People and programs
The Local Community Food Centre's first Shovel to Spoon session started in the summer of 2012 in the backyard of the vacant garden centre the CFC now calls home. While everyone inside the still-unrenovated space donned hard hats and safety goggles, participants in Shovel to Spoon took up spatulas and trowels and spent the warm summer weeks outside cooking delicious healthy meals in the "outdoor kitchen," and helping to plant The Local's brand new raised bed garden plots. The space inside was still all guts and drywall, its full potential alive in only a few people's imaginations, but if you spent even only a few minutes cooking and chatting with the S + S group out back, you could already see The Local would be a place where food would transform people's lives.
Food Skills Coordinator Liz Mountain was there for that first session, and she's since taken on four subsequent Shovel to Spoon groups. The program was developed specifically for low-income community members who face different types or multiple layers of marginalization, and has allowed The Local to form strong partnerships with Family Services and the Canadian Mental Heath Association. Sessions now happen in The Local's open kitchen, community dining room, and greenhouse, though the new facilities haven't meant that outdoor cooking is entirely out of the question. With Liz's guidance, two groups per week get their hands dirty in the veggie gardens and greenhouse and then move into the kitchen to cook healthy dishes they all enjoy together at the end. Participants form friendships in a calm and welcoming environment, and can be connected to any supports they might need. As Director Steve Stacey puts it, "the group shows up on the first day feeling shy and not-so-confident in the kitchen, and by the end of the fourteen weeks Liz has them running their own ‘restaurant,' serving their favourite dishes from the program."
The restaurant night in question is held at the very end of each session; participants are encouraged to invite their friends and families to The Local for a shared meal of dishes they learned to prepare in the program. For many, it's the best night of the program: “It's great because friends and family get to know what we’re doing,” explains one participant. Commensality, the power of coming together over good food, is core value of Shovel to Spoon, and of all the programs at The Local, from community meals and the Seniors' Lunch to the After School Program and The Storehouse. It's hard to imagine the days not so long ago when The Local was still just a plan on paper.