Thanks to a group of committed Waterloo Region community citizens and Sustain Ontario member, Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable, the Food Spaces, Vibrant Places campaign has brought access to healthy food into the municipal election debates.
Food Spaces, Vibrant Places is an advocacy campaign aimed at increasing temporary farmers’ markets and community gardens in Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo.
A main concern fuelling the campaign is that too few residents have walkable access to healthy food in Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo. Waterloo Region has 5.6 times more unhealthy food options (e.g., convenience stores and fast food restaurants) within walking radius (800m) of neighbourhoods than healthy food options.
There are roughly 60 garden sites in the three cities, equating to one garden site per every 3,000 households. Broadly speaking, community gardens face challenges in terms of finding land, water and other resources.
At present, temporary farmers’ markets are only permitted in commercial zones, thereby limiting opportunities to have markets in other community locations, close to where people live (i.e., churches, parks, or community centres). There are currently five temporary farmers’ markets in the three cities.
In order to address these challenges, members of the Food Spaces, Vibrant Places campaign have met with a number of municipal candidates. Specific steps that are being recommended by the campaign organizers are: zoning by-laws that permit temporary farmers’ markets in more than just commercial land use zones; supportive licensing by-laws and regulations for temporary farmers’ markets; incentives such as reduced or waived fees for temporary farmers’ markets; zoning by-laws that permit community gardens in residential, institutional, and open space zones; and strengthened community garden policies.
Other community members have also had the opportunity to participate in this campaign by signing an online petition, which is sent directly to their respective ward councillor candidates.
To date, members of Food Spaces, Vibrant Places, have met with 20 councillor and mayoral candidates across the three cities. All councillors have expressed their support towards what the group is advocating. Two mayoral candidates have announced their support.
Results are already being seen at the zoning and regulation level. The City of Waterloo has re-worked their Licensing By-laws, which as of 2015 will include farmers’ markets, making it easier and more affordable for groups to start a temporary farmers’ market in neighbourhoods in Waterloo. The City of Kitchener has begun their Comprehensive Review of the Zoning By-law (CRoZBy), and the Roundtable was invited to submit recommendations early in the process to better support temporary farmers’ markets and community gardens.
More information on Food Spaces, Vibrant Places is available on their website.