BCSPI Purchasing Power Recap: How can social procurement increase food security?

Nov 30th, 2021

British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI) brings together local governments and institutions to develop and grow social procurement policies and practices. BCSPI is supported by Buy Social Canada, Scale Collaborative, Presentations Plus and Vancouver Island Construction Association.

British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI) recently hosted the third event in the “Purchasing Power” series, titled “How can social procurement increase food security?”

We shared learnings with Heather O’Hara, Executive Director of BC Farmers Markets, and Jennifer Reynolds, Co-Executive Director of Nourish.

Here are their key lessons and best practice tips to use social procurement to increase food security.

1. This is a timely conversation

When the pandemic began, it highlighted the vulnerability of global supply chains for many people in Canada, and showed how they could be jeopardized. We’ve once again been reminded of this in BC, with recent natural disasters and flooding. Farms in Abbotsford and other communities have been seriously affected, and highways connecting the province to the ports have been closed in many places, further cutting off supply chains.

It’s a good reminder that we need to look at how to respond and support in our local communities and create food resiliency where we live.

2. Food security creates healthy communities

“The people facing food insecurity are not who you think, and we need to understand and solve for these issues.” – Jennifer

People who are food insecure are often working one or two jobs, but their other costs of living are still too high for food dollars to go far enough. Food security is about ensuring access to quality, healthy, nourishing food that is grown with respect for planet and people, and that is culturally appropriate.

Heather and Jen shared the ways that food security is connected to social benefit: it brings people together through farmers markets and other relationships; by reducing the supply chain radius it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and minimize climate impacts; and it can have a high social return on investment for the local economy.

3. Conscious choices have big impacts

Conscious choices in purchasing have an impact. When Heather worked at Potluck Catering, a social enterprise in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, she saw how small catering orders could add up quickly, and create income and wages for people who may not otherwise have been employed. Likewise, purchasing from local farmers and food producers keeps their businesses going, supports the maintenance of local food lands, and keeps money in your local economy.

“Purchasing power is powerful!” – Heather

4. Think about the true cost

True cost accounting asks, “where does the money go?”  It’s seeking to understand how money is recirculated, or multiplied for social value when purchases are kept local or socially-minded.

Think beyond just the cost of the goods, and consider what a purchase from a local supplier would mean for the local food system.

Jen also encourages thinking about best value in your measurement, and that you re-evaluate what you assess or score. When you look at nutrition, for example, “local and sustainable food outperforms food from the global food system.” The downstream effects of buying from local suppliers also include environmental benefits and the preservation of food lands.

5. Get creative to support local food producers

“It’s not an or situation, it’s an and. What could you add?” – Heather

Being creative doesn’t only mean go big or go home. Heather and Jen encourage you to challenge assumptions and assess purchasing decisions to find opportunities to add new practices or social value purchases.

There were several ideas shared about how procurement can support food security and food producers:

  • Work with local farmers to “forward grow” by ordering in advance, which provides them with a guaranteed sale, like an “institutional CSA.”
  • Unbundle purchases and move away from group purchases to provide more opportunities for social purpose and local suppliers to bid on and win contracts.
  • Create a policy that gives local food suppliers a better chance. Jen shared a policy example from Quebec, where they give local food producers and extra 10% in ethical and sustainable weighting to make up for any cost differences.
  • Get creative with the lands you have. Kristi, event moderator and BCSPI Project Manager, shared a great example in Sandown Centre, from the community of Saanich on Vancouver Island, where they have turned a former race track into a learning and innovation food hub.

Two concrete actions you can take now:

  1. See who the suppliers are in your community, forge relationships with them, and find ways to bring their products into your institution. Feature producers in your area to staff or community, for example through lunch and learns, or CSA drop-offs. – Jennifer
  2. Change your menus to consider seasonality and how to incorporate local produce. Talk to farmers, make a call and find out what’s possible. – Heather

Watch the full recording to learn more:

Please contact Rob Fisher at rfisher@scalecollaborative to find out more about becoming a BCSPI member.

We hope we’ll see you at the next Purchasing Power event.

For your reference and continued learning, here are the resources and links shared during the event:

  1. British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI)
  2. Recap of first Purchasing Power event on engaging Indigenous businesses
  3. Recap of second Purchasing Power event on supporting local economies 
  4. Nourish
  5. BC Farmer’s Markets
  6. BC Farmer’s Markets Trail
  7. Potluck Catering social enterprise
  8. Case study on the power of public sector procurement 
  9. Aki Foods social enterprise
  10. Nourish Policy Scan about the future of food in healthcare
  11. BC Farmers Markets economic and social benefits study
  12. Delivering community benefit – Healthy food playbook
  13. Nourish Healthcare Food for Health Levers
  14. Quebec Sustainable Procurement legislation example
  15. Planning for Successful Farmers’ Markets in Towns and Cities: A Best Practices Guide for Municipalities
  16. North Saanich Sandown project
  17. Sandown Centre

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