When three grocery stores in downtown Winnipeg recently shut their doors, Julie Rempel knew it was time to do a community food assessment in the area.
“The assessment is extremely important to tell us the story of what is happening in a community and to mobilize efforts in the local food environment,” she says.
Rempel is the community food assessment coordinator at Food Matters Manitoba. In just over a year, Zellers in The Bay Downtown, Extra Foods on Notre Dame, and Riediger’s on Isabel all closed – severely limiting access to fresh food for residents in those areas of our city.
Community assessments work by connecting with community members to hear and learn about food issues at the neighbourhood level. Food Matters has completed similar assessments in St. Vital and the North End, and is currently completing another in the Inkster area. The downtown assessment began in February 2013. About 27,000 people live downtown and another 70,000 commute daily.
“We are trying to paint a picture as best as we can of all the groups living downtown, because it’s a very diverse community.”
The downtown community includes many seniors, people with special needs, and newcomers.
Much of the downtown discussion has revolved around developing a new grocery store. Healthy options in convenience stores, quality, price, and transportation have also been identified as important issues, Rempel says.
“A lot of community members are feeling isolated and they really don’t feel their voices are being heard by those that can affect change,” she adds.
Food Matters is aiming to better engage business owners, politicians and policy makers in the discussions.
A big part of the assessment involves building partnerships with groups that are already working in the area.
“There’s lots of great things that are being done but it’s not always communicated in the most effective way,” Rempel says.
Although the draft report isn’t expected until September, Food Matters is already working at implementing some strategies developed during the Downtown Community Food Assessment.
Ideas include working with Winnipeg Transit to redirect some bus routes – helping make it easier to get to full-service grocery stores, assisting downtown schools to streamline grocery purchases, and creating food-related informational resources for all.
To read more Stories of Food in Winnipeg, click here.