The Community Food Flow (CFF) project is a community food assessment that explores assets and challenges of food distribution and food procurement in the community food sector. The CFF project is a partnership project led by the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC) and in close collaboraiton with the Community Food Procurement project led by Toronto Public Health’s Food Strategy team.
We are interested in learning how community organizations access food through donation and purchasing, as well as what can be done to improve Toronto’s community food flow. These organizations/programs include drop-in meal programs, shelter services, affordable housing with meals, community health centres, social enterprises, and many others.
The project started in January 2013 with a strategic planning session with the Advisory Group members and collaborators. Since then, we have developed its research approach, began to build core partnerships with 10 organizations in Parkdale, and conducted interviews with partners, key informants from the sector, and advisory group members.
The initial stage of research identified the following 8 key themes:
- Environmental scan shows that there are over 60 food-related programs in Parkdale; over 1 million pounds of food were delivered from non-profit food distributors in 2012.
- Although food donation is integral to food-related programs, its quality control is identified as a challenge.
- A common source of food purchasing is nearby supermarkets because of price and convenience, but comes with hidden costs.
- Limited control over food budgets makes organizational food planning difficult, while food costs per meal/person vary among different programs.
- Providing healthy food is commonly recognized as a key to programs, but translating such recognition into practice is difficult for various reasons.
- Program coordinators often take responsibilities for both programming and food procurement, resulting in considerable administrative burden and staff time
- There is a strong readiness and willingness for collaboration, while a diversity of programs and organizations may pose a challenge.
- Three lessons from the Parkdale Food Network’s Bulk-buying initiative suggest that “a large volume” is not necessarily a solution to challenges faced by non-profit agencies.
The project’s next steps include 1) the survey to understand common issues as well as different challenges in food procurement among diverse organizations, 2) the focus groups to spur intra- and inter-organizational discussions on opportunities and potential strategies that can overcome challenges; 3) further research and engagement to find leverage points for collaboration with other ongoing initiatives around food flow in Toronto.