We speak of a ‘food desert’ to refer to an area with poor access to “shops offering products related to healthy eating habits”. That is to say, a convenience store that sells Doritos and beers – however good that combination is – does not count to face these deserts. If, moreover, we seek access to food that is not only healthy – “food security” – but also produced by ecological and sustainable methods, and culturally appropriate to a specific community, then this refers to the notion of “food sovereignty“, according to the definition of the peasant movement Via Campesina. However, several remote localities in Quebec – and elsewhere in the world – do not have either.
To deal with this problem, some Quebec regions have implemented innovative collective approaches. The non-profit organization Le Garde Manger operates a community grocery store to contribute to the food security of disadvantaged people in the MRC of Maria-Chapdelaine, in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region. In the MRC des Chenaux between Trois-Rivières and Quebec City, a community greenhouse project is taking shape on the site of the Les Terres du possible agricultural incubator. These two examples have a community-based operating model beyond the search for financial profits, which allows them to offer diversified and fresh food products at affordable prices. In this sense, these initiatives are linked to the notion of the “commons” which we have recently described as practices that facilitate access to resources, outside of their appropriation by the market or by the public institutions.
Another example of commons linked to food autonomy are collective bread ovens. In Saint-Luc-de-Vincennes, headquarters of the aforementioned MRC des Chenaux in Mauricie, a community oven is one of several collective agri-food projects that take place in the municipality’s desire to become a nurturing community. This refers to the government-supported planning exercise to help municipalities or Indigenous communities collectively develop and enhance a local food system. Already the construction of the bread oven itself was a community process, and today all residents of the municipality can make use of it during public events or on request. In connection with this, introductory workshops in bread making and baking in the traditional bread oven are offered to the local population.
This type of collective activity to promote access to healthy food can serve as an inspiration to other rural municipalities in Quebec. In fact, the CentDegres.ca platform publishes a non-exhaustive list of community ovens in Quebec and the steps to set one up. Who’s next for a collective pizza?