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Sharing Stories: Mustard Seed — Poverty and Food Insecurity

In our most recent post in our series on poverty and homelessness we asked people to consider sharing a story about their experiences. Sharing these stories serves as a reminder that poverty and homelessness are not a choice. It’s important for us to end the stigma and stereotypes that are too often associated with these issues. Each of us has followed a different path from the past to the present. Yet some of our paths have been rockier than others.

This week we are pleased to offer the third of these stories. We are grateful to The Mustard Seed for providing it to us. Entering into its 40th year of operation, the Mustard Seed is a non-profit organization providing many crucial services to those in need.

This post looks at the shift of non-profit food in Victoria, highlighting the connection between food provision and supportive programing, and the emergence of the Greater Victoria Food Share Network.

Food insecurity: The state of being without reliable access to sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate food.

Food insecurity is one of several issues facing low-income communities in Greater Victoria, constituting one of the many facets of poverty that The Mustard Seed is working to eliminate. Through the creation of a micro food system within the organization through the production and distribution of food, followed by the composting of organic waste, The Mustard Seed does food banking well.

Our Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program at Hope Farm Healing Centre produces local, organic and fresh foods such as produce, eggs, and meat products that local businesses and non-profits purchase. Those in the program are supported in their recovery through the reconnection to land and to their food through farm work and the harvest season. Our food bank then distributes that fresh food along with all the other fresh and non-perishable foods we purchase or receive through amazing donations.

But it’s not enough to grow and distribute food when engaging with the all the complexity of poverty. The provision of food is not enough to say, find someone a place to live or help someone find suitable employment. Food helps, but it’s not enough. How do we do food banks differently in Victoria to engage positively with all the facets of poverty? How do we move away from that “Band-Aid” and emergency service, to food provision that also somehow helps someone find an affordable place to live? Or receive additional training or education to get a suitable job? How can we as food banks help those who come for support start making those positive steps out of the cycle of poverty and achieve food sovereignty?

Food banks were never set up to do this. They were a “stop-gap” with a sunset clause, meaning they were to close when food insecurity was solved. So far food insecurity persists. So as non-profits with mission statements about breaking the cycle of poverty we need to socially advocate for more government investment into long-term solutions like affordable housing, but also innovate on traditional ways of “doing” food banking to start reducing and eliminating poverty. Food banks can’t do this on their own and there is so much that needs to happen to achieve this, but here in Victoria something is shifting. Creative steps are being taken towards breaking the cycle, and to achieving food sovereignty. It’s happening through honest dialogue, collaboration, creativity and hard work.

The emerging of the Greater Victoria Food Share Network, a collaborative group of non-profits to which The Mustard Seed is a member, are moving away from traditional ways of “doing” food banks, steadily shifting away from the “emergency food” model, to one that connects food insecure individuals to their local neighborhood houses, community centres and non-profits, all of whom have supportive programing that food banks don’t. Further, food banks need to innovate better supportive programing on site addressing the root causes of poverty, like the Mustard Seed’s Family Centre focussed on skills training and capacity building for parents.

The connection of food provision and supportive programming, both going hand in hand, is transitioning from 7000-8000 people all heading down to the local food bank to line-up for food, to folks walking across the local park in their own neighborhood to collect an increasingly healthy and nutritious food hamper. Then they are provided with opportunities to participate in programs such as skills training, child care, employment programs and information on access to more affordable housing.

This is one of many collaborative initiatives of the Network and one small step towards a newly emerging way of “doing” food banks or perhaps more appropriately called “food access” in Greater Victoria. It’s not just about giving out food. It’s about the provision of healthy and nutritious food that creates connection. That creates opportunities. That’s done with dignity and respect. And most importantly that breaks the cycle of poverty. Because if we’re not doing that, then we’ll always have food banks. And who wants those?


  1. Lynn Davis-
    May 15, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    I live in assisted living. The meals that are served here in the dining room are transported from the kitchen at The Camelot, where meals for several venues are made. Food is then distributed to us elderly.
    But everything that is not eaten is trashed!
    Surely this is another source for the Mustard Seed’s program.

    • May 15, 2015 at 5:32 pm

      This makes so much sense. We’ll ask around.