Rural Food Banks Study

Over the last year, Land to Table (L2T) with Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) conducted a Rural Food Banks Study in collaboration with Community Connections (Revelstoke) Society, and 4 rural food banks, to help understand and co-develop solutions to the unique challenge of feeding people in rural communities in British Columbia, in the face of increasing demand for food bank services.

As the demand for emergency food services increases country-wide, during a time when  public and private monetary and food donations have been at an all time low, these rural food banks decided that working together was the best way to address shared challenges including:over-stretched budgets and staff coupled with ever changing circumstances amid ever increasing demand.

Funded by a generous, anonymous donor, the Rural Food Banks Study: A Collaborative Approach Across Four Rural Food Banks to Address Unprecedented Demand began with a deep dive into the four food banks’ finances, connections, networks, and operations. Through in-depth interviews, economic and statistical analysis, and collaborative evaluation, the L2T/ISFS research team developed individual profiles and collective opportunities to connect the food banks,  capitalize on their strengths, and support each other’s weaknesses- to increase food procurement (purchasing and food recovery) and decrease costs. What began as an opportunity to seek collective procurement solutions as a way to reduce food costs, resulted in a collective questioning of the current food banking model altogether.

In this study’s pursuit to examine the factors contributing to the struggles of rural food banks, and to share this work in the hopes that it may provide benefit (i.e. replicability) for other rural food banks, there is a clear outcome: Food banks cannot continue to afford to purchase food to distribute for free and meet the growing needs of community.

We are excited to share our findings in our Final Report, which highlights:

  • The challenges of food banking in a rural context 
  • Trends in the populations and clients served across the four rural food banks
  • Revenue comparison between the rural food banks and also between two large urban food banks; in Calgary and Vancouver. 
  • Comparisons of the food banks’ recovered and purchased food data
  • The study pivot, focussing  on development of cost-recovery models in addition tor emergency (free-food) distribution
  • And finally, our research team’s main recommendations, which include ideas to collaboratively support: staff capacity, program development, joint food procurement (including local fresh items), inventory management, relationship building, and shared infrastructure development.

Land to Table, along with our research partner ISFS, are grateful to have the opportunity to work with these food banks and learn through this study. Overall, we believe findings show that it is more important than ever that funders (national, regional, and local) invest in rural food banks to adapt their programming, recognizing their unique challenges and financial constraints, while endeavoring to meet the needs of significant food-insecure populations in a way that considers how we move people through food insecurity (rather than entrenching it).

The relationships and collaboration developed through this study represent the greatest  opportunity to create systems change in how we develop and deliver programming, advocate with/for each other, and address hunger more broadly in rural communities. Shared coordination, increased collaboration, and greater regional investments are key in making these rural regions more resilient and autonomous, especially when compared to urban centers that have greater populations and access to resources.

Register for the Rural Food Banks Webinar on June 26 from 10:30 a.m.- 12 p.m.

Also, if you are interested in joining a rural food banks working group hosted by Land to Table, please reach out to Sammy at