On Friday October 18, a group of Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) representatives, farmers and industry representatives sat down to discuss issues of food safety and regulations with small farmers and food producers. While this meeting is quite readily attributable to the Real Manitoba Food Fight campaign that followed the raid on the Cavers’ family farm, no direct conversation about that topic occurred at the meeting. This meeting was meant instead to get the ball rolling in generating meaningful dialogue on how to improve and maintain food safety in the province while also promoting small-scale producers.
I interviewed Phil Veldhuis, a local honey producer, who participated in the meeting to get a sense of what occurred. He made clear to me that both parties (i.e. civil society representatives and the government officials) were playing a long-term game, choosing civility over confrontation. This can be a good and a bad thing; if everybody is trying to ‘play it nice’ and save face, the true issues may get glossed over by more vague and general agreements, but it may be helpful in building more meaningful and long-lasting relationships in the end. Everyone in attendance was able to agree on the generalities that they all want to promote safe food, and local food, but who doesn’t? In order to actually make a difference these conversations must move beyond the general truisms and work hard to develop a tangible action plan that will foster real change. I was happy to hear, however, that some actual objectives were setup amongst each of the parties at the end of the meeting for them to work on prior to the next discussion.
For the farmers and activists, the next step is to get organized and to draw together the diversity of voices and participants represented in the artisanal/local food community. In order for MAFRI to carry on this discussion farmers must coordinate themselves as a group to harness the energy and interest in the province and to represent the processors, chefs, farmers and eaters who are demanding local, sustainable and artisanal food. There are a few options;
a) choose to work within an existing organization (perhaps Food Matters? or the Harvest Moon Society? Or?) as a starting point for this group,;
b) they may use a few of these existing groups in a joint-effort, or;
c) they may start a new group entirely.
Each of these options has its pro’s and con’s, and figuring out this issue is now a priority. Once this coalition has been formed it will help to convey their platform for change in an organized and focused manner.
The MAFRI representatives left the meeting agreeing to (continue) the process of reviewing their rules in order to improve clarity for producers. They also committed to explore funding to enable the coalition to get started. These commitments were a show of good will and are will be valuable to furthering this cause, especially because now that the dialogue has been opened, there is a willingness to continue the process of engagement.
Overall I think that a lot of positive things came out of this first meeting. While the conversation may not have directly addressed the issues, it has set the stage for a potentially productive future for this issue. It depends now on the commitment of all parties to follow through and maintain the dialogue throughout the process.
Matthew Ramsay an undergraduate honours student at the University of Manitoba documenting the Real Manitoba Food Fight in order to better understand the impacts and effects of food justice activism.
Geary, A. (n.d.). Phil’s Honey at St. Norbert Farmers’ Market. Canstar Community News. http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/our-communities/blogs/216966336.html