Towards a sustainable local food system for Kingston and countryside.
A Community Engagement and Planning Project – Kingston
Case study written by Linda Stevens
Interviewees: Ian Stutt(Former Committee member) and Andrew McCann (Former Coordinator)
Initial interview (Andrew McCann, August, 2011 completed by Linda Stevens), Ian Stutt (August – September, 2011) (Series of interviews completed by Linda Stevens)
* Regional project sponsored by National Farmers’ Union to foster community empowerment around food
* Seeded sustainable community food initiatives including conferences, linking farmers with eaters through more direct buying links, and building improved linkages throughout the community
* Provided farmer training and education programs
* Reinforced links with public health and developed food security program
Food Down the Road was an initiative of the National Farmers Union Local 316 (see www.nfuontario.ca/content/about) that sought to empower a broad range of local food system participants. The project was designed to “look down the road towards a sustainable Kingston and countryside-towards vibrant farms and healthy food for our urban and rural communities. The initiative was intended to “engage people at a deeper level, making connections between farmers and eaters in order to transform our food system.” Andrea Cumpson, NFU Local 316 President, 2007.
Food has been an area of interest in Kingston for many years, taking on various forms and permeating multiple sectors. The Food Down the Road (FDTR) Initiative was a concentrated effort to bring the multiple sectors together to learn, plan and work towards and improved and connected local food system. The project, although continuous in outreach information sharing across the year, included a series of significant events to bring diverse topics and cross sector participation into to the food conversation in Kingston and area. Events included a Speakers Series, described in the Sharing Food Down the Road report, 2008 as “four very different gatherings held in four very different locations; each gathering looked at issues from different perspectives resulting in the effective sharing of a lot of valuable and fascinating information.” The Local Food Summit was the culminating event of the project bringing together over 400 people to connect, discuss, learn, and set direction for action around local food issues and opportunities in the area. The summit led to a local declaration.
Ian Stutt, a member of the FDTR project Steering Committee, a local producer, and New Farm Project Coordinator and Andrew McCann, former Project Coordinator and present developer of the Village Cooperative described the impetus for the project and its evolution. A number of organizations, groups and individuals in the area worked in their various roles and sectors towards the development of a systemic approach to identifying and addressing food system needs for a number of years. The work, although often connected across interested parties, lacked a collective and cohesive cross-sector approach to considering the local food challenges and assets across Kingston and area. Ian explains members of the various local food and food security interested organizations were becoming aware that “there were many food and farm issues that were interrelated and we wanted to build a catchment for relationships in the food system; production issues, healthy food access issues, health and nutrition”. “We recognized that we needed to build the alternative from the grass roots up.” Food Down the Road was the culmination of the Kingston Community’s desire to “see food in a broad sense and engage eaters to farmers, from governments to NGOs in a year-long project to raise awareness and develop a sense of cohesion around this areas food system”. “Instead of years of work individually we wanted to have a broad sense look ahead to food security on the systems and household levels. The FDTR Project, pulled the varied and diverse sectors together to foster conversations, relationships and collective thinking to “cultivate an approach to ensuring that healthy affordable food is available to everyone”.
As the primary purpose of the project was to focus on building relationships and partnerships within the food system, the work of FDTR was structured and presented around pillars to summarize the wide range of objectives, activities, outcomes, and conclusions of the project. These included; Local Farmers and Market Opportunities, Engaged and Sustainable Participation, Communication and Coordination Capacities and Future Projects that Balance Policy and Practical Change.
Following a series of food community partners meetings in 2005 to 2006, funding was granted through the Agricultural Management Institute (AMI) to implement a series of momentum building events and a local food conference with the purpose of raising awareness and generating partnerships. Recognizing the project as a way to enhance farm business management, a strong farm and food network-building component was also included in the design of the initiative. This yearlong project was launched in 2006 under the administrative umbrella of the National Farmers Union, local 316 with significant partner support as Food Down the Road.
Food Down the Road was a broadly based community effort committed to nurturing the growth and encouraging the development of Kingston’s local food system to work better for everyone without damaging the environment on which it depends. The goal of the FDTR project was,
“to strengthen the connections between local farmers, food processors, distributors, retailers, social justice advocates, cooks and eaters of all income levels, so that each part of the local food system is in harmony with the other parts and with the whole for the benefit of all.” 
A long-range goal that grew out of the project was, to engage farmers and a broad range of food system participants in a long-term effort to develop markets that can support the farming, processing and distribution of locally grown food within a 100 km area.
Food security and social justice were the lenses within which the project developed recognizing that the purpose of a food system is to “feed people, all the people”.
Food Down the Road Outcomes
Today, Food Down the Road as a project has ended, the philosophy of opening a new door as another door closes has held true. FDTR opened a number of doors spawning community initiatives and programs across the region that has successfully moved Kingston from the initial planning stage to action.
Food Down the Road has cultivated a number of now emerging or thriving initiatives in the region including but certainly not limited to,
- The NFU New Farm Project, a farmer education, training, and support program aimed at strengthening the Kingston region’s farm community and local food system. While emphasizing the benefits of production for local markets, the project also focuses on ecologically sound farming methods and supports participating farmers in making farm management decisions that will lead to long-term sustainability of their farms. Recipient of Premiers Award, Agri-food Innovation Excellence (see www.newfarmproject.ca). The project was developed and funding sought and achieved through Heifer International in recognition of the need for farmer training as identified through the FDTR Initiative
- The continued publication of Local Harvest, now re-launched as Food Down the Road to maintain the spirit and focus that the FDTR Project ignited. Includes articles of relevance to participants across the food system from eaters to producers and includes links to Eating Close to Home Food Local Food Directory
- The Healthy Eating Working Group, established as a partnered initiative under the administration of the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health Unit and cross organization and sector partners, to oversee and achieve the establishment of KFL&A food charter and food coalition /council with municipal endorsement(s).
The Healthy Eating Working Group continues aspects of the work that the Food Down the Road initiated in trying to establish a local food council
Loving Spoonful; a food security program that works to combat hunger and food waste by reclaiming surplus food from sources such as grocery stores, caterers, restaurants, hotels and farmers, – food that would otherwise go to waste and, with the help of volunteers transporting that food to local emergency meal providers. (see www.lovingspoonful.org).
- The Village Cooperative, a newly developing initiative to combine organic food retail/direct distribution by local producers, value added food production, and education and skills development opportunities all offered at the same site. Website is www.villageco-op.org
- A significant increase in CSAs, farmers market locations and retailers focusing on providing local food in the area
Food Down the Road was launched as an initiative under the National Farmers Union, local 316 and was directed by a volunteer Committee comprised of four NFU Directors.
The project was staffed by a full-time Coordinator position, shared by two individuals who, as Ian describes it “had an enormous level of passion, commitment and energy for the work” enabling them to contribute as much in volunteer time as was provided within their paid roles. At the end of the first funded year for FDTR, the coordination role continued as a shared full-time position with two new Interim Coordinators joining the project during the bridging period as the AMI funding ended and multi-year funding was sought.
The project also included an impressive number of volunteers (estimated at 80) assisting with project activities and the extensive participation and partnering of community groups/agencies and organizations (estimated at 36). Twelve consultants were also involved in various ways through paid and contributed “in kind” time.
A Community Council comprised of two NFU members and ten agency/organization based participants agreed to meet to provide continuity as the project transitioned into a new phase.
Staff salaries could not be maintained as funding through AMI ended and thus, so too ended the Coordinator role. The loss of this role affected the continuity of the collectively coordinated activities of the initiative. With the loss of coordination leadership, the Community Council eventually dissolved as well.
FDTR operated with few physical resources, and the resources that did exist were largely contributed in kind to the project. Through project funds, FDTR had rented storage space and a funded webpage during the run of the project. Coordinators worked from home offices using their own equipment. St. Lawrence College contributed Meeting and event space.
FDTR received the majority of its funding through a one-year grant from the Agricultural Management Institute. (AMI) allowing the project to be staffed and minimal resources to be available for project operations. The Agricultural Management Institute (AMI) recognized the Food Down the Road (FDTR) project as a way to enhance farm business management. The AMI provided funding for a four-part Speakers Series in the spring of 2007 to build momentum, followed by a Local Food Summit in the fall. The goal was to bring farmers, processors, distributors, marketing groups, retailers, experts, community organizations, local government and ‘eaters’ together to learn about local food success stories from across North America.
Additional financial inputs were gained through donations, from NFU Local 316, NFU Ontario, Heifer International, The Kingston Economic Development Corporation, Local Food Summit registration and sales, cash donations from the Speakers Series and sponsorship through small local businesses, the Royal Dominion Bank and Farm Credit Canada. The project also benefited greatly from the in-kind contributions of many organizations and businesses, including provision of space, food, presentation supplies.
The hope was to accomplish multi-year funding to maintain the coordination needed to continue to bring people together and to support the project to move further towards developing activities and initiatives to meet identified needs. Coordinator efforts did go towards completing a funding proposal for Trillium funding, however, given the timing of the end of the AMI funding and the capacity required to complete the Trillium proposal, funding was not achieved. This certainly had an impact on the ongoing work of FDTR, but the initial benefits of the connections and collective efforts to generate needs and opportunities and options held long after the end of the project run.
FDTR by design worked through a network of connections and commitments to weave together an awareness and networking initiative. As described under Human Resources, significant volunteer efforts, community partner support and community contributed space (St. Lawrence College) supported the work of FDTR. OPIRG and Arch Biosphere Local Flavours and the KFL&A Health Unit supported the organization of the spring event series and a number of individual community members contributed to the writing of Sharing Food Down the Road, a summary report following the completion of the program reports. Close to 80 media print, audio and video articles/stories/segments were completed on the project.
Policy and Program Resources
FDTR no longer exists in the form it once did. Initial funding through the AMI was available as part of a bilateral funding program aimed at promoting agricultural business development. The initial funding ended and ongoing funding was not achieved, largely due to a lack of capacity to well develop and submit proposals to meet the funder requirements at the time. The unique community development nature of the project did not easily lend itself to funders requiring immediate and measurable results without the expertise to generate indicators to measure such things as relationships forged, attitudes changed or creativity ignited.
That said Ian and Andrew both believe that it is precisely due to the community development process underlying the FDTR initiative, that so many food initiatives addressing those areas of need identified through the work of the project, have since come into being. The FDTR initiative intentionally worked to connect different interests and diverse sectors to learn about options in local food from eater to producer and everything in between and to identify and work towards priorities in the cultivation of a vibrant local food system. The intention was that a long-term cultural shift around local food and activities related to both promoting the shift and existing because of it would emerge. Looking back over the 5 years since the project funding ended, that is exactly what happened. The local food based networks, collaborations; ideas for projects and businesses initiated post-FDTR speak to the value in “having the dialogue in the first place”.
Although FDTR ended as a funded initiative, the Local Harvest quarterly publication, recently re-launched under the new title of Food Down the Road continued under the umbrella of the NFU and with the support of local businesses. The FDTR publication is provided both as an online and hard copy tool to continue educating and informing the public about local food system issues and activities including links to the local food locator “map” and events listings. Stutt explains that continuity of the publication under the FDTR banner is intended to “hold onto the collective activity and spirit that FDTR launched” and allows continuity for and keeps the connections and awareness as grown by the FDTR initiative alive.
“A key element in the sustainability of any organization is that it has institutional memory so that it can pass on all that has been done and learned in the time of its existence.” The project also created two key documents, From the Ground Up: A Primer for Community Action on Kingston and Countryside’s Food System. www.fooddowntheroad.ca/resources/from-the-ground-up.pdf and Sharing Food Down the Road at www.fooddowntheroad.ca/resources/sharing-fdtr-june08.pdf
FDTR has ended but those who were part of the project and many of those touched by the outcomes of it would like to re-ignite the coordinated collective planning and action role that FDTR held. The frequency of comments in response to scoping interviews associated with the initial work of this Local Food Networks project indicated enthusiasm with the impacts of coordination at the time and the ongoing need for this role in this community. Many interviewees also alluded to the challenges of finding a central body willing to take on and fund it in the absence of designated funder support. Clearly longer term and dedicated funding would benefit continued progress on well coordinated and thus, collaborated local food system development.
Ian points out that coordination is an area of need that continues to come up and expects that the present Plan to Grow project will specifically identify the continued need for coordination around information sharing, networking and partnering across the many and rapidly forming local food initiatives throughout the region.
“Any community process that does not encounter setbacks, obstacles and redirections isn’t going anywhere at all. Some can be anticipated. Some appear out of the blue like an August hailstorm. FDTR is no exception.”
Sharing Food Down the Road, A report reviewing the FDTR process, identified well the challenges that a project implemented within a systemic and process driven initiative. The report suggested that the project held lofty aspirations around the number of participants and range of sectors it hoped to engage and the time required to implement the project design was greater than resources could support. This led to people being over-committed contributing to stress and unfulfilled plans. There were also issues of ownership and control, and tensions in situations of difference such as conventional verses sustainable practices, food security and farm incomes. Andrew identified that tensions across sectors and perspectives in a far-reaching project like FDTR were not unexpected and the airing of the differing opinions and perspectives and the ensuing discussions initiated a dialogue that continues in the area today. Andrew pointed out however that “you need to get to action at some point”. He explains that the conversations contribute to your thoughts on how to move forward but if you get stuck there, you may not get to the work of getting the work done.
Ian described the incredible amount of coordination required to identify stakeholders across the various sectors and bring them together as being a key challenge. Coordination proved challenging in terms of the organizing of events considering there was no shortage of support and thus multiple contributors and volunteers to involve and recognize in meaningful ways.. Combined, the task of coordinated became a monstrous task.
The Sharing Food Down the Road at www.fooddowntheroad.ca/resources/sharing-fdtr-june08.pdf report provides a wonderful overview of the challenges that the project experienced explaining that challenges are learning tools to help guide continued and future work that brings stakeholders together and that relies on multiple partners and participants to design and implement a process.
As the first year of the project drew to a close, ongoing funding to sustain the project became the key challenge that was not overcome. AMI provided additional funding to support the creation of the Sharing Food Down the Road report; however, Trillium funding to support continued coordination was not achieved. Despite the continued efforts of volunteers, central leadership for the project eventually eroded away.
Even without funding Andrew describes a sentiment echoed by many involved in the FDTR process that have continued forward to initiate food initiatives following the end of FDTR; “you simply need to get to the point where you feel like you are doing something regardless of waiting for funders to support it. You just need to make it happen with creativity and by working with others who are committed to local food. Waiting can just end in waiting”.
The Sharing Food Down the Road report outlines the many successes of FDTR both in terms of process and outcomes. There are many both hard and soft. These include, the high participation numbers and diversity of participants in both the implementation of the activities of the project and in terms of attendance at the many events, the Food Declaration that came off of the Local Food Summit, the many initiatives that grew from the FDTR project, the broadening of perspectives and the certainly the relationships forged.
“A key to the success of Food Down the Road will be strong partnerships,” David Hahn, one of NFU Local 316’s Directors, 2007.
Important to note is that the key purpose for FDTR was to strengthen connections. Growing from the work of FDTR, a number of initiatives that actively and directly address food system needs in the community through connected action were able to achieve funding through a variety of sources.
In the true spirit of community development, the success of FDTR lies largely in how it ignited a collective energy in local food in Kingston, encouraging a flurry of activity around new local food initiatives, projects and ventures.
Certainly, with continued resources to support leadership there may have been more coordinated growth, but in the end there was tremendous growth as evidenced by the increase in local food initiatives, in local food focused business and in the continued collective activity around local food policy.
FDTR as a community development initiative provided the impetus for partnership development, education and awareness promotion and priorities for action that launched Kingston forward into long-term local food system development. The project served to develop and evolve the social infrastructure required to pull sectors together to collectively identify areas for action and to initiate new programs/initiatives and actions to address areas of need using the methods and models brought to their attention through FDTR activities. The result has been the creation of a number of new “linked up” initiatives and projects that work through collective action to impact infrastructure, policy and awareness needs allowing Kingston and areas local food system to continue to evolve and to grow.
For more information on the Food Down the Road project, see
From the Ground Up: A Primer for Community Action on Kingston and Countryside’s Food System. www.fooddowntheroad.ca/resources/from-the-ground-up.pdf and Sharing Food Down the Road at www.fooddowntheroad.ca/resources/sharing-fdtr-june08.pdf
 Agri-News March 2007, archived in www.agrinewsinteractive.com/archives/article-8247.htm
 Sharing Food Down the Road, National Farmers Union 316 at www.fooddowntheroad.ca/resources/sharing-fdtr-june08.pdf
 Sharing Food Down the Road at www.fooddowntheroad.ca/resources/sharing-fdtr-june08.pdf
 Sharing Food Down the Road at www.fooddowntheroad.ca/resources/sharing-fdtr-june08.pdf
 Sharing Food Down the Road, at www.fooddowntheroad.ca/resources/sharing-fdtr-june08.pdf
 Agri-News March 2007, archived in www.agrinewsinteractive.com/archives/article-8247.htm