Monthly Archives: December 2014

Food Sovereignty Supported by Small Scale Farming


Eat local, buy local messaging has captured our attention, and we’re becoming more interested in how our food is created. But is this having a real impact on our food system?

Third-generation farmer, City of Calgary Food Sustainability consultant and Calgary EATS! Co-Chair, Renée MacKillop says it remains an uphill battle for small-scale farmers who are committed to the concept of food sovereignty. Or, food as a human right.

“We don’t have the distribution systems and infrastructure that make it more economically viable to be a small-scale farmer. For example, meat regulations are created for industrial agriculture and have made it so difficult for small abattoirs that there just aren’t many anymore.”

Nonetheless, MacKillop decided to return to the farm after university because she saw an opportunity to work toward a more sustainable paradigm of agriculture. Just west of High River Alberta, MacKillop’s grass-based livestock operation is a closed loop system that nurtures the animals and the land. The Highland beef is sold direct-to-market to happy customers who embrace MacKillop’s philosophies of animal welfare and environmental stewardship.

“Our customers are inspiring because of their dedication to us; it’s great to feel so supported by people we have just met because they want to buy our beef (they hug me!). It makes me want to try harder to find a way to make this work because right now the local food movement is not perfect.”

Which is why MacKillop spends half her time in the city, engaged in policy and advocacy work with Calgary EATS!. Heading up the city-led community collaboration MacKillop, and her colleagues have a guiding document in the approved 2012 Food System Assessment and Action Plan. But the group isn’t working on quick wins, their recommended actions toward a sustainable and resilient food system are rooted in imagineCALGARY’s 100-year vision.

“Food sovereignty is about justice throughout the entire food system, and we can start in our own communities. Right now food, including animals, is commoditized like any other widget. The local food movement is trying to change that. There are social, economic and environmental benefits that come with a more sustainable local food system,” says MacKillop whose studied social justice, and more recently community economic development (CED).

Buying local is important because it plugs leakages in our economy says Simon Fraser University CED instructor Michael Shuman. “Every new purchase of local food through a local grocery store, restaurant, or community supported agriculture (CSA) means more income, wealth, and jobs for a community. It’s also good for local resilience, entrepreneurship, tourism, social equality, political participation, and public health.”

MacKillop explains our food currently travels approximately 4500km from farm to plate. So buying locally not only reduces food miles, it also builds social relationships between people and their farmers. According to MacKillop if Calgarians shifted just 10 dollars of their weekly grocery shopping to local food it could potentially create 1500 new jobs and retain $150 million in the local economy each year.

“Buying local is making a difference for small-scale farmers as it creates demand for new market channels, such as farmer’s markets, CSAs and direct farm retail,” says MacKillop. “However, to scale-up the local food system beyond its current niche status will require a more democratic, localized food system that recognizes the human right to food and the value of working with nature.”

Co-op to Offer Alternatives to Aging in Place

Image Lindsay's blog

Image illustrated by Aftab Erfan; Article written by Elisha Kittson

Moving is stressful, no matter what your age. That’s why an emerging trend in co-operatives and co-housing may be an affordable, aging in place solution to support our older adult populations.

“I describe our solution as geographically focused community-based care that will help to revive neighborhoods, says Lindsay Luhnau, co-founder of Calgary’s Ogden area Aging in Place Seniors Cooperative and recent graduate of Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Certificate Program for Community Economic Development (CED).

Why an aging in place seniors co-operative?

Luhnau who spent four years as the Communications and Community Liaison for city council in the area, has teamed up with Marianne Wilkat, past president of the Ogden House Seniors recreation club. And the two women developed the co-op model to address a gap in the market.

“For about the last 12 years I’ve tried to bring seniors housing options to the area. But our efforts to offer aging in place alternatives like a seniors housing complex have been challenged by other special interest groups. I think the co-op solution is a good one because the need is so high, and people just don’t want to leave,” shares Wilkat.

Over the past eight months the duo received seed funding for the co-op’s development from SFU’s Social Innovation Challenge and the British Columbia Co-operative Association’s elder care project. So they’re currently exploring a pilot program to showcase the innovative new model. “New model” because what Luhnau and Wilkat have proposed to the community might be a game-changer, but is (not surprisingly) as complex as the social problem it aims to address.

What does the co-op offer members?

There’s a member services offering which includes things like home cleaning, repairs, grocery delivery, doctor house calls, and outings. But also a renovation component to both suite and ‘seniorize’ a member’s single family dwelling. Creating a secondary suite could be an income source, and adding senior-friendly features like a higher toilet, levered door handles, and even swapping out a bathtub for a sit down shower would improve the functionality of homeowner’s living quarters.

One home, one renovation, one member at a time, the co-op’s administrative team would coordinate the process, end-to-end. Helping the member secure a loan if needed for the renovation, from a bank or through an investment co-operative. Taking on the role of property manager in screening tenants, collecting rent payments, and making repairs.

“A member’s initial investment in the renovation would be paid back in dividends within four or five years. Having an official basement suite might allow for a live in care giver. Or maybe having a family without pets, or another senior as a tenant would be the ideal scenario. There are so many wonderful opportunities and combinations depending on individual interests.”

A neighborhood in need of alternative housing solutions 

The concept was presented to approximately 60 seniors at the Ogden House Seniors’ Centre on June 13. Luhnau says she received a solid response to the service offering but that the suiting component would take time to incubate. According to Seth Leon, research officer with the Alberta Community Cooperative Association Luhnau’s entrepreneurial spirit is critical to fostering aging in place alternatives.

“Co-ops are never cookie-cutter,” he says. “Lindsay has a frame of reference from many other successful models but an Ogden co-op will have its own character. A secondary suite is really different. She’s done a great job of connecting a community need with a new and exciting conversation.”

Choosing the neighborhood of Odgen as a pilot for the innovative new concept was insightful. Luhnau says area seniors are actively engaged in their community already and accustom to participating in community projects. With over 360 members, Ogden House Seniors is one of the larger membership-based organizations in the city.

“It’s important they have the chance to stay in the community,” says Ogden House Seniors CEO Alexandra Witczak. “We are the first area to pioneer a resource program for low-income seniors (Filling the Gap). For those who can’t afford to stay in their home aging in place options open new possibility for them to stay in the neighborhood.”

For more information about the Aging in Place Seniors Cooperative contact Luhnau by email



Strong Neigbourhoods, One CED Initiative at a Time


by Elisha Kittson

In 2010, the City of Calgary introduced its Strong Neighborhoods initiative, a 10-year resident-led community development undertaking focusing on neighborhoods with modest concentrations of poverty. In partnership with organizations like Momentum, who deliver programming for Calgarians living on low incomes, the City aims to stimulate social change in eight tipping point neighborhoods.

“The conversations we’re having are about slowly nurturing the growth of leadership in these communities,” shares Philip Lozano, Community Economic Development (CED) Facilitator at Momentum and recent graduate of Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Certificate Program for Community Economic Development.

Lozano deliberately sidestepped any jargon and broke CED down for us as “establishing connections around some form of business, or creating a business that allows people to connect.” Simplifying the inherently complex work that requires government officials, service providers, businesses and residents to collaborate is part of Lozano’s toolkit as a CED practitioner.

“One of my instructors at SFU, Charles Eisenstein, spoke about remembering your audience. We want labels and words to make it all black and white, but it’s not. For instance when I hear words like social innovator, I think of an entrepreneur. Then a problem-solver, then just someone who takes accountability and gets it done.”

Lozano’s encouragement to dive deeper beneath the surface of our language is a refreshing reminder that impacting systemic change requires us to get real. And part of that reality is that building capacity in our communities takes time.

To understand the needs of his ‘Strong Neighborhoods’ Lozano often teams up with a community social worker (CSW). “It can take a lifetime to get to know the social capital that exists in the area, community social workers are well versed in their community’s specific challenges and opportunities,” says Lozano.

In Calgary’s north neighborhood of Highland Park, Lozano is working closely with resident door-knocker and CSW Elaine Stringer.

“We are a community in transition. We are incomplete because of the side by side development in the area that does not accommodate our mixed demographic. We are also trying to improve the quality of life here by working with the City on an area redevelopment plan to improve our pathways to reunite our parks,” says Stringer.

Working together on bigger picture community actions, Lozano and Stringer have stimulated participation in a CED working group which targets poverty reduction and local employment opportunities. One area of focus is to capitalize on the local assets and plug economic leakages by networking the industrial business sector with area high school students.

“Because this is all volunteer-driven, we are really benefiting from the organized quarterly gatherings Phil’s introduced. We have a lot of automotive and bodyshop businesses in the area and a shortage in skilled tradespeople. By releasing a local business directory this spring (championed by high school students) and sending some of our experts to the school for job fairs, we hope to create local ties between students and businesses,” says area business owner and working group volunteer Terry Ohlahauser.

Lozano says getting people together to talk about a community issue or opportunity isn’t usually a problem. It’s what happens after, when everyone goes back to juggling everyday life while aiming to engage in a collective process that requires us to practice patience.

“The best facilitation experiences I’ve had happen when you know you’ve asked the right questions, and accountability just unfolds. But then, it takes time because systemic change is an inclusive process. In the meantime, the work is so inspiring, in Highland Park it’s amazing to witness the makings of long-term impacts through reciprocity between residents and business owners.”

For more information on the CED work taking place in the Strong Neighborhoods, don’t hesitate to connect with Lozano directly by email

Community Living as Community Economic Development

casa steps

As a founding member of an intentional living household in Calgary’s subsidized housing, community service isn’t a casual volunteer role for Evangeline Hammond, it’s a lifestyle.

“Dorothy Day made Hospitality Houses synonymous with advocacy issues like justice and access to healthcare. Today, community living also involves urban agriculture and focuses on appreciation for the heart and emotional needs of our neighbors,” she explains.

At home or work, Hammond places emphasis on intentionally investing in the people around her. Complimenting her community living practice is her day job as Student Intake Officer at the University of Calgary.

“At the university I work with all students frequenting the International Centre, meaning both international students coming from other countries, and our students about to head out. I support all of the ongoing programs, yet the best times are when I get to have one-on-one chats with the incoming students, hear about any struggles, and try to makes their lives a little easier.”

This past October, Hammond shared her own struggles and triumphs through community living in Calgary’s Lincoln Park – an area with many new immigrants and low-income families, at the inaugural Love the City gathering. Hammond co-organized the two day gathering that attracted over 70 representatives from faith and social service organizations.

Featuring several local experts and sought after faith-rooted advocacy trainer Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, discussions included connecting neighborhoods to the church, which is often regarded as just a building on the corner. And, what are the bigger picture impacts of social service programs? What happens to the individual when they are passed through a system in which people are paid to work with them?

“When I was a student I worked in between classes for Bethany Chapel Community Development Pastor Heather Webber. Despite all the affection the community members had for her (Webber), she was still treated as a resource. I couldn’t get away from the idea that if someone lived in the same neighborhood, shared the same after-hours life rhythms, dealt with the garbage removal issues – and yet maintained the intent to connect and improve the lives around them – amazing potential could open up,” explains Hammond.

This passion for her platform inspired Love the City conference goers like James Lau with the Calgary Chinese Alliance Church to move forward with their intentional living projects.

“I got a lot from the breakout sessions on transforming churches into community houses and the community living approach to building neighborhoods,” said Lau. The timing of the event was perfect because our church community is about to launch a third community housing project. And this time, I’ll be living in it.”

But Lau isn’t heading into that endeavor blindly. Hammond has openly shared some of the challenges she’s faced in her practice.

“There’s a core question, essentially, where’s the line? In other words, what part of my life isn’t given up to the rhythms of the community? I suppose this is where embracing various seasons of life – and having a strong and diverse team working with you – becomes so important.”

With a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and International Development, Hammond also recently completed studies in Community Economic Development at Simon Fraser University (SFU). The program further affirmed her interest in adopting some ‘textbook’ strategies of community economic development – such as asset-based leadership development, learning circles, and micro-businesses.

Her go to resources have been John McKnight’s The Abundant Community and other asset based community development (ABCD) material. She’s also drawn on some of the leadership coaching techniques she picked up in an SFU course dubbed ‘Making Change Happen’ led by Anne Docherty of the Storyteller’s Foundation.

“What I picked up in the course has been fundamental in shifting some of our community development strategies. Power questions and a systematic way of laying out goals became very important in the meetings I had with a small group of women who are now becoming leaders for change in the community.”

Moving forward Hammond says she’ll continue to focus on low-income community work. She’d like to make the concepts she’s picked up in her own education more accessible to natural leaders within marginalized communities.

“The goal of what we are trying to do is inspire a different narrative of what life can look like in lower income communities in Calgary. Out of that narrative, we hope to see families supported, youth challenged, isolated individuals connected, and new leaders empowered.”