Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable (The Roundtable)

Website

Est. 2007

Background:

The Region of Waterloo Public Health led a process in 2005-2006 to develop a food system plan, beginning with their discussion paper, titled Towards a Healthy Community Food System in Waterloo Region. The report identified priority food-related issues and the need for co-operation among many different organizations and individuals to achieve a healthy food system together. Through a community and stakeholders’ consultation process, the decision to form a Roundtable came out of a 2006 forum. A start-up committee of 8 people was formed, who spent a year developing the Roundtable’s Terms of Reference. A call for applications was then circulated, and the committee decided on 18 members. In November 2007, the Roundtable was officially recognized at a public launch event at Conestoga College.

Membership :

The Roundtable is a group of eighteen representatives from key sectors of the local food system. Only a few organizations are formally represented on the Roundtable: Canadian Organic Growers, Waterloo Federation of Agriculture, and Region of Waterloo Public Health. The other members are active in the food community, but do not necessarily represent their organizations formally at the Roundtable; members include local farmers, emergency food providers, health professionals, and individuals from food processing, distributing, and retail.

Association with Government:

Public Health staff, who are employed by the Region of Waterloo, provide support to the Roundtable; as such Public Health reports Roundtable’s activities to Regional Council. The Roundtable selects its own members and does not answer to Council, but has developed a good relationship with Council through periodic delegations and invitations to its meetings.

Documents Created:

Activities :

  • WRFSR were a strong voice in the opposition to the mega quarry proposal for Dufferin County that would have resulted in a significant loss of prime farmland and some of the most productive potato-producing soils in Canada.
  • The Roundtable held the Waterloo Region Food Summit in April, 2011, to discuss with participants activities happening locally in each of their six Food Systems Priorities, and to vote on key projects to focus on to move forward.
  • The Roundtable studied the Official Plans of the Cities of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo, and wrote three letters to City Councils urging food to be a bigger part of the municipal documents.
  • The Roundtable spoke out against the potential harmful impacts of the proposed Canada-Europe Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) on the local food and agriculture sector. They had asked all local municipal Councils to pass a resolution asking municipalities and other local institutions to be exempted from CETA
  • The Roundtable focuses on five functions, with particular attention paid to networking and education, which is achieved through meetings, events (i.e. Healthy Food System lecture series) and food summits (2009 and 2011). They work on supporting other organizations by writing letters of support to funders. They distribute a bi-weekly newsletter to over 400 people in the region, and also run a comprehensive website, which houses an RSS feed and a blog.

Challenges:

They have struggled to find volunteers to commit to taking on organizational tasks, so the bulk of time put into the Roundtable’s activities is by the staff support and the volunteer Roundtable members. This has improved somewhat in the last year, with the help of a student who worked on developing a volunteer structure and recruiting volunteers. They have also encountered challenges of different organizations claiming “turf” over certain issues, and questioning the Roundtable’s involvement in them, but these seem to be less of an issue now.

Help in Overcoming Challenges:

  • Adequate resources: staff time dedicated to planning good meetings, mediating conflicts, coordinating communication within the group and to the public
  • Choosing to focus on issues that unite everyone, and avoiding ones that divide us
  • Encouraging an atmosphere of curiosity and exploration at meetings, rather than always trying to take positions on every issue

Successes:

The Roundtable successfully advocated for the inclusion of food policies into the Regional Official Plan for the Region of Waterloo, as well in the Official Plan of Kitchener and Waterloo. The documents now contain the planning policies needed to “direct growth and change in Waterloo Region over the next 20 years”. Also, the Waterloo Regional Food Charter was recently adopted by Regional Council via the Roundtable’s advocacy.