Hopefully you’re taking advantage of this stage of the summer — hammock time. It’s a time when you can think more freely. It’s a time to imagine.
My thoughts have turned to Nick Saul, president and CEO of Community Food Centres Canada. The national, non-profit organization is building vibrant, food-focused spaces in low-income communities.
A lot has happened at CFCC since I last wrote about it a couple of years ago. So I went to Nick for an update and a few answers:
Q. What are community food centres — and where are they?
A. Community food centres are dignified, welcoming spaces that bring people together to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food for all. Each community food centre offers a mix of programs that strive to increase access to healthy food, build food skills, and provide peer support and education and engagement opportunities. The program mix is determined by the needs of the area being served. Every community food centre has the same goals: to build better health, skills, connections and sense of belonging in low-income communities that need it most.
There are eight established or developing community food centres in Canada: in Toronto, Stratford, Perth, Dartmouth N.S., Winnipeg, Calgary and Hamilton.
Through our Good Food Organizations program, we’re also supporting 90 organizations in 56 cities with grants and resources that help them offer healthy- and dignity-focused programs.
Q. What are the benefits of the community food centre concept?
A. The idea of dignity through food is foremost in my mind these days. Dignity, belonging and equality. We believe that people who have less shouldn’t be made to feel the lesser for it. And that a good meal cooked with care, and eaten with others, can be the beginning of many amazing things.
We measure our impact in a number of areas: better access to healthy food, better food skills and physical health, better social connection and mental health, and better civic engagement. We want to work with our communities to push for public policies that support people to live safe, healthy and hopeful lives.
Q. You talk about the profound changes that can happen when people come together to grow their own food, learn how to prepare it and to celebrate it together. Tell me more about that.
A. The power of food is something we see at our centres every day. Because food is this incredible thing. When you eat it together, you grow community and connection. Through it, you can express your culture and your background. If you eat good food, it energizes you and keeps you healthy. When you grow food sustainably, it nourishes the soil and increases the health of our planet. And when everyone has access to good food, you have inclusive, connected and equitable communities. That’s the vision we are igniting across Canada through our work.
Q. What is the future of that work? Where is it leading?
A. Building welcoming places that meet people where they’re at, and that provide engaging ways to eat healthier, meet friends and get involved in improving their neighbourhoods and circumstances is more important now than ever. We see a future where every community has a community food centre, just like every community has a library. There will always be a role for places that bring people together and create ways for them to get engaged in their communities.
The future we see is a Canada where everyone eats well. We need a bold re-imagining of the role that food plays in our lives — in low-income communities for certain, and for all Canadians.
Q. How can Torontonians get involved?
A. There are two community food centres in Toronto: the Regent Park CFC at 40 Oak St., and The Stop in the city’s west end. You can visit their websites for details on how to donate, volunteer or get involved.
We have an expression around here, to: “Never let a crisis go to waste.”
Plant a Row, Grow a Row: As we enter harvest time of the gardening season, it’s worth reflecting on the value of sharing our resources with others who do not have access to fresh, healthy Ontario grown food. I urge you to consider donating your excess tomatoes, carrots and other garden-grown veggies and fruits to your local food bank. This is called “Plant a Row, Grow a Row,” and it is as simple as that. This program is supported by the Composting Council of Canada.
-Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, Order of Canada recipient, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new bestseller, The New Canadian Garden, published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and on Facebook.