IT’S A FACE that I will remember for a long time. The farmer, utterly frustrated by Canada’s food system, could no longer muster the will to tell his story. He and his wife were taking part in a community “kitchen-table talk,” co-ordinated by the People’s Food Policy Project (PFPP). He gazed off at nothing as his wife explained how they had taken over his parents’ farm in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley and built it into a thriving business to pass on to their children. They once had 20 to 30 wholesalers and retailers vying for their produce; now, thanks to corporate concentration in the food business, they have two. That leaves them little choice but to accept the lower prices offered. They must also transport their produce some 500 kilometres to a distribution centre in Moncton, where it is repacked and shipped back to a supermarket a few kilometres from their farm. But what really hurt was etched all over that farmer’s face: the vegetables they had taken such pride in growing were, by then, a week old, and their neighbours didn’t see the value in buying that local produce.

Their story of how Canada’s food system serves corporate interests to the detriment of food producers and food quality emerged as a major theme at the PFPP’s kitchen-table talks held in communities across the country. Launched in November 2008, this citizen’s coalition has a two-fold mission: It is initi- ating a national conversation on food; and engaging citizens, rather than politicians, in developing Canada’s first national food policy, which it will present to the federal government this spring. The chances of the federal government implementing the PFPP’s policy are about as likely as Walmart declaring itself a non-profit, but the process of developing that policy has educated, enraged and engaged thousands of Canadians, and kick-started a national food movement. Both the movement and its take on food policy are already difficult for federal politicians to ignore...

Visit the People’s Food Policy Project website for advice on how to get involved with local food issues in your community. You will find information about “community animators,” plus tools, resources and volunteer information at peoplesfoodpolicy.ca

Margaret Webb is the author of Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover's Tour of Canadian Farms, which won silver at the 2009 National Culinary Book Awards, and wrote the 2009 Toronto Star feature series, "Crisis on the Farm."

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