Introducing S.E.L.R.S - The Appetizer Course!

All the hard work has paid off. The summer of 2011 marks the point when members of GFSA launched a pioneering project. Together we're helping rural communities grow their food security and sovereignty by establishing sustainable, equitable, local and regional systems for food. We call it S.E.L.R.S. for short.

On behalf of GFSA's 17 rural communities, Lacombe and Sylvan Lake are leading the project with a guiding group spanning the whole food chain; from production through to waste management and all levels in between.

What makes this project special is that it includes a strong focus on equity – roughly, all people at all times have access to available, acceptable, appropriate, and affordable food. To our knowledge, no other groups in Canada are working on this at a regional level. It also takes into account that a food system does not exist in isolation from the realities of climate change and increasing energy prices.

All seriousness aside, the real gem of this project is the commitment to relationship and community building - the real reason for GFSA's sustained success over the last seven years. Using the same techniques that brought together 17 Alberta communities, the S.E.L.R.S. project is ensuring the future of local food in rural areas across the province.

The inaugural gathering of the S.E.L.R.S. project was held in Lacombe on August 8th with almost 40 people in attendance. Not bad for the middle-of-the-growing- and vacationing-season!

Enriched by the diversity of experience, passion, and knowledge in the room we knew we had the right people around us. With Susan and Angie leading the dialogue, we sat alongside the other attendees to begin the process of relationship building for our roles as activators and facilitators. We're relieved in the fact that we're supporting momentum and not trying to create it – which we agree is a more manageable job.

Overall, the evening conversation brought up some key words: Alternatives; Choice; Collaboration; Infrastructure; and Direction.

We talked about alternatives for producers and eaters and those in between - the options they have about where they sell and access their food: alternatives that suit their needs, scale and health. And alternatives are tied to choice; not a choice in brands where the same stuff is on the inside of the box, but information of the alternatives and options and freedom to choose between them, to take control and decision-making back into our own hands and to remove the dependency on single system food options that make people feel powerless over their food choices and business opportunities.

We talked about collaboration between producers; between producers and eaters; between eaters; and across all links of the food system. We talked about building relationships that move beyond knowing each other and passing along information or product. We will need to progress beyond looking at each other as competitors, as a pay check, or as a supplier of goods. We will need to start to understand each other better; to acknowledge we have common goals and purpose and by working together, we can be stronger, more creative, more adaptable food systems. What is sorely lacking is the infrastructure to support the collaboration and the system that is built through it. A healthy system flows and grows and changes through the exchange and responses between the parts within.

Another headline or pattern that was identified is direction and reducing the 'red tape' encountered from established government policy. There is a sense that much of what we'll want to do will be made difficult by the walls of existing restrictive policy and regulation or, alternatively, not applying the supportive policy that currently exists.

The mark of a good meeting is when people stay around after the clock runs out. About 30 people hung in until the last evaluation form was filled out and many helped with the clean-up.

Moving forward we are building and strengthening relationships around the great human equalizer: food. We are encouraged, inspired, enlightened, and lightened by the people and conversations that have come around us so far, and so early on. We know that if we keep asking ourselves "What's our next, best step?" and keep walking and learning and taking the necessary actions together - what emerges is going to be relevant, powerful, and necessary.

Submitted by: Brenda Schroeder and Rene Michalak, Facilitators/Animators, S.E.L.R.S.