Vital Signs : a report on food security in Edmonton

Written by Edmonton Community Foundation and Edmonton Social Planning Council. 2013

Every year, community foundations across Canada release their annual Vital Signs report. These reports are designed to give readers an understanding of the overall well-being of the community they are focusing on.This year, the Edmonton Community Foundation collaborated with the Edmonton Social Planning Council to produce Edmonton’s first Vital Signs report. The focus of this year’s Vital Signs reports was food security.

Edmonton Vital Signs 2013 contains data and information about projects and initiatives on food security in Edmonton, as well as a demographic profile of Edmonton. The report uses creative visuals to present data in an accessible way.

Demographic Data

Edmonton is a quickly growing city, with an increase in population of 25% between 2002 and 2012, resulting in a current population of approximately 1,230,056. The population of Edmonton is relatively young compared to national averages; 22.7% of the population were 17 years of age or younger and 11.4% were 65 years of age or older in 2012.

The report identifies Edmonton as a culturally and ethnically diverse city, with a 30% visible minority population. The number of new Canadians moving to Edmonton is on the rise; 11,806 immigrants and refugees moved to Edmonton in 2011 compared to 4,225 in 2002. Further, the number of temporary foreign workers residing in Edmonton is on the rise. Edmonton also has a significant urban Aboriginal population, the second highest in Canada after Winnipeg. Approximately 61,765 Aboriginal individuals live in Edmonton.

The report also provides information about employment and income in Edmonton. A total of 65.9% of Edmontonians are of working age, slightly above the national average. The average household income in Edmonton was $59,200 in 2011. This is 16.8% higher than the national average. The unemployment rate in Edmonton is also lower than in the other largest metro areas in Canada. However, unemployment is not experienced by all Edmontonians equally; the unemployment rate among Aboriginal individuals was twice as high as the city wide average (8.9% as opposed to 4.5%). Even with the above average household income, 21% of individuals living in Edmonton received a low wage ($15.00 per hour or less) in 2012. Just over 10% of the metro Edmonton population can be considered low income; 39,000 children in Edmonton live in low income.

Other interesting statistics about Edmonton are included, such as that 60.4% of Edmonton residents expressed a strong or somewhat strong sense of community. This is lower than the national average and may be related to high in-migration rates.

Food Security

Following the general demographic information, Edmonton Vital Signs 2013 presents information focused on food security in Edmonton. For this report, the authors used the World Health Organization’s definition of food security. They define food security as “all people at all times [having] physical and economic access to adequate amounts of nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate foods.”

The cost of nutritious food is a contributing factor to food insecurity. A nutritious food basket for a family of four cost $210 per week on average in 2013. The price of food is increasing at a faster rate than overall inflation. Therefore, food insecurity is closely linked to household income. One third of low income households experience food insecurity. Children in particular are impacted by food insecurity: 17.9% of children in Alberta live in a household experiencing food insecurity. This is higher than the national average.

Food insecurity can contribute to food related health concerns. Diabetes, which is impacted by diet and food security, is becoming more prominent in Edmonton. The youth obesity rate in Edmonton (29.9%) is higher than the national average and is also increasing. Further, the report suggests that on average, the majority of Edmontonians do not consume the recommended number of fruits and vegetables each day.

The report also contains some interesting statistics from Edmonton’s Food Bank. The organization distributes food to over 200 agencies that then distribute it to people in need. In 2012, 3.2 million kilograms of food, worth approximately 17 million dollars, were distributed through the food bank.

Local Opportunities

Edmonton Vital Signs 2013 provides some general information about local food opportunities that currently exist in Edmonton. In the summer of 2013, there were twelve farmers markets in Edmonton and thirteen more in the surrounding metro area. Community gardens are also popular, with eighty garden sites in Edmonton. Edmonton is located in an area with high quality soils. Therefore, farms producing a wide variety of products surround the city.

General information about sustainable waste management practices in Edmonton is also presented. The City of Edmonton offers many opportunities for sustainable waste management. These include an extensive recycling collection program, three eco-stations for hazardous household wastes, a compost facility and compost related training, a re-use centre, and a construction waste material recycling facility. A facility to turn wastes into biofuels is scheduled to open in 2014. In total, Edmonton diverts 90% of its waste away from landfill. Edmonton is also working towards sustainable water use and management. The city is continually reducing the amount of contaminants discharged into the North Saskatchewan River. Further, Edmonton has the lowest per person water use of all major Canadian cities, at 144 litres per person per day.

Additionally, the report showcases four detailed stories related to food security and food production in and around Edmonton: the Wecan Food Basket, the Mill Woods Bread Run, the Lady Flower Gardens, and Composting with Mark Stumpf-Allen.

The Wecan Food Basket, run by the Wecan Food Basket Society, is a program that helps low and fixed-income individuals access affordable quality food every month. Individuals pay for a food hamper at the beginning of the month and pick up the hamper at the end of the month. This way if they are low on money before their next monthly income arrives they are still able to feed themselves and their families. This program relies on volunteers who run the pick-up depots, as well as the support of local non-profit agencies.

The Mill Woods Bread Run provides bread, dairy, produce, and sometimes meat and eggs to low-income individuals for no charge. Food is provided by local grocery stores and and bakeries when it cannot be sold in stores but is still edible. An average of 25 families per week access the service on a first-come first-served basis. The program serves mostly immigrants and individuals who need a supplement to their income on a regular basis. This program is operated out of the Richfield Church by volunteers.

The Lady Flower Garden is a volunteer run vegetable garden located on the northeast edge of Edmonton. There are nine plots in the garden, many of which are used by organizations that feed vulnerable populations in Edmonton’s core. In exchange for the use of a plot, volunteers must help with others’ plots. This provides fresh, healthy produce directly to food programs. Additional produce can be sold for revenue for these organizations.

Edmonton is also home to extensive composting programs and specialists such as Mark Stumpf-Allen. The Vital Signs 2013 report explains the importance of composting and provides tips for Edmontonians. Composting puts nutrients back in the soil so we can continue producing food. Activities such as leaving grass clippings on the lawn, planting food instead of grass, composting organic waste in a container at home, and learning more about composting and compost related services in Edmonton can help ensure the sustainability of our soils.

In addition to profiling these cases, the Vital Signs 2013 report provides a map of community gardens and farmers markets and a list of organizations to contact to get involved in food security and sustainability in Edmonton. Information about Edmonton Community Foundations involvement with these issues is also dispersed throughout the report.
Reviewed by Anna Kessler 

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