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With a rich history of welcoming people from around the world to live and work here, the Bow Valley has always been a unique area. Most people and businesses, either directly or indirectly, rely on the visitor economy in one way or another.


When the global pandemic caused a near-shutdown of all services, many residents found themselves in vulnerable positions. With schools closed, lunch programs halted, and many community and social programs on an extended hiatus, people lost access to social supports in the way they had relied on. With an unemployment rate of 85 per cent in the Bow Valley, the ability to afford food was a very real issue.


Established as an independent non-profit society in 2020, the Bow Valley Food Alliance (BVFA) was created to address issues surrounding the availability of affordable, fresh, and healthy food. With a focus on ensuring sustainability, the Alliance was designed to foster Valley-wide relationships that would form the foundation of a secure food system to support the long term needs of the entire community.


But even the most in-depth organizational planning couldn’t have anticipated the scale, scope, or length of the COVID-19 global pandemic.


“Food insecurity within the Bow Valley exists; it is not resilient or sustainable. As we saw in 2020 during the pandemic, when food insecurity was exacerbated,” says Michelle Backhouse, Alliance Coordinator.

Bow Valley Food Alliance
Bow Valley Food Alliance_2022
Bow Valley Food Alliance

The Alliance regularly collaborates with about 150 local food actors, which include all segments in the food cycle from producer to processor to consumer. Along with improving the availability of local foods, building a sustainable supply chain better equips communities to deal with any challenges they might face.


The BVFA supports numerous greenhouse opportunities along with over 30 monthly events including Banff Food Rescue, Canmore Food and Friends, the Taste of Cultures, and more. Events this spring were attended by up to 200 participants and included four Indigenous chefs, six multicultural chefs that call the Bow Valley home, and three living libraries – residents available to share their food knowledge and experiences.


Along with focusing on food sharing and education, BVFA events connect communities and cultures. These events serve to identify the needs of individuals, bring groups together, and encourage finding solutions to food challenges at the community level.


“COVID-19 illustrated the importance of the food security in the Bow Valley. It became clear that finding sustainable, long-term solutions was essential for us as a community. The Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation is pleased to support the BVFA and help them continue momentum, expand their programs, and ensure access to food resources for anyone that needs support,” said Cathy Geisler, Executive Director, Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation.

Bow Valley Food Alliance_2022
Bow Valley Food Alliance
Bow Valley Food Alliance_2022

With the world cautiously re-opening, the BVFA is working hard to diversify and strengthen its networks and program offerings and building capacity is key to supporting long-term sustainability.


“The generous funding from the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation enables the BVFA to hire dedicated contractors who connect, coordinate, educate, inspire and advocate for a food system rooted in reciprocity and relationships,” said Backhouse.


Through regular events, education, and outreach, the BVFA is committed to addressing the current and long-term needs of communities across the Bow Valley. But in an ideal world, they hope that there will be a time when they’ve helped to build a food system where their services aren’t required.


“The Bow Valley community determines what their food system looks like and has it rooted in reciprocity. If there was no need for the Bow Valley Food Alliance to exist in the next 10 years, that would be the best outcome,” said Backhouse.


In the meantime, expect to see the team from the BVFA connecting people through food, education, and events that build community and celebrate diversity in the Bow Valley.


Learn more about how the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation continues to support a more active, vibrant, and happy community.

Wim & Nancy Pauw Foundation Logo

"Supporting a more active, vibrant, happy community"