Chef and food educator Ian Lai aims to protect Richmond's food security

Chef, food educator and Richmond resident Ian Lai is the newest executive director of the Richmond Food Security Society.

Lai took the helm this week at the non-profit group planted at Paulik Park in central Richmond. He replaces Anita Georgy

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“My goal is to continue with the mission of the Food Security Society and bring more interest form the community to understand food systems through education,” Lai told the Richmond News.

Lai said he wants to strengthen existing programs, such as the seed library, Youth Get Rooted program and the Kids in the Garden events.

The society also oversees 320 community garden plots at nine locations around Richmond. Lai said the society is planning to build 240 new garden plots in next two to three years. Nineteen new plots at Railway Avenue and Moncton Street were already built last month.

A long-time community gardener, Lai was vocal in 2014 about theft from gardens and conducted an education campaign to weed out such activity.

The society also collects food for low-income residents and the Richmond Food Bank. In 2016 it claims to have collected 5,014 pounds of fruit from urban trees and bushes.

Lai describes food security as “when all members of the community have access to nutritious, safe and personally acceptable and culturally appropriate foods produced in ways that are environmentally sound and socially just.”

Lai emigrated from South Africa and came to the Lower Mainland at age 15. He’s worked as a chef at Vancouver’s Four Seasons Hotel and at the U.S. Consulate General. He also spent time in Japan at one point.

In recent years Lai ran a food education program out of various Richmond schools, teaching students about gardening and food preparation. He has also conducted cultural exchanges with Cuban chefs.

He sees eating fresh food as a key ingredient of food security. While eating locally is ideal, he knows consumers must vote with their wallets and the supermarket produce area is often the most convenient place to shop.

The society aims to promote local agriculture.

“The mission is true to what I believe in. We have a robust food system in Richmond; it’s important to have access to food. And I’m huge on education,” said Lai.

The society also takes an advocacy role, something Lai said he will eventually take on.

Last month, one of Georgy’s last public message was to speak out against Richmond city council’s desire to allow large homes (plus a smaller secondary house) on the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Georgy said the decision went against the Richmond Food Charter, which was signed by the very councillors who allowed estate houses to continue on the ALR.

“The Charter says that as a community we will use policy and regulations to strengthen the city’s food security,” said Georgy to the News, adding the new bylaws “will weaken Richmond’s agricultural land base, contribute to increasing land costs, and set a precedent for neighboring communities to allow more residential development on agricultural lands. “

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