University of Alberta researcher takes leadership role in strengthening local food systems

Edmonton, Alberta: Dr. Mary Beckie, associate professor at the Faculty of Extension, University of Alberta is the Western Canada academic lead for Food: Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged (FLEdGE), a new research initiative and partnership to strengthen local food systems in Canada.

Funded by a $2.4 million grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the international FLEdGE research network (with partners in Europe and the U.S.) will explore the current and potential role of community food initiatives in Alberta and across Canada. Findings will inform efforts to enhance the impact of local food production, raise awareness of the benefits of local food systems, and help shape future agricultural policy.

Sustainability of the food system is one of the most pressing social issues of our time, and regional or local food systems represent a critical counterpoint to conventional industrial agriculture. Due to benefits such as increased freshness and taste, reduced carbon emissions, higher and more reliable incomes for small-scale farmers, and overall stronger local economies, locally sourced food has seen a tremendous and continuous surge of popularity in Alberta and Canada-wide. However, Alberta’s local food system faces many challenges — such as fragmentation, sufficient infrastructure, and effective governance — to successfully scaling up to meet growing public demand for local food.

Over the next five years, Dr. Beckie will work with Ontario-based principal investigator Dr. Alison Blay-Palmer (Wilfred Laurier University) and British Columbia research lead Dr. Kent Mullinix (Kwantlen Polytechnic) to map existing and emerging initiatives, look for innovative approaches to better integrate and strengthen production, processing, and distribution of local food systems within Western Canada, and share results with regional stakeholders and the national FLEdGE network. Dr. Beckie has brought on board organizations such as NorthlandsAlberta Agriculture and ForestryAlberta Food Matters — Growing Food Security in Alberta Network (AFM - GFSA), and Alberta Community and Co-operative Association (ACCA). She plans to develop and expand this network to include more organizations, academic partners, and research centres, as well as to train graduate students and new academics in this work: “We are aiming to foster a network of citizens, practitioners, policy-makers, researchers, and organizations who are interested in sharing lessons learned and working together to strengthen local food systems, and to set the stage for ongoing work in this research area.”

The FLEdGE partnership is very timely within Alberta, as Bill 202: The Alberta Local Food Act moves through third reading in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. If passed, the bill will provide a platform for the development of policies and supports to ensure a resilient, sustainable, and strong local food economy.

 “I think it’s time,” concludes Dr. Beckie. “This is something that is not going away. Demand for local food is only going to become more prevalent, as people are more concerned about where their food is from.” This project is a step in the right direction, and will place the University of Alberta in a leadership role as researchers, innovators, and connectors in the future of the local food movement in Alberta.

For more information, contact Dr. Mary Beckie at the University of Alberta, Faculty of Extension. Phone: (780) 492-5153or email: mary.beckie.ualberta.ca

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