we could save the world, it didn’t mean it would happen tomorrow. Setbacks will happen, but you have to have faith.

Where do we go from here?

First we change the way we think and talk about the emergency food system. In fact, we build a new system that’s based on the promise of fair, healthy food for all.

We use technology to make people aware of the problem; to grow the conversation. And we don’t stop there. We use technology to get more fresh food into the food system – to get the right food at the right time to the people who need it.

We involve people. Young and old. Rich and poor. Here and abroad. We, all of us, become part of a food revolution. We make food a weapon of change.

That’s the power of food and community. And that’s what inspires me.