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Student Food Summit An Incubator For Food Ideas And Projects

In 2014, Katherine Cvitkovitch attended the Student Food Summit for the first time. After studying food nutrition at Ryerson, Cvitkovitch had just transferred to the dietetics program at Mount Saint Vincent University, and everything was about to change.

A year later, Cvitkovitch is in the process of setting a farmer’s market on her school campus, which is located in Halifax, where statistically more people are unable to afford good food than in any other city in the country. She wouldn’t be able to do it, she says, without not only the resources to which she had access at the 2014 Summit, but also the people.

“I made contacts at Dalhousie and the University of Northern British Columbia,” the 22-year-old student says. “I’m running into problems that maybe they’ve faced before. Vendor insurance was my problem today. It’s funny, because Dalhousie is in the same city as Mount Saint Vincent, but we never really connected.”

I’ve been able to learn from other people, and reach out for help. It’s made a world of difference
Since 2004, the annual Summit acts as a sort of incubator of sustainable food ideas and projects, bringing students from across the country together to discuss issues of access, nutrition and ethical eating particular to their own specific communities and campuses, and campus food systems on the whole. The Summit takes place on the campus grounds of Ryerson University — itself a leader in campus food systems, thanks in no small part to the pioneering work done to integrate fresh food, a rooftop garden and a farmer’s market by food activist Joshna Maharaj — and is supported by Meal Exchange, a national charity that empowers young Canadians to become active in improving local food systems.

Cvitkovitch, who is president of the Mount Saint Vincent chapter of Meal Exchange and a research assistant at the school’s Food Action Research Centre (FoodARC), will be facilitating a session at the Summit this year. She and the team at FoodARC have designed a board game called The Hand You’re Dealt, which is “a way to creatively share research on food cost and accessibility of a healthy diet in Nova Scotia.” Students attending the summit will learn how to facilitate the game on their own campuses; Cvitkovitch says she hopes to eventually market The Hand You’re Dealt.

The Summit, which runs from August. 20-23, is packed with ideas like this, presented in sessions and seminars, all of which focus on food and food systems, but not exclusively on campus. While students like Cvitkovitch have been able to garner support in the work they’re doing to improve the types of food available at their colleges and universities, she says the conversation at the core of the Summit is a bigger one, focused on teaching a group of like-minded individuals how to effect change to food systems not just on campus, but in their communities at large.

For some, this may be learning how and where to build urban gardens, or taking a closer look at issues pertaining to affordability in rural communities. For Cvitkovitch, who’s studying to become a dietician, this means building a knowledge base that will help her change through strong leadership as a member of the healthcare community.

“For me, having access to food is number one, before anything,” she says. “I’m going to be working with a wide range of clients, and I think it’s important for healthcare professionals to learn that people don’t have equal access. I see my future role in this as being an educator of other health professionals, as well.”

“The best part about the Summit is, when you’re a student working on food issues on your campus, you feel alone in what you’re doing,” Cvitkovitch continues. “Sometimes you feel like it’s not making a big difference. When you meet with these students, you learn that it’s happening. It’s built a network, in my opinion. I’ve been able to learn from other people, and reach out for help. It’s made a world of difference.”