People and programs 05/20/2021
Food First NL is a provincial non-profit organization that collaborates with a network of 300 like-minded organizations and individuals to improve food security in Newfoundland. A partner of Community Food Centres Canada since 2019, they’ve worked with communities in Newfoundland & Labrador for 20 years to ensure everyone has access to affordable, healthy, and culturally appropriate food.

In 2005, Newfoundland and Labrador became one of the first provinces to implement a poverty reduction strategy, and went on to become a national leader in reducing food insecurity.

“But that strategy gradually faded away,” recounts Josh Smee, CEO of Food First NL. “Resources devoted to it were reassigned. And we saw food insecurity creep back up pretty quickly.”

Now, the province has the second highest rate of household food insecurity in Canada.

“More than 80 per cent of communities in the province have no grocery store,” explains Josh. “So if you live in a rural area—especially if you live on a low income, without access to a car—your diet is often dictated by what you can buy at the gas station. It’s expensive and doesn’t provide much nutritional value or variety.”

In remote fly-in communities on the north coast of Labrador, the cost of food is extremely high. And the drastic impacts of climate change in these communities have meant limited access to traditional foods like caribou.

A COVID response with community in mind 

During COVID-19, Food First NL serves as co-chair of a provincial working group on food security. They are on regular calls with people in the sector and in government, coordinating the province-wide emergency food response.

Josh notes: “COVID-19 has really brought to light the inadequacy of the province’s social support system. People are stepping back to consider: if we'd had a basic income in place in March 2020, what would the past year have looked like?”

“Our goal is to always bring conversations back to the systemic issues and suggest systemic solutions,” adds Danika Carter, Food First NL's Communications Coordinator.

The organization works to ensure Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with lived experience of food insecurity and poverty are included in these conversations.

“It's a huge ask of someone who's working three jobs and taking care of a family during a pandemic to provide the kind of input that we need,” says Josh.

To address this, Food First NL partners with front-line organizations working directly with community members to find ways to reduce barriers to inclusion and amplify voices.

Celebrating policy “wins” + taking further action

Despite the necessity of providing the basics during this crisis, there’s a lot of interest in rethinking what a sustainable long-term system could look like.

Last year, Food First NL helped organize the Coalition for a Just Recovery NL, bringing together nonprofits working on justice and equity issues. They co-authored an open letter to the federal government, making recommendations on how to truly build back a better, fairer country after COVID-19. Implementing a basic income was a top ask.

Food First NL continues to drive policy conversations, but in 2021 they hope to reach a broader audience.

“We've done a lot of organizing behind the scenes. Now we’re more focused on outward advocacy and public engagement,” explains Danika.

“Public understanding of the problem of food insecurity has really transformed, but their understanding of the solution hasn't gotten there yet,” adds Josh. “That's the next step—making sure people don't think food charity could solve this problem.”

Visit Food First NL to learn more and see what’s next.