The Canadian Produce Marketing Association, in association with the Canadian Public Health Association, hosted a national health summit in Ottawa, Ontario, June 12-13 at the Ottawa Convention Centre.
The event, titled “Increasing Fruit and Vegetable Consumption for a Healthier Canada: Partnerships, Promotion and Policies,” gathered together a wide variety of stakeholders with an interest in increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. The purpose of the summit was to facilitate dialogue among the diverse participants to come up with collaborative action plans.
The participants included health professionals and government officials, as well as fresh produce and food service industries. Over the two days, the goal was to identify common issues and objectives, best practices and developing policies relevant to improving Canadians’ well-being through a healthier diet. The information was then organized into an output document to be sent to the delegates.
The conference speakers were Ron Lemaire, president of CPMA; Ian Culbert, executive director of the CPHA; Dr. Colin Carrie, parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Health; David McInnes of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute; Dr. Hasan Hutchinson of Health Canada; Margaret Yandel, RD, of the BC Ministry of Health; Mary Lynne Biggley of the Greater Essex County District Board; Steve Manske, EdD, of the University of Waterloo; and Dr. Jean-Charles Le Vallée of the Conference Board of Canada.
Jane Proctor, vice president of policy and issue management at CPMA, felt the conference filled a need for a national forum with multi-stakeholder engagement. The emphasis on diversity and collaboration was evident right from the initial planning stages. “We brought together an advisory group that consisted of the leads in many of those stakeholders, and that really helped us in ensuring we framed the event with an objective that was meaningful for everybody that we hoped to attract,” Proctor noted.
That advisory group was not only crucial to the planning process, it was also a key component of the delivery of the event. This approach made sense as the summit’s target constituents are the constituents of many of the people on the advisory committee.
The health summit’s focus was a little different than the usual delivery of information, as it was very action oriented. Proctor hopes the conference will turn into an annual event.
“If we’re going to come together as a community across Canada with a goal of action to increase consumption, we do need a mechanism to be continuously engaged across the year, and also I think to come back together and evaluate what we’ve achieved in the past year and what still needs to be done,” she said.
The conference began with the speakers giving a snapshot of programs and policies around healthy eating and wellness in his or her sector, with an opportunity for questions from the audience. Some common themes soon emerged, described by David McInnes as the three Cs: consumer focus, collaboration and common objective.
McInnes noted collaboration only works with common objectives, which means there is a need for collective leadership which emphasizes systems thinking. All of the speakers agreed that collaboration and using evidence-based programs are key to moving the bar on increasing Canadians’ health. Steve Manske summed up many of the themes in his talk summary, listing systems approaches, strong partnerships across multiple sectors, sustained activity, programs tailored to local context, strong support and integrated learning as essential to making a difference.
The talks were also notable for highlighting successful programs currently in place. Margaret Yandel described BC’s Produce Availability Initiative, a program to improve the quality and quantity of produce in remote communities. She also described an initiative to build long-term sustainability of garden and greenhouse operations in 15 First Nations communities. Among other programs, BC also has an award-winning school fruit and vegetable nutritional program and an Action School BC initiative, which uses a whole school model to teach healthy living.
Manske added information on the Alberta Project Promoting Active Living & Healthy Eating, which empowers school communities to make the healthy choice the easy choice, as well as other programs like Farm to School learning labs. All of these programs offer successful models, which other communities can tailor to meet their needs.
The day ended with a networking reception, while day two focused on working sessions, as well as a plenary talk with Dr. Jean-Charles Le Vallée. The working sessions put into action one of summit’s key messages, as stakeholders in increasing fruit and vegetable consumption came together to develop food strategy initiatives across Canada.