Everyone has something to say about food in Inkster. A key element in developing The NorWest Community Food Centre is the creation of a locally relevant suite of programming, informed by a clear picture of neighbourhood food security and community assets, needs and priorities. I'm halfway through the community consultation process, having engaged stakeholders through community dinners, focus groups, interviews and fun activities at events. Throughout the process, I've heard shocking stories about the harsh realities of trying to access healthy foods on a limited income and met community leaders who are championing community gardening, community cooking and alternative food systems. The community is full of hope, excitement and ideas for The NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre. Here are a few key learnings I've taken away from the conversation so far.
Healthy food builds individual and community health, Gilbert Park Residents Community Consultation
A community member holds up her flip chart paper and reads “Food insecurity is costly to your health and to your community.” Her group had been brainstorming food issues while munching on chili and bannock at the Gilbert Park consultation dinner. Her neighbours seated around her nod — every resident in the room understands that lack of access to unhealthy food impacts not only the individual but the community as a whole. The conversation ranges widely throughout the evening touching on rampant rates of diabetes to food bank usage, the need to involve elders in programming and the strong role that the Gilbert Park Gardening group can play at the Community Food Centre. The discussion reminds me of something a Parent Room Worker at the local elementary school said to me a few weeks “Healthy food brings healing.”
Healthy food access in a respectful and dignified setting is key, Brooklands Community Lunch Consultation
A small group is gathered for a lunch of sandwiches and salad at the resource center in Brooklands. The group has been shy with me so far in our conversation but when I ask where people go to grocery shop in this neighborhood, everyone starts talking at the same time. One of the women attending the lunch with her two-year-old daughter old says: “There's no grocery stores here and things like bread and milk are so expensive at 7-11." Someone else pipes up: “I go to Giant Tiger, but there's zero fruit or vegetables there.” The group shares with me that it is more than just the lack of grocery stores in the area. After rent and bills money often runs out between pay days, leaving little for groceries. After the consultation the woman pulls me aside and thanks me for coming. As I'm cooing over her cute daughter she quietly slips in that embarrassment is also a huge barrier that keeps many people from accessing emergency food programs in the area.
Food is a connecting tool, Men in the Kitchen/Keewatin Inkster Neighborhood Seniors Resource Council Consultation
An older gentleman in his seventies places a steaming plate of lasagna in front of me. This is the delicious fare being cooked up by the senior men’s cooking group, organized by the Keewatin Inkster Seniors Resource Council, as part of their wrap-up dinner and celebration. Food is a powerful tool to bring people together. The group’s coordinator shares how men who struggle with social isolation would “never leave their homes to go to a self-help class,” but would come out if they could learn a new skill, like how to cook up a killer batch of chili, and be able to talk hockey at the same time. This is just one of the groups itching to get involved in The NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre. I've learned that community residents intrinsically understand that the common interest in good food brings people together across age, class, ethnic, or neighborhood lines.
At the half way point through the consultation process excitement about The NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre is building in North West Winnipeg. Thanks to everyone who has participated thus far.