The First Sixteen Podcast - EP 002

The First Sixteen is Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's new podcast series that explores the freshest ideas in agriculture and food. Each episode explores a single topic in depth—digging deep into new practices, innovative ideas, and their impacts on the industry. Learn about Canada's agricultural sector from the people making the breakthroughs and knocking down the barriers! Farmers and foodies, scientists and leaders, and anyone with an eye on the future of the sector—this podcast is for you! A new episode is published each month.

Episode 002 - Rapid response: Feeding Canadians during the pandemic

Listen in as we shed light on an innovative and nimble collaboration that is addressing food insecurity during the pandemic.

Transcript

Kirk: Hey. Welcome back to The First 16. I'm Kirk Finken.

Sara: And I'm Sara Boivin-Chabot.

Kirk: In The First 16, we talk a lot about innovation. The word makes us think science, engineering, etc., but we're also talking about socioeconomic innovation.

Sara: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in its beginning, 150 years ago, was a department very much focused on socioeconomics. But in the past 50 years, we became more of a science and market-based department.

Kirk: But you know what? Times have changed. And with initiatives like the Food Policy for Canada, we're back working in the socioeconomic realm.

Sara: In this episode, we're going to shed light on an innovative and nimble collaboration that is addressing food insecurities during the pandemic.

Daniel: It's one thing to feel what all Canadians, and the world as a matter of fact, felt through this crisis. But it's another thing when on top of that, you have the stress of "Am I going to eat?" "Is my kid going to have enough?"

Sara: That's the voice of Daniel Germain. He's the president and founder of Breakfast Club of Canada, and his organization has become an important collaborator during the pandemic. I checked with Statistics Canada. They conducted a survey on food insecurity in May 2020, so right after the start of the pandemic. The survey showed that 14.6% of Canadians are having a hard time putting food on the table during COVID-19. It's big and it's a jump from two years ago where it was 10.5%.

Kirk: What does that mean in terms of like actual numbers of people, though?

Sara: So in 2017-2018, there were almost 4 million Canadians who experienced food insecurity. In May 2020, with COVID-19, that number jumped to 5.5 million Canadians.

Kirk: Okay. So that's basically the populations of the whole metropolitan area of Calgary and Montreal combined.

Sara: That's 5.5 million people not knowing if there will be money for food at the end of the month or not able to have three meals a day.

Kirk: That's a sobering number.

Lynne: My name is Lynne Guerrette. I'm a director in Agriculture Canada, responsible for the programs that are delivered under the Food Policy for Canada. Through the pandemic, I delivered two other programs, which . . . one was the Emergency Food Security Program, and the Surplus Food Rescue Program.

Kirk: Lynne is a veteran of our department's Programs Branch. She's been working to support agricultural producers and food processors for nearly 20 years. But in the last two years, she's been part of an important shift in the work of our department. It's a shift into food security.

Lynne: The mandate of the Local Food Infrastructure Fund is to increase the distribution of healthy and nutritious food to populations that are at risk of food insecurity, and doing so with the purchase of infrastructure, small equipment, refrigerated vehicles, and stuff like that.

Lynne: My name is Lynne Guerrette. I'm a director in Agriculture Canada, responsible for the programs that are delivered under the Food Policy for Canada. Through the pandemic, I delivered two other programs, which . . . one was the Emergency Food Security Program, and the Surplus Food Rescue Program.

Kirk: Lynne is a veteran of our department's Programs Branch. She's been working to support agricultural producers and food processors for nearly 20 years. But in the last two years, she's been part of an important shift in the work of our department. It's a shift into food security.

Lynne: The mandate of the Local Food Infrastructure Fund is to increase the distribution of healthy and nutritious food to populations that are at risk of food insecurity, and doing so with the purchase of infrastructure, small equipment, refrigerated vehicles, and stuff like that.

Lynne: We chose the organizations that were, first of all, not for profit, and that had really, really good reputations of doing this type of work. Foodbanks Canada, Second Harvest, Community Food Centers of Canada, Breakfast Clubs of Canada, as well as the Salvation Army. In a two week timeframe, basically, we made the changes to the terms and conditions. We received applications, we assessed them, got them approved, signed contribution agreements and made payment.

Kirk: So how is the funding being used and can you name a couple of projects that stand out?

Lynne: Mostly to purchase food, but there was a huge need for PPE, protective personal equipment. A lot of organizations closed their doors because they couldn't find it, they couldn't adapt, and they didn't have food to distribute. I think that the funding really helped to keep some doors open. Some doors closed and then reopened because of our aid.

Kirk: Do you have an idea of approximately how many Canadians have been helped by this funding?

Lynne: The Stats Can report says 5.5 million Canadians are food insecure, and that's like one in seven. Not everybody who is food insecure visits a food bank. But we think that during the pandemic, probably most people did.

Kirk: There's more being done, right? What about the food rescue program?

Lynne: With the emergency program, we delivered funds. But with the surplus food program, we're delivering food. This food is also helping to stave off some need for further funds for a while. At the very beginning, we were hearing that the surplus was mostly potatoes, some mushrooms, a lot of fish. And so when we opened up this program, we knew that the surplus had to be purchased. But we also wanted to make sure that processing companies, wholesale companies were given at least some recognition for the cost of production. So we decided to pay the cost of production, wholesale price at the very most. And purchase the products to be delivered through food banks. There's going to be close to $40 million worth of product distributed across Canada, with a 10% target going to the north. And by the north we mean mostly the territories, but as well as the northern provinces.

Kirk: How does that feel as a public servant to be part of that response?

Lynne: This was really funding that was given for basic human needs, and during a pandemic where the whole world has changed for everyone. Hearing the stories behind it, how the funding helped people at a very basic level, at a very individual level, was very heartwarming. I can assure you that there are a lot of superheroes out there, and they're doing a world of difference in this pandemic.

Sara: And we know that Lynne and her team are still working hard. This is not over.

Kirk: Yeah, you know, and after I spoke with Lynne I was really inspired. You know, in the midst of all this confusion and stress that we're living, it's reassuring. We absolutely do get the top level news and messages about the pandemic from our political leaders and health authorities. You know, it's always in our face every day. But we're not always hearing these stories of response and innovation at this level, at Lynne's level.

Sara: Yeah, but it's not the whole story.

Kirk: You're exactly right, yeah.

Sara: So that's why I called up Daniel Germain with Breakfast Club of Canada. I wanted to hear the story from one of those five organizations that are managing the funding on the ground level. Did you know that Breakfast Club Canada started in 1994 by feeding a hundred kids in one school in Longueuil, Quebec?

Daniel: Our organization just celebrated, in 2020, its 25th anniversary. What a celebration. And we, in a normal pre-COVID time where we reach more than 270,000 kids every day in more than 1800 schools in every province and territory, supported by mainly private partners and various governments at different levels. It's been an incredible journey.

Sara: Wow. Quite a journey indeed. I have some questions about how things are going with the emergency food security funding. It's now September. Your organization was selected in April to distribute fundings where it is needed most. Tell me how the funds are being distributed and to what sort of organizations.

Daniel: We reach, during this pandemic, 950 schools and organizations across the country. We distributed more than $14 million. 30% of the total were indigenous communities, which was incredible. And 71 were organizations that were not being supported by Breakfast Clubs of Canada prior to the crisis. So it was a lot of adjustment by everybody, including my team. When the government chose the five organizations, national organizations, to be on the frontline, we felt that we were able, we would be able to be equal to this task. And rise to the occasion, because we have a great team and because also the partnership with the other national organizations, the civil service, and the private partners were incredible. You could tell that everybody was there for the right reasons. And for that, you know, I've always been proud to be a Canadian, but I can tell you that now I'm even prouder to be a Canadian.

Sara: You said you were working with schools, but kids weren't in school.

Daniel: Yeah, and that was a big challenge. Fortunately, my team is working with a lot of organizations on the ground across the country in every province and territory. We have bigger partners like the Toronto School Board, or Kids Eat Smart in Newfoundland. With the knowledge of everybody,  we were able to reach kids in the very small communities, as well as bigger cities like Toronto through different processes that were safe and efficient and quick. And the Toronto school board had the privilege because they are the school board to mail some food coupons to families that they already knew were in great needs, and smaller organizations who know the families in their communities, or the new ones who were added during this crisis were able to reach them quickly as well. So people didn't look at how many hours they put in, look at how much it would take time. They just worked like crazy.

Sara: How was the money used?

Daniel: Well, we did track the money and so what we found out is 84% of the money was used to buy food, which was incredible. So you could tell that people were in great need. They were cut from the support probably they had in the past. And the rest was for either transportation or  administration fees. But it was very little concerning that, like I said, 84% was the cost of food. So, you know, it even reassured us as an organization on the front line that we were targeting the right people.

Sara: What would you like to underline as the federal response?

Daniel: It was an incredible privilege to be part of those discussions. The civil servants were incredible. They were . . . I can't imagine how many hours they had to put up. And the other NGOs that were on the frontline, everybody was trying to make sure that that we were all in complementary on the action. But, you know, if I had one group that catch my heart during that time, the civil service of Agriculture Canada were incredible. And I will remember them for a long time. I say that because I mean it 100%.

Sara: Well on their behalf, thank you very much. And what sort of results are you seeing? How is this funding making a difference?

Daniel: Well, you know, obviously the burden of . . . the financial burden of the family was at least down. You know, the stress in general. And a lot of people talk to us about their stress that was lifted of their shoulders and replaced by peace, by hope, you know? And that's what we wanted to do. And, the well-being of the family in general when those things happen is impacted, and fortunately, the First Nations, when we dealt with First Nations, they were so great partners and, you know, give you the energy to give one more hour that day or two or three for everybody.

Sara: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, M. Germain, and thank you for the work your organization does. There's other stories like this one in our agricultural and food sector about the response to COVID-19.

Kirk: Yeah, exactly. And we're going to bring those stories to you as they arise in the coming weeks and months, along with other stories of innovation in our sector. It's a challenging time, and it's now that we need to be creative, quick and collaborative.

Sara: But until next time, let's take a moment to thank all those working on the frontlines who are helping those who need it the most.

Kirk: And let's keep a positive attitude. Let's step up where we can and help. We'll get through this together.

Sara: This podcast is brought to you by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

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Episode 002 - Rapid response: Feeding Canadians during the pandemic

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