By Abra Brynne, Executive Director
Nine months in, we have all mostly become resigned to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is almost hard to remember a time when it did not dominate our lives and all the news sources.
However, in the early weeks and months of the pandemic in Canada, we were all navigating in the dark, or at least without a lot of light to shine on the right path forward. The Food Policy Council established Pandemic & Food Systems Roundtable with the goal of supporting those involved in food systems (farmers, food processors and businesses, non-profits, local government) who live and work in the Columbia Basin to discuss our work, our challenges and to help find a path forward in this pandemic – for the immediate and the long term. Our first Roundtable met on March 31st and then weekly thereafter through those early months.
At all meetings of the Roundtable, the core function is the exchange of information and updates from our respective communities, businesses and parts of the food system. In the early months, we supported each other with ideas, our best interpretations of the current and ever-evolving information about the pandemic, and what the practical responses should be as we collectively navigated the uncertainty. In those early days, it was unclear if farmers markets would even go ahead – big questions for farmers facing decisions about what and how much to plant when market channels may not exist come harvest time.
Happily, food and the measures to connect farmers to eaters were readily understood to be among the services and sectors deemed essential. Farmers markets did proceed in many of the communities where they were established, with the now familiar physical distancing and mask requirements. As the season progressed, through the Roundtable, we were able to share information that confirmed hopes, and sometimes fears, about how our farmers would fare at the markets. The Roundtables have enabled the exchange of key information to better understand regional disparities and the measures that could be taken to better support food producers in the Columbia Basin.
Now, nine months into the pandemic and at the close of harvest season for many of our farmers, we have an opportunity to check in, reflect on how our communities, farmers and collective food security fared through this crazy period, and what the year ahead may hold.
The Roundtable now meets monthly, on the first Thursday of the month. We welcome anyone involved in food systems who resides in the Columbia Basin. Come learn from and be supported by your peers as together we forge a stronger, more resilient food system in our region.