I chatted with my friend, Jessica Reeve, who is the Health Policy Specialist with Toronto Public Health BUT she’s more commonly referred to as the Coordinator at the Toronto Food Policy Council (TFPC).
Jessica has been in the position for about a year and I’ve always been intrigued as to what her work involves…
Could you please give me an elevator pitch as to what you do?
Essentially, my job is to be the point person that directs the work of the Toronto Food Policy Council. Tasks include project management, maintaining our network by connecting with like-minded companies and organizations, and identifying opportunities for engagement around food policy issues throughout Toronto.
What’s something really amazing about the TFPC?
The TFPC is one of the oldest and most well established Food Policy Councils in North America, in fact, it’s over 25 years old! The TFPC is embedded within the municipal government and reports directly to the Board of Health to advise on food issues. Being embedded within the municipal government allows the Council more access to city staff, city resources, and as an advocacy organization gives TFPC members a place in municipal discussions, which is a luxury that many advocacy and policy-oriented groups, and many other food policy councils, don’t often have. The TFPC has 3 city councillors that sit on the Council and the work is supported by 2 staff people, who are City employees through Toronto Public Health, me being one of them. There are many other Canadian-based organizations and food policy councils working toward better food access such as the thriving Vancouver Food Policy Council. Winnipeg is the most recent city to get a Food Policy Council.
What kind of work does the TFPC implement to make change in Toronto?
The work of the Toronto Food Policy Council is always adapting but the main goal is to ensure access to healthy, affordable, sustainable and culturally acceptable food. Our efforts have varied from research focused projects, to developing policy, promoting food access, and supporting urban agriculture.
It’s important for us to develop a forum for engagement between community level and City Hall. The role of the TFPC is to work with the community to create policies and initiatives that benefit our environment and collaborate with like-minded organizations to help support the City of Toronto.
We have several project-based committees such as; Public Markets, Urban Agriculture, Food Justice, Food Waste, and Food By Ward.
Food By Ward is awesome! I found it provided great perspective into my surrounding community. Can you explain it to the readers?
This project started as a food access mapping tool that included 13 food assets. Food By Ward showcases community kitchens, farmers markets, and coops in all 44 Toronto wards!
Food By Ward answers basic questions such as; Where is my closest food bank? Where can I find a community garden in my ward? Where are the farmers markets in Toronto? We believe this project acts as an engagement tool and is a great way for people to learn more about their own backyard.
The goal is that people will use this tool to evaluate their community’s needs. From there, citizens can then contact their city councillor to improve services and develop different food assets to benefit their ward. They can also connect to their neighbours or other Food Champions in their ward to build support or learn from others with existing projects.
What community-based organizations do you work with?
Our council is made up of 30 diverse committee members that drive the work of the TFPC! Members are all volunteers and many come from like-minded community organizations such as:
Of course, participation may be broadened depending on the issue, so our committee work is not limited to these members. To check out the full list of the TFPC members, click here.
What are the most frequent challenges the TFPC faces?
- TFPC Council and Committee members are volunteers so finding time and space to participate can be difficult
- Limited budget through the City (which does not necessarily include project funding)
What is one opportunity that Toronto has to stand out as a health-focused city?
In 2013, the GrowTO Urban Agriculture Action Plan was endorsed by Toronto city council. Basically, it’s an informative policy base for urban agriculture work for the city. In a city like Toronto, access to land is often the hardest part of starting an urban agriculture project. The TFPC helped to develop policy to ensure that community gardens could be established in city parks and we are now working with the City to ensure access to other municipal land for market gardens.
Luckily, so many Torontonians are supportive of urban agriculture, which not only provides beneficial green space but is also great for supplementing grocery budgets and building community!
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me about your powerful position, Jessica!
I have a few questions about your own personal culinary exploration now…
What is your favourite recipe?
- Moroccan Tomato Soup (tomato based soup with onions and peanut butter)
- Carrot Cake and maple cream cheese frosting (I usually add pineapple to the cake batter too)
What are three ingredients / items that are always in your grocery basket when you go shopping?
What is one food you’ve never tried but always wanted to?
- Traditional Indigenous food like moose!