COCHRANE— Looking to unite local organizations that support the community, Cochrane and Area Food Connections is working hard to address food sustainability and food waste in town.
Cochrane Family and Community Support Services community liaison and programmer/community wellness Kristen Immel said the group, which launched in October 2019, has brought together a collection of like-minded individuals from a cross-section of organizations in town who share a common goal centred on food.
“By connecting we’re able to share resources. We’re able to collaborate. We can partner on different things and it’s filling that gap,” Immel said. “We’re coming together to network and develop more of a sustainable food system here in Cochrane.”
Members of Cochrane and Area Food Connections include the Town of Cochrane, Alberta Health Services public health dieticians, the Helping Hands Society of Cochrane and Area, Cultivate Cochrane, the Cochrane Farmers’ Market, the Leftovers Foundation, the Cochrane Activettes and individual community members.
They are united in the philosophy of creating food security for all Cochranites.
The overall vision of Cochrane Food Connections is to create safe, accessible, affordable and sustainable food systems in the Cochrane area. Immel said they have been working to address the different needs of people in the community by creating a robust network of organizations offering support through collaboration.
A University of Calgary research program held in September 2020 has informed how Cochrane Food Connections works within the community. For the project, they partnered with the Faculty of Nursing for two semesters.
The first group distributed a community-wide survey to better understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that exist around food in Cochrane. From the survey, they learned there are a variety of food resources in town, but many people are unfamiliar with how to access them.
During the second semester students focussed on developing a way to get that information out to residents, including the creation of a food access map outlying food-related resources in Cochrane.
“It’s something that we can adapt and add to over time. It’s filling that gap of information and knowledge for people,” Immel said.
Cochrane Farmers’ Market manager Valerie McCracken has been a member of Cochrane Food Connections since the group's inception.
“The Farmers’ Market is all about local food,” McCracken said. “Our mandate is to provide local food for our communities and provide a space for growers and producers to sell their food.”
Farmers’ markets are an integral part of local food security, McCracken said, and she knew right away the Market would be able to support Cochrane Food Connections.
COVID-19 highlighted the important role farmers’ markets play not only in the economy, but in food security and maintaining the food chains in the province. The global health crisis showed the need to celebrate and showcase the components needed to create a thriving sustainable food system.
Now if a producer has leftover produce at the Market they are looking to donate they have a group that can channel the food to the appropriate place.
“This has been great to bring these groups together and talk about where we want to go with it,” McCracken said. “We’re really starting to see the pieces come together.”
The goal now is to continue building the network to ensure the community has a healthy local food system that helps prevent food waste.
McCracken added her dream has always been to have a year-round market and creating an agritourism hub that serves as a community space and includes community kitchens and demonstration gardens.
“It’s combining everything— Education, awareness, a food hub all of these things in one place. All of us that need similar spaces, similar resources can be sharing that and creating one local food hub in Cochrane,” McCracken said. “I think we all have big dreams about what this could be and what the potential is and using all of our dreams and aspirations together to see how we can achieve some of those things.”
Leslie Swan is the Cochrane coordinator for the Leftovers Foundation, a group that started nine years ago in Calgary and later expanded to Edmonton and Winnipeg. The group gathers leftovers food from businesses and restaurants to help prevent it from being thrown out in landfills.
“Canada is ranked up there right at the top as one of the most wasteful food countries in the world,” Swan said. “We’re looking in our community to line up with them and we’ll become the Cochrane chapter.”
In 2020 alone they were able to recover 600,000 pounds of excess food, turning it into 314,000 meals for community members.
In 2022 they will be launching an app to tackle food waste in the Cochrane area. The app can be downloaded onto a smartphone and routes will detail where food is ready to be picked up by volunteers and dropped off at Leftover Foundation depots.
“Where the work comes in, in our community is getting it all setup. Getting the routes established. Getting the agencies set up to receive that food, getting the depots to receive the food the agencies can’t take,” Swan said. “What's really truly exciting about it is everybody in our community they can actually take part in it.”
Cultivate Cochrane president Jackie Skrypnek said her organization was eager to join forces with Cochrane Food Connections. Cultivate Cochrane is rooted in fostering a love of growing one's green thumb.
Their major vision is building a passive solar community greenhouse hub that will serve as a demonstration, learning and gathering space centred on food sustainability in the Cochrane climate.
One of the stepping stones of this goal is the creation of a mobile greenhouse. Cultivate Cochrane is working on securing grants to fund the project.
“The big greenhouse hub being larger is a bit of a long-term vision. We wanted to get something on the ground quicker and so the idea was hatched of building a passive solar, which is just an energy-efficient way of capturing and storing the sun’s heat, little greenhouse on wheels that we can take around to schools and the community,” Skrypnek said. “There’s all kinds of opportunity … To do some educating about how to grow food, passive solar design, soil and composting.”
The greenhouse will be built on a trailer and contain plants visible through the glass at the front and a community mural on the back. Any food produced at the greenhouse will be shared with the Helping Hands Free Food Shed.
There is a need for everyone to get their hands in the dirt and learn about plants and where food comes from firsthand, Skrypnek said. She added she hopes those who enter the space can connect with growing their own food by participating in hands-on activities.
“It helps people to visualize what we are talking about,” Skrypnek said.
April Baird Food Security Programs manager for Helping Hands said food security and reducing food wastage is of the utmost importance to the community.
One of the recent success stories for Helping Hands has been establishing the Free Food Shed at St. Andrew's United Church.
The idea to create the shed was born out of conversations between Food Connections members. The talks inspired Helping Hands to bring the free community fridge, freezer and pantry to Cochrane.
“It paralleled … With a need, I was seeing especially in a wasted food surplus that we were seeing in some of our other programs,” Baird said. “We can resource and recover this food instead of it being thrown out and can offer it back to the community free.”
After the first conversations in October 2020, they were able to get the shed opened by May 6, 2021. Baird said it showed that when the right people support each other and what matters to the community can react and collaborate to meet the needs of Cochranites.
The project is centred on offering food security in the community while tackling the issue of food waste in Cochrane.
She explained that while food drives in Cochrane are always greeted with enthusiasm, there are always some items they are unable to accept. The Food Shed allows for more flexibility in regards to these issues— It is especially important because they are able to think short-term because of the quick turnover of food at the facility in comparison to the Food Bank.
It feels good to be organized and they are amazed to see the headway they have been able to make as a group. She noted initiatives have a lot of moving pieces and success will come through collaboration.
“As a group, I think we’re all pretty proud of it and hoping for more than just one in the future,” Baird said.
To learn more, visit the Cochrane and Area Food Connections Facebook page or Instagram.