Anab Siraj is the Food Entrepreneurship Project Coordinator with Hecate Strait Employment Development Society and the Northwest Food Systems initiative through Ecotrust Canada. She is currently completing her Masters in Rural Planning and Development at the University of Guelph with a focus on Agri-food System, youth, and climate change.
The need to build local food-based businesses
COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of prioritizing the issue of food security in Prince Rupert. At the beginning of the pandemic, the local grocery stores saw bare shelves and produce counters. Remote communities cannot rely on imported products. Instead, they can find effective solutions toward self-reliance and food security.
This summer, I moved to Prince Rupert to take on a project aimed to improve local food systems. The project focuses on delivering a food entrepreneurship training program with Hecate Strait Employment Development Society (or HSEDS). The program will inspire and work with people who want to become food entrepreneurs, and it will build the capacity of existing small food-based businesses to be more self-sufficient and contribute to long term food security.
To define food security for this project, we’re leaning on the interpretation by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations: Food security is “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO, 2018).
The food entrepreneurship training program will build on previous programs by HSEDS, which have proven that once people are provided with the tools/skills to run their businesses, they thrive. One great example is Fukasaku, a sushi restaurant that is serving only locally caught seafood. Fuaksaku is known across the province for its sustainable seafood goals and support for small-scale fish harvesters.
Another example is Mission Health and Wellness, a small business that started with the self-employment WorkBC program with HSEDS, and is one of the few stores selling whole foods for people with nutritional restrictions whether it be vegan, gluten free, etc.
The value of supporting local
Why do we want to build more local food-based businesses? From a social well-being perspective, they contribute to the local economy, create job opportunities, and improve food access, as well as food literacy in the community. From an environmental well-being perspective, it reduces food miles. Food miles refers to the distance that food travels to reach your local supermarket (Uwaterloo, 2019). This means it requires less transportation, less fossil fuel emissions and thus less greenhouse gas emissions. It also contributes to the protection of land and wildlife in the area (Uwaterloo, 2019). How does this happen? When we purchase local products, we are directly supporting local farmers/producers and compensating them for their products. This means they are less likely to sell their land, which is often converted from natural ecosystems to managed ones resulting in biodiversity loss (Benton et al, 2021).
Capacity and skills training
The food entrepreneurship program will act as a catalyst for North Coast food business start-ups and capacity-building with a focus on food security and resilience.
When I think of entrepreneurship in relation to food security, I think of:
• Circular economy and sustainability
• A system of regeneration where there is no waste
• No contaminants
• Renewable resources
With all these factors in mind, I see an amazing opportunity for the food entrepreneurship training program to educate the community on the importance of supporting local markets and contributing to the economy of Prince Rupert.
Which food-based business means the most to you and why?