Food for Thought

How The Co-operators AGM helped raise awareness and funds to tackle the issue of Food Deserts in Canada. 

For its 2016 Annual General Meeting (AGM) held in Winnipeg, The Co-operators wanted to go beyond its usual sustainability practices to introduce a sustainability theme that would be featured throughout the year. They used their event, to bring awareness to a critical issue affecting Canadians. This is an example of a growing trend in corporate business events; using gatherings as opportunities to give back, create exposure and build philanthropy.

They focused on food deserts. A food desert is a neighborhood where residents have little or no access to fresh and affordable food. A growing concern affecting food access and affordability for Canadians is the closing of supermarkets in city centres and their relocation to suburban areas. In addition, two other factors have greatly influenced food prices for Canadians in 2016: the value of the Canadian dollar and climate considerations.
“We were inspired by the AGM’s location in Winnipeg and emerging concerns around accessibility of affordable and healthy food, and selected the issue of food deserts in Canada”, commented by Wendy Carruthers, Senior Manager, Member & Co-operative Relations for The Co-operators.

Working with the Fairmont Winnipeg, Food Matters Manitoba and the Immigrant Integration Farming Community Co-op, The Co-operators highlighted the challenges faced by those who live in food deserts in Manitoba and celebrated those who are actively working for change.

In addition to the sustainable practices that have become embedded in their AGMs, as outlined in their Green Meeting Guide, The Co-operators included an educational campaign about food deserts in Canada, with a display that represented the rising cost of food in the past year. They also supported two Manitoba-based organizations that are actively working to address food desert concerns.

A financial contribution was made to Immigrant Integration Farming Community Co-op (IIFCC) to offset the environmental footprint of the event, along with a donation of the food from the educational campaign and the event’s herb garden centerpieces.
The IIFCC’s main project is the Rainbow Community Garden, a community-based garden started by a group of new immigrant and refugee families from 14 different countries with the goal of improving community access to local, organic, fresh and nutritious produce while contributing to the beautification of the city of Winnipeg. IIFCC has been growing local produce and vegetables from their members’ home countries in the Winnipeg area since 2008.

In support of the social element of sustainability, this year’s AGM community fundraiser supported Food Matters Manitoba (FMM), an organization that partners with communities to make food more available and affordable. Through activities like the development of local greenhouses and gardens, and community cooking classes teaching kids and families how to prepare healthy meals, FMM believes that Manitoba can be a healthier and happier place.

The food desert theme was well-received by AGM attendees, bringing awareness to a social issue affecting communities across the country and encouraging active participation in finding a solution. Through social, environmental and economic initiatives, The Co-operators is committed to being a catalyst for a sustainable Canadian society.