“My physical health has improved. My mental health has improved. I know more about nutrition now.”
A place where a garden offers more than food
From spring through the fall harvest, nestled between a series of high-rise buildings in Toronto’s downtown core, row upon row of fresh produce and herbs can be found growing in the community gardens at Regent Park Community Food Centre. But access to nutritious, affordable, local food is only a part of what these gardens have to offer the community. They also provide opportunities for the gardeners themselves to blossom. Many participants develop advanced gardening knowledge, and the centre’s gardening program offers a space where they can share their expertise and boost their sense of community contribution and belonging.
“The gardens act as a gateway to connect with so many of the other resources we provide,” says Ashrafi Ahmed, Community Garden Coordinator at Regent Park CFC. “They bring people through our doors and allow them the opportunity to access additional learning and supports they need to flourish in other areas of their lives.”
A community centre built around good food
The community gardens are just one kind of program that Regent Park CFC offers. Their food access programs, such as drop-in breakfasts, drop-in lunches, and the Taste of Regent Park market, help community members living on low incomes access healthy food. Chef Norberto and his team of volunteers start their days early to prep in the kitchen where, in 2017, they provided more than 63,000 nutritious meals to the community. Their full roster of community kitchen programs -- including Cook Ahead, Freezer Days, Peer Nutrition, and Women's Gardener Cooking -- help community members build food skills and knowledge, and have helped 81% of participants make healthy changes to their diet. Community engagement programs like Community Action Training and Solidarity Suppers empower people with lived experience of poverty become leaders in advocating for themselves, for their peers, and their communities.
An innovative partnership
The Regent Park Community Food Centre is located in Toronto's revitalized Regent Park neighbourhood -- Canada’s oldest and largest social housing community. 69% of residents over age 15 are low-income, as are 80% of families with children under 18. For over 50 years, CRC has been supporting the Regent Park community, helping people meet basic needs in dignified ways and advocating for social justice. CRC was at the forefront of the Regent Park community revitalization that began in the early 2000s, advocating for positive changes to the community layout and design. In 2014, CRC partnered with Community Food Centres Canada to build the Regent Park Community Food Centre -- the second CFC to open in Toronto. The CFC builds on CRC's history of serving the community by expanding its impact through food access, food skills, and education and engagement programs.