Step 1 - Learning about Community Food Security

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What is community food security and why it is important?

Community Food security is defined as  when all community residents have access to enough safe and nutritious food through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice while meeting cultural requirements

Food insecurity exists when community members have difficulty accessing or affording enough quality food to promote a healthy lifestyle. 

Community food security is based on three key principles:

1. Achieving a healthy , just and sustainable food system. 

2. A comprehensive view of food systems and food environments and their connections to people, resources and places

3. Recognition that communities are crucial for developing solutions and creating positive change.


The Six A's of Food Security

Food security in a community is a complex issue and ensuring food security means that a number of factors must be met for all community members. These factors can be categorized into six domains:

Healthy food should be accessible to all members of the community: this means that it should be easy for residents to get to food outlets, emergency food programs, and alternative programs.
Every member of the community should be able to afford adequate amounts of healthy food without relying on food banks and other emergency food outlets and without sacrificing other necessities such as transportation, housing and health care.
The selection available to residents is often dependent on the choices and priorities of producers, buyers, processors, and distributors. While the availability of fresh food may vary based on season, in general there should be an adequate supply of healthy fresh food in all seasons.  
Community members should have enough healthy food options that are high quality and provide adequate nutrient content. This means that healthy non-perishable and fresh foods need to be available in adequate quantities. 
Community members should be aware or be given opportunities to know about their food security and food system.  They should have access to educational materials and programs on healthy food and diets as well as cooking skills to prepare these foods.  
The healthy food that is available must be appropriate to specific diets, such as those who have food requirements/restrictions based on health concerns (i.e. food allergies, diabetics, heart disease), or those who require specific foods based on culture, religion, and traditions.  Some cultures may have different food requirement according to their custom.  For example, in First Nations communities, access to traditional foods may include utilizing traditional practices of obtaining and preparing food. 


The Food System and the Food Environment

The Food System

Food systems are highly complex, involving every step in the life of food, from harvest or catch all the way to the fork and into disposal. Different food systems will inherently involve different steps and may look quite different. For example local foods may require little or no processing, transportation, and distribution; the gardening system mainly involves the processes of grow, process, consume and compost/dispose. In any type of food system, it may be possible to perform one or more of these steps locally; the more processes that are performed locally, the better the health of our local food system.   

The Food Environment

The food environment is includes how community members directly interact with the food system. The food environment is how where and how the consumer engages with the Market & Sale, Access, and Preparation and Consumption stages of the food system. Because the food environment is how consumers actually obtain and consume food, the food environment has a significant impact on food security. While many food system assessments chiefly look at issues of geographic access, the concept of a food environment is a more nuanced view that better represents the complexity of a food system. Food environments are the product of the built and social environment, including physical, social, economic, cultural, and political factors that impact how the community interacts with food.


Why Local Food?

Food produced within the province or territory where it is sold, or within 50 km if it is sold across a provincial or territorial border is considered local

Did you know the Nova Scotian diet is primarily made up of imported foods? The average travel distance is 8,000 km. Approximately 87% of food consumed in Nova Scotia is from outside the province. Reliance on imported food means less money going to the local economy and it creates vulnerability. The food system becomes susceptible to lack of availability, pricing, transportation costs, reduced freshness and quality control issues. Food systems that rely heavily on mass produced and imported foods have been criticized for their negative environmental, socio-economic, and health related issues, while also negatively impacting rural areas and reducing food safety. 

Community benefits of supporting our local food system:

Healthy People
 Helps provide food for everyone
 Local food is often more nutritious and fresher with less preservatives

Robust Local Economy
 Builds and supports local jobs
 Promotes long term economic viability of the food system
 Strengthens infrastructure and promotes sustainable development
 Promotes fair food pricing

Justice and Equity
 Improves food access and equity
 Helps respond to community needs/desires
 Benefits food system workers

Food Sovereignty and Security
 Increases the value of the local food system
 Promotes access to food for all communities

Strong Communities
 Connects consumers to producers
 Engages the community by increasing local involvement in the food environment
 Promotes local trust and collaboration

Sustainable Environment
 Connects people to the environment that supports them
 Reduces food shipping and carbon footprint
 Supports sustainable harvesting practices

Variety, Quality, and Freshness
 Enhances the variety of food product and services available
 Provides fresher, higher quality foods

Promotes Culture
 Honours traditional culture around fishing, farming, and food production
 Strengthens family farms and fishing business


Food Services in Your Community

Three major food sources:
1. Commercial - the dominant market-orientated food providers: Businesses and organizations that provide food retail and services for profit. These include businesses such as grocery stores, convenience stores, specialty food stores, restaurants, as well as for-profit services such as meal delivery, cooking classes, grocery delivery, and more. 

2. Not-for-profit - charitable food providers: Include those provided by governments, organizations, and other groups that offer food or food services at little or no cost. View more information on these programs

  • Food education programs
  • Meal/ Grocery delivery programs
  • Meal in school programs
  • Food Banks
  • Meal centres

 3. Alternative food sources - local: Offers food and food services at a smaller scale, through local food production and provision. Alternative food sources can help meet specific food requirements and fill in food gaps. Significant change and investment in local options would be needed for local to become the predominant source of food. 

  • Community Gardens / Agriculture
  • Personal Gardens
  • Urban Agriculture


Limitations of Food Services and Sources

Market Oriented concerns include:

  • food is disconnected from local production to the extent that there is little knowledge of its source and under what conditions it is produced;
  • increased social & environmental impacts from the energy intensive nature of large scale food production, processing, and transportation;
  • promotion of unhealthy food choices as the majority of food marketing dollars are spent on less healthy and more processed foods;
  • vulnerability to volatile food prices. 

Charitable Food Providers concerns include:

  • diverting attention from the broad reforms necessary to create food security such as a living wage and adequate education, health and child care
  • continuing the idea that volunteerism is the preferred way to address issue of the poor
  • for true food security to exist community members must not be reliant on charitable food sources to meet their needs. 

Alternative Food Sources concerns include:

  • to become the main source of food would require a major rethinking of how our cities operate and how we maximize the available land for food production. 
  • significant changes in investment, community design, policy, and food education are needed
  • significant investment in land for agriculture, staff for maintenance, material, etc., is required.
  • shift in thinking about how we use open spaces and how they can be developed to maximize food is required
  • need to address the requirements for skilled labour, food productions skills, literacy, and community engagement with alternate food sources of food


Identifying Stakeholders

Performing a community food assessment requires a commitment of time and energy.  It's important to think carefully about who the leaders in this work will be, who the potential partners you could seek are, and what community resources could be tapped into. The following are examples of stakeholders who may be interested in a food assessment, and who could provide valuable information and resources throughout the process:   

  • Food Outlets: restaurants, groceries, farmer's markets, convenience stores, etc.
  • Food Services: school meal programs, food delivery programs, etc.
  • Emergency food programs: food banks, community kitchens, etc.
  • Alternative food programs: urban gardens, community gardens, etc.
  • Food producers: farmers, fishers, food manufacturers, etc.
  • Community members: residents, local organizations, schools, etc.
  • Governments and Institutions: health agencies, city planners, local government, etc. 

Identifying Stakeholders Tool - use the table to help identify potential stakeholders and the way in which they could be involved to help support the food assessment.