Expert Interview Series: Sarah Archibald of Meal Exchange About Using Food to Build Healthy Communities

Sarah Archibald is a food systems advocate, inspiring a generation of youth to become leaders in creating just, sustainable, and healthy communities through food. We had a chance to speak with Sarah about food insecurity in Canada and how community farming and gardening can address that problem.

Tell us a little about yourself. Why do you enjoy being a part of Meal Exchange?

I believe that food is a way to positively make an impact and tackle many of the issues that we are faced with today. From climate change and civil unrest to water quality and poverty, food impacts people’s lives every day. Meal Exchange uses the power of food to inspire young people to build communities that are healthy – for people, planet, and place.

Each year, over 100,000 young people are reached by Meal Exchange programs, and we contribute to their communities in building more just and sustainable food systems.

Given your background in ecological agriculture, what are some of the issues that are important today when it comes to farming and gardening?

Farming and gardening have a huge potential to nourish people and the earth. Studies have found that children and youth who garden are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables and have improved mental well-being.

Ecological gardening can improve biodiversity and soil health. However, industrial agriculture poses a significant threat to the environment by reducing biodiversity through mono-cropping, using chemical pesticides that enter into waterways, air, and soil, and creating a significant amount of greenhouse gases. In Canada, the average age of a farmer is 54, with many looking to retire in the coming decade.

I believe we have an important opportunity that we must address. Canada needs food security and we also need farming practices that will produce food ecologically. My goal is to inspire young people to enter into ecological farming. Meal Exchange’s campus garden and farm network aims to give students the opportunity to test out gardening and farming on campus!

What are some of the foods that are most commonly grown in the Campus Gardens that are supported by Meal Exchange?

Students are growing a diversity of foods. The Ryerson rooftop garden grew over 8000 pounds of vegetables including potatoes, lettuce, and radishes. The Trent Market Garden grew thousands of pounds of vegetables, zucchinis, and greens.

Talk a bit about Meal Exchange’s Campus Food Banks. Is student hunger really a problem in Canada?

There is a food bank on almost every Canadian campus. Food insecurity affects students who face significant financial barriers like tuition fees, textbook costs, and limited time to earn money. Meal Exchange believes that this is a crisis when our future leaders are not being nourished while they study.

College campuses in North America seem to be expanding their choices of food offerings for their students. Is this a good thing?

Students are not a uniform group. Students of all ages, cultures, and religious backgrounds can be found on campus. It is very important that campuses respond to the growing diversity of students’ food choices.

Recently, the National Food Summit was held in Ontario. What was the purpose of that event, and what did the attendees learn?

The National Student Food Summit is Meal Exchange’s national conference. The conference brings together students from over 40 campuses to dig into all of Meal Exchange programs. Leading experts join us to discuss issues including seed biodiversity, indigenous food sovereignty, campus gardens, food insecurity on campus, and ecological and socially just food procurement.

How can society balance the desire for a healthy, sustainable, socially just food system with the issues of affordability and access for everyday Canadians?

There are many inspiring programs, both in the Meal Exchange network and peer organizations that provide affordable and healthy sustainable foods. Community kitchens, good food boxes, community gardens, and food centers provide dignified spaces for good food access. For Canadians who have disposable income, it is important to think critically about where food is coming from and who/what it is supporting. Were workers treated fairly? Were the land and environment respected?

I recognize that food insecurity is often caused by poverty, which is not necessarily a food issue. I am personally fascinated by the discussion of affordable housing, guaranteed annual income, and increased welfare rates to support food security.

What can students (or anyone) do in their own communities to help further the goals toward which Meal Exchange is working?

We love for students to get involved! We have an annual program called Trick or Eat. Visit www.trickoreat.ca “join a campaign” to see if there is an event in your community.

Want to learn more about food insecurity? Check out our blog.

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