Food Systems Lab is one of four women-run projects that are redefining agriculture

Reposted from The Canadian Organic Grower:

Four Women-run Projects that are Redefining Agriculture

 MARTA ZWART MAY 27, 2021

We’re showcasing creative and innovative women who are leading the way towards creating a more equitable future for food security. The work they’ve done and continue to do for their communities, the organic movement, and the environment deserve to be recognized. We’re very lucky to have such dedicated caretakers across the country, and understand that these are only a few examples of extraordinary women we know. 

1. SeedChange: Jane Rabinowicz and Tiffany Traverse


Jane Rabinowicz, Tiffany Traverse and the whole team at SeedChange are working with farmers and like-minded organizations to reclaim the power of good food and nourish communities. They are passionate changemakers with a fascination for seeds and are determined to mitigate the impact of climate change. They continue to work towards improving farmers’ livelihoods, increasing land biodiversity, and promoting seed and food sovereignty.

Rabinowicz is currently Executive Director at SeedChange and a board member of MakeWay. She has dedicated her career to community-led change, and is recognized by The Globe and Mail as one of the most influential people in Canada’s food system. She promotes ethical seed sourcing and creating community-based projects to teach different ways of approaching organic farming. She believes in the cooperation between organic and regenerative agriculture to create a balance for farmers and consumers alike while raising awareness of the significance of maintaining seed health.

Tiffany Traverse is a board member of SeedChange, an Indigenous Researcher, and an Indigenous Land & Seed Steward in the Peace Region of British Columbia. She’s currently researching and working alongside Métis seed keeper, Caroline Chartrand, on a rare Indigenous seed project. She’s always been fascinated with the beautiful mysteries surrounding seed sovereignty, and is now challenging the common agricultural practices by studying and implementing Indigenous methods that revolve around permaculture. She redirects all findings and credit back to the Indigenous Land by promoting the practices and ingenuity that have been keeping people healthy for generations.

With less than 1% of Canadians being farmers, there is pressure on farmers to produce enough to feed the masses, let alone use regenerative organic processes. This is why Rabinowicz, Traverse and the whole team at SeedChange are taking strides towards promoting a system that works with the environment to create better practices instead of fighting against it and deteriorating it further. 

To learn more about the work of SeedChange, click here!


2. Heart Beet Organics: Amy Smith & Verena Varga


Smith and Varga are known in PEI for their beautiful and bountiful farm. They made a name for themselves by growing all sorts of organic goods, while doing so with less than two acres of land. When they first moved to the island, there were many doubts surrounding their potential success, but they quickly showed what determination, hard work and creativity can get you. 

Since the majority of farms in Canada are inherited from family, it’s difficult to get into the agricultural world without being raised in it. Smith and Varga saw this gap in the system, and created an apprenticeship program for people who are interested in learning more about farming and organics. Smith can track all of her farming success back to her experiences working side by side in the fields with her mentors, and wants others to have the same opportunity. Smith and Varga invite curious, ambitious people in their community to work alongside them in hopes that some may discover a passion for agriculture. 

“The best farming education you can get is getting your hands dirty and working side by side with farmers” – Amy Smith, Saltscapes.

Additionally, they are fighting against food waste by creating products out of their unmarketable produce. For example, they produce delicious and healthy fermented products including kimchi, tempeh, hot sauce and much more. Heart Beet became the first and largest commercial producer of Kombucha in PEI. In 2019, they opened their farm-to-table café and kombucha tap room, where they serve plant-based meals that feature their produce and fermented products.

These women faced doubts and skepticism from the agro-community and turned it into motivation. Their enthusiasm, dedication, and passion for organics and their community is only the start of their triumphs. To learn more about Heart Beet Organics, click here!


3. Saanich Organics: Heather Stretch, Robin Tunnicliffe, Rachel Fisher 


Heather Stretch, Robin Tunnicliffe and Rachel Fisher are co-owners of Saanich Organics in Victoria, British Columbia, and each have certified organic farms of their own. They started Saanich Organics out of frustration with the amount of imported food coming into their community when fresh organic products were being grown locally. They noticed there was a gap between consumers and local organic farmers that could be fixed if food was made more accessible. Saanich Organics gave the opportunity to mend the bond between organic farmers and the local community by providing easy accessibility to organic food. They now provide a delivery service. They also offer a regular meeting place for farmers and consumers to sell, discuss, and buy local organic products — this is supporting their local farms and lessening the communities’ environmental impact.

They have since continued their work in sustainable organics by creating Seeds of the Revolution which provides healthy seeds along with growing recommendations on the packaging. The seeds can be mailed out all across Canada, and are great for small producers, farmers, and commercial growers alike. 

These women saw a barrier in their community and took the initiative to create a better way to build relationships between farmers and consumers. Check out their work here!


4. Food Systems Lab: Tammara Soma, Tamara Shulman, and Belinda Li


Tammara Soma, Tamara Shulman, and Belinda Li are co-directors of the Food Systems Lab, a research hub that specializes in bringing a sustainable food system to everyone. They’re working to reduce food waste in a way that enhances ecosystems, conserves natural resources, and mitigates climate change. They were sick of the band-aid solution that has been sweeping the environmental justice sector, and decided to build a community of scientists and researchers to build the lab. They wanted to make sure to build the foundation from three principle pillars: Reconciliation, social justice and inclusion.

With their team of specialized professionals, data-driven approaches, and in-depth research and design methods, these women are able to develop and evaluate solutions to improve the food system and our ecological footprint. 

To check out the Food Systems Lab’s latest research, findings, and progress, please visit their website here!

Successes and Challenges for Local Businesses during COVID-19

In partnership with LOCO BC, we hosted a virtual networking event for local businesses on January 26 to discuss how local businesses facing COVID-19 have adapted, creatively tackled challenges, and pursued solutions for environmental social and economic sustainability. Using the gather.town platform, participants mixed and mingled at themed virtual table discussions to connect with other businesses in a way not possible since the pandemic began.

Food Systems Lab recently worked with eight independently-run local businesses and two non-profit organizations on case studies to support a green recovery from COVID-19. We learned how they found creative solutions to support staff, safety, customer engagement, finance, and sustainability practices. Check out our newly launched video with highlights from the case studies, or read more about them on our project page.

SIMBIO on the National Observer

Belinda Li from the Food Systems Lab talks about some of the findings from Social Innovation Management for BIOPlastics (SIMBIO) in this news article published in the National Observer, which has since been syndicated to the Toronto Star, Welland Tribune, and Prince George Citizen. This article is a repost of the original.

Compostable plastic is booming in Canada — but it may still end up in landfills

By Marc Fawcett-Atkinson | NewsFood Insider | November 27th 2020

Compostable plastic cups at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island, N.Y. Photo by Brian Yurasits via Unsplash

Bio-based plastics, most of them compostable to some degree, are proliferating across Canada. Yet millions of compostable cups, containers and bags will probably still end up in landfills.

It’s a crisis driven, in part, by bad communication.

Bio-based plastics are not made equal. Some break down easily; others need months in an industrial composting machine before they disintegrate into organic compounds. And they’re classified through a labyrinthine system that leaves everyone — from manufacturers to waste managers to consumers — confused.

“Differentiating between the different definitions, that in itself is a project,” said Belinda Li, director of innovation at Simon Fraser University’s Food Systems Lab, which is leading a research project on biodegradable plastics.

In practice, that means most conscientious Canadians trying to dispose of their plastic waste appropriately have two choices: The recycling bin or the trash can.

Belinda Li, director of innovation at Simon Fraser University’s Food Systems Lab, says the mosaic of certification standards means most bio-based plastics don’t get composted. Photo provided by Belinda Li

Over 90 per cent of the world’s plastics are produced from fossil fuels, accounting for roughly six per cent of global oil consumption.

Less than one-tenth of this plastic is recycled, and the trend isn’t reversing: Researchers estimate that on the current trajectory, a fifth of the world’s oil will be used to make plastic by 2050, according to a forthcoming study by Li.

Bio-based plastics have emerged in recent years as an alternative against this backdrop — but what falls in that category is broad. According to research by Li’s team, the term is used to describe everything from plastics made from plants to plastics that can be broken down into their molecular parts by composting and plastics that are both plant-based and biodegradable.

That’s largely because, in Canada, the words used to describe bio-based plastics aren’t consistently regulated, Li explained. For instance, a coffee cup lid could be labelled as “biodegradable” or “compostable,” but what those words actually say about the whether the plastic can be broken down into organic matter is inconsistent.

“If you have something that’s certified organic (for example), it’s actually certified” according to standards set by the federal government, she explained. “With bio-plastics, none of that exists right now. You can label something as anything you want — compostable, biodegradable, plant-based.”

Researchers estimate that on the current trajectory, a fifth of the world’s oil will be used to make plastic by 2050. Bio-based plastics present an alternative — but the definition of compostable plastic is broad. 

While there are several third-party certifications available to bio-based plastics manufacturers, being certified is voluntary, she said. And each certification standard also has different requirements on how long it takes for plastics to disintegrate and the kinds of technology needed to actually break them down.

And often, those standards aren’t actually reflected in municipal waste management systems.

“The conditions that the tests have are really hard to replicate in the field,” she said.

For instance, plastic that meets the ASTM D6400 standard — one of the more common classifications for compostable plastics — assumes the plastic will spend at least 180 days in an industrial composter.

“(For) a lot of composting facilities, their process isn’t that long. They need to get their stuff through faster than that because they just don’t have the (space),” she said. “So there’s a mismatch between the types of tests being done to show compostability and on-the-ground compostability.”

As a result, many municipalities across the country — including those in Metro Vancouver — will remove bio-based plastics from the organic waste stream, even if they’re technically compostable.

New Video: The Soap Dispensary

We’re thrilled to share our first case study from our Supporting Sustainable Business Adaptation during COVID-19 project featuring The Soap Dispensary, a local business that has been leading the zero waste retail movement for nearly 10 years. See how they overcame the challenges of adapting to COVID-19 and get inspired to take action in supporting local businesses in this short video.

Ensure healthy and food-secure communities during self-isolation, social distancing: SFU expert

Reposted from SFU News

Simon Fraser University’s Tammara Soma is a food systems-planning researcher. She tackles food issues from farm to table to dump and breaks down traditional silos to create communities through food. Her work also addresses problems, such as food waste and waste management in general, food education, food access, and farmland preservation.

Q: How can we maintain healthy food consumption during this time?

A: Urban populations generally have more access to a diversity of food options (restaurants, cafes, take-outs, etc.) and it’s easy to take all of this for granted. With the need for social distancing and many food outlets limiting services and hours, it is best to make sure you have enough food at home and to choose versatile, easy-to-cook options. In general, it is best to avoid regularly consuming ultra-processed food. A lot of fruits, vegetables and protein (both meat and plant-based) can be purchased frozen, and for the most part, are as good as fresh, as most of it is flash-frozen. They have the added benefit of potentially reducing food waste.

Q: Can you suggest food options for emergency preparedness?

A: Having a household food plan is a key part of planning for an emergency. You can maintain a stock of dry pulses, such as beans, lentils and chickpeas, which are tasty, affordable and nutritious. Canned goods such as salmon and tuna are versatile; if possible avoid those with high sodium content. Nut butters (peanut or almond) are also great as easy snacks. Plant-based milk packaged in UHT/tetra packs also have a long shelf life. B.C. has great options for locally produced and long-lasting fruits and produce; apples last a long time in or out of the fridge.

Q: How can we avoid food panic and vulnerabilities? And how do we boost food system resiliency in times of disruption?

A: People’s worries about continued access to food, which is a food security issue, have also surged. It is critical that we invest/protect local food infrastructure – both built infrastructure (food hubs, farms, processors, etc.) and natural infrastructure (land, watersheds, forests) – to ensure stable supply and maintain public confidence.  Also, we need to invest in people (farmers, farm labourers, grocery workers) who grow/cook/serve food for us. Educating people about the importance of local farms and the massive effort that goes into food production is important, as global disruptions such as the current pandemic may in some cases disrupt international supply chains.

Q: What is your view of the public’s tendency for panic shopping and its impact?

A: The general population’s rush to hoard or panic shop could be fueled by a heightened sense of vulnerability. However, whenever we see an increase in people facing layoffs or unemployment, it is critical that others don’t burden the food system by placing communities in need at greater risk. Not everyone has the financial resources or space to stock up on food. Vulnerabilities around income may push more people into poverty, precarious housing, and food insecurity. This is when emergency food services like food banks or charities will be inundated. While preparing for an emergency is important, hoarding food will impact many food charities, which rely not just on people’s donations, but also on supermarket donations of surplus foods to stock their warehouse shelves.

Q: What do you make of the craze for buying toilet paper?

A: Many global cultures around the world are not heavily reliant on toilet paper and depend on other cheaper and more sustainable alternatives. Most toilet paper is produced using virgin paper, contributing to deforestation and the degradation of boreal forests, as well as GHG emissions. Chemicals are used to bleach toilet paper, and a significant amount of water (an estimated 37 gallons to produce just one toilet roll.) Canadians could use the current health crisis as an opportunity to transition towards more sustainable and affordable options, such as bidets (including the handheld ones).