Cathleen Kneen Award

Food Secure Canada gives out this award biannually to recognize vision, leadership and a commitment to grassroots activism in building a more just and ecological food system.

Cathleen Kneen (read her bio here) taught that understanding a food system means listening to those most oppressed by it, because they see from underneath how it is constructed and can offer a progressive vision for its transformation. Leadership from the ground up is key to long-lasting, effective work for just and sustainable food systems. 

In Cathleen’s words:

“Networks are created by spiders, and we are all spiders creating networks. First, you grab onto something and swing out into the unknown on a thread until you find something else that you can grab onto.  You connect with it and then climb back up to where you started and do it again. Then you move across to those two nodes and connect them.  You keep repeating this process until there is a whole web.  There are two things that are really important here.  One is that the filament, the silk that the spider spins, comes out of her gut; the other is that it is stronger than steel.  The strength of the network is the strength of the links we have built … all of which, together, create that wonderful and beautiful mosaic that is our food movement.”

When nominating a person for the Cathleen Kneen Food Movement Builder Award, please keep these criteria in mind:

1.  The Award winner should be a person whose life and work related to food sovereignty involves:

  • Persistence and integrity;
  • Working from the ground up;
  • Working "at the edge:" taking risks, focused on radical / fundamental system change, public good, and future generations;
  • Networking, building community; and,
  • Mentoring, supporting others and developing leadership.

2.  The food movement needs more leadership from Indigenous peoples, socially/politically marginalized communities and from rural / remote / Northern locations.

3.  The Award winner should be a person who has demonstrable experience and a solid track record, but who is not already well known or celebrated for his or her work.

The nominee does not have to be a FSC member: we will be happy to offer an honorary membership to the winner if she or he is not already a member.

ABOUT CATHLEEN KNEEN:

Cathleen was a lifelong social justice activist and feminist who helped found groups from day-care centres to women’s shelters to food systems networks, including Food Secure Canada.  

In 1971 Cathleen and her husband Brewster started a commercial sheep farm in Nova Scotia where they spent 15 years learning the food system from the ground up and started an annual Sheep Fair, NorthumberLamb lamb marketing co-op, and The Ram’s Horn, a newsletter of food system analysis.  Cathleen was engaged with the national People’s Food Commission from 1978-80.

The Kneens moved to a farm in BC in 1995, where Cathleen founded and coordinated the BC Food Systems Network; she also helped establish two farmers’ markets and served in various capacities with Certified Organic Associations of BC.

In 2006 the Kneens moved to Ottawa and Cathleen, as a founding member of Food Secure Canada, served as its Chair until 2011.  She helped set up and was one of the leaders of the People’s Food Policy Project, which served as a reprise of the People’s Food Commission and articulated a national food sovereignty policy for Canada, Resetting the Table. She chaired Just Food in Ottawa from 2006 to 2014 as well as helping found and then chairing the Ottawa Food Policy Council.

Cathleen’s recognitions include The Marion Dewar Defender of the Public Good Award from the Social Planning Council of Ottawa, the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Organic Council of Ontario, and Female Food Hero from Oxfam Canada.

Cathleen joined the ancestors in February 2016; her legacy lives on in many ways, especially through the organizations she helped to seed and which she tended so lovingly, and through this award in her name that recognizes others who embody her values.