“Food cannot be disentangled from social relationships.” Nick Saul, Community Food Centres Canada
How can a city feed itself? Can local food be made available to every citizen regardless of their income and access to transportation? Is it possible to eliminate the need for food banks in our cities? Can we grow our own food in the urban environment?
These questions are contemplated every day by people who are active in organizations that are actually doing something about it. This article explores some of the options that we have where access to locally produced food is concerned. As I researched the background for it I became excited by the enormous resources that are at our doorstep and the prospects for more intensive efforts to feed ourselves healthy, locally grown food in the future.
Last week in this column I reviewed a book by Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis called The Stop. Jamie Oliver, the famous chef, said that “The Stop is an inspiring true story about how a low-income neighbourhood used good food to take charge of its community”.
It seems that the issues connected to locally produced food are all over the place in the media. Municipal World magazine caters to municipal councillors, mayors, and staff here in Ontario. Recently, they featured a cover story and an in depth article about the ‘Local Food Economy’. In this article they point out that:
– Thousands of raised vegetable boxes built on un-used parking spaces in downtown Vancouver produced over 100,000 pounds of fresh vegetables and supported 150 youth last year with summer work.
– Retired basketball star Will Allen turned a derelict plant nursery into a food production super-centre that produces over $500,000 worth of produce, meat and fish and employs 65 full time staff in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
– The Garden magazine in the U.K. reports that a grant of more than 1.5 million pounds is helping every London school grow their own food. It is intended that the project will become the model for a national food growing scheme.
– Here in Toronto, non-profit Food Share serves 150,000 customers and generates over $2 million in revenues annually from its fresh produce delivery service, school programs, community kitchen, catering activities and café. Debbie Field, the executive director of Food Share kicked off this discussion right here at the Star when she made a submission to our ‘Big Ideas’ for the city contest.
How Are We Feeding Ourselves Locally?
Many people are tempted by the burning question, “How can we provide access to locally produced food for all?” but I think that the more pressing question is, “How can we use the systems already in place to roll out a greater quantity of food to people who need it most?”
A stroll through the Evergreen Brickworks one recent Saturday provided an inspirational bevy of brochures and discussion with many of the movers and shakers in the local food movement. Orlando Martin, for instance, was manning the Food Share booth during my visit. He is a ‘compost facilitator’ and he is passionate about his subject material. According to Orlando, the road to a healthy diet is paved with rotten vegetables and yard waste [not his words exactly, but close].
It is true that we dispose of so much raw organic waste that we could grow much of what we need to sustain ourselves if we just composted it and grew edible plants in it.
Young Urban Farmers
If you are interested in feeding yourself using locally produced food, I recommend that you check out Young Urban Farmers. ‘Fresh food from your yard without the work!’ With a slogan like that they have the attention of many people, I am sure. If you are a residential land owner, all that you have to do is provide access to your own backyard this summer by letting the ‘young farmers’ convert your dirt into a ‘thriving garden with a variety of heirloom vegetables for your family and community.’ The two key points: unfettered access to your yard and a willingness to share the bounty with the ‘community’ including the young farmers themselves. What a great idea! www.cultivatetoronton.com/landsharer
Food Baskets To Your Door
Let’s say that you don’t have a yard to donate or you just don’t want to donate the one you have. How would you like to receive a bag of 8 to 12 different types of produce every week at your front door? The people at Fresh City Farms provide such a service. Eighty percent of the produce that they sell is produced locally, year round and it is never ‘flown in’. They also provide clinics that will educate you on subjects that include organic urban gardening, balcony gardening, and garden planning and design. Oh yea, ‘Mastering the Art of Composting and Soil Nutrition’ too. Details at www.freshcityfarms.com
Speaking of food baskets, Food Share produces ‘food boxes’ that they make accessible to “Toronto communities and particularly prioritizing low income people”. This is part of a major, complex system of food growth, acquisition from local sources and distribution at Food Share. Fifteen volunteers come to Food Share’s warehouse every week to pack up to 1,500 boxes for this purpose. While the cost per box is $18 the ‘supermarket’ value is between $25 and $27, depending on the store and time of year. Food Share is a United Way supported organization. Details at www.foodshare.net.
Community Food Centres
The author of The Stop, Nick Saul, has graduated from the daily bump and grind of the business to create a new organization called Community Food Centres Canada. He is using his experience at The Stop, and his extensive lessons learned while there, to fulfill the primary goal of this new organization: to drive the development of 15 food centres across Canada by 2017, including one in Regent Park, here in Toronto.
What is it? According to their brochure, “A community food centre is a welcoming space where people come together to grow, cook, share, and advocate for good food. They provide emergency access to high–quality food in a dignified setting that doesn’t compromise people’s self-worth.” Each centre features cooking, gardening, a common space where ‘community members find a common voice’ and many opportunities to enhance their food skills from garden to fork. Details at www.cfccanada.ca.
Is This Easy?
Finding answers to the many burning questions associated with food access is not easy. But then, whoever suggested that it would be? I was always told that anything worth doing is a lot of work.
Key words that keep cropping up in my research include dignity [as in, there is dignity in growing your own food, there is none in taking a hand out], shared experience [each of us has something useful to contribute to the effort for the benefit of all], better health [fresh vegetables sure beat a bag of chips for nutritional value], empowerment [participants in the process feel better about themselves and their community], and greater wealth.
Well, I added the part about greater wealth. Much is lamented about the ‘poor’ sections of our city. We have this habit of measuring wealth strictly in monetary terms. However, as anyone who has been hungry and has learned to feed themselves or, for that matter, has learned to teach others how to feed themselves, there can be wealth in abundance from the experience, often without a nickel changing hands.