Advocating for food security

March 23, 2015
Raina Delisle
Vanessa Goodall

Every seed has a story, says Vanessa Goodall, food security coordinator at Cowichan Green Community. The graduate of the MA in Human Security and Peacebuilding program is passionate about sharing those stories to connect with members of her community in creative ways. At the end of the month, the Cowichan Green Community is launching Sharing Our Seed Stories, a video that focuses on engaging seniors and elders in the community around seed saving.

“Storytelling is a great way to build community,” says Goodall. “Seeds are very personal. When you chat with a seed saver, there’s always a story behind the particular seed they save.”

The video includes interviews with local gardeners, community groups, students and prominent community members such as Della Rice-Sylvester, a healer and ethnobotanist, and Roger Foucher, a wild food enthusiast and educator.    

“One of the goals of the program is to make sure that information is maintained and relayed to younger generations,” Goodall explains. “It’s great to have the science behind seed saving, but it’s also really important to understand where that seed came from, how it has been grown out, its use within culinary environments and that’s often shared as a social narrative, not something that’s codified within textbooks for seed production.”

Goodall and her team run a variety of other programs to engage community members, from Seedy Sunday to family drop-in programs built around food.

“We’re targeting food issues with a multi-pronged approach,” she says. “There’s no one food issue that I think we can say is the utmost importance. Everyone sees food differently. Everyone eats food and relates to it differently. We’re trying to diversify our programing so it appeals to the vaster community.”

Goodall first became interested in food security as an undergraduate student at Vancouver Island University. It was in a history class more than a decade ago that she first heard the term “food security.”

“We looked at structural violence in food policy in conflict environments and policies that exclude people’s access – or deny people’s access – to food thus leading to starvation,” she recalls. “I was captivated by what food security meant and the potential of framing food issues through that.”

Goodall’s desire to learn more and get some practical experience led her to Royal Roads University where she had the opportunity to complete an internship at international advocate Vandana Shiva’s seed bank and farm in northwest India. The role of the farm is to provide local farmers with access to locally grown, regionally adapted and open-pollinated seed. There, Goodall had the opportunity to get her hands dirty. In addition to doing advocacy and outreach with farmers and students, she also worked the land, planting winter grains and harvesting rice.

“To come in from a social sciences perspective, looking at the policy and the advocacy, and then to have the applied science side was really interesting,” she says. “It’s a nice marriage of the two because I don’t think you can really understand the value of seed unless you know what it takes to grow it.”

In northwest India and in the Cowichan Valley, food security advocacy has a similar theme: returning rights to farmers.

“With a few transnational corporations controlling our global food system, it puts us in a vulnerable position as there’s ownership and propriety rights involved,” Goodall explains. “We also narrow down the genetic diversity of what we’re consuming and we’re not necessarily saving the types of seeds that would be resistant to climate change or that recognize cultural food needs. It creates a homogenized food system, which is not the best approach in any system.”

At Royal Roads, it was the diversity and caliber of the students that made a major impact on Goodall:  “People came with incredible experience from across the country and overseas. Everyone came from a very diverse perspective on human security and peacebuilding and it all seemed to meld really well. It was an honour to listen and share everyone’s experiences.”

Watch Goodall share more about her Royal Roads experience in this video below.