November 2010

Nov
30

On the leading edge of a movement

Who would have thought? But now I know it: Toronto is a complete hotbed for those wanting to make a career in food and agriculture.

Those coming out in front of at least two movements: good food, and social entrepreneurship, turned out in droves to our series of workshops Saturday.

Two participants have highlighted blog summaries on the day, read more:

Pushing Forward with 100 Hands, from Healthy People, Healthy Planet by Andrea C.

Get a Job Hippie! from North Simcoe Community News by Jacob Kearey-Moreland

Nov
24

"Boulevard of broken greens": follow-up brings hope on veggie garden saga

Sometimes the way things work at City Hall can be a crushing blow to positive growth in community activity. That’s been seen time and time again in the food movement.

Navigating the City’s web of by-laws leftover from an unpopular amalgamation has got everything muddled. That includes at least one family in Toronto with a vegetable garden on their boulevard that – as reported twice by The Star – has been ordered removed by the City.

A garden doesn’t seem like a big threat. Many have pegged this one on bureaucrats with too little to do. And while one part of City staff is working to develop a solid Food Strategy, it’s sad to see something like this happen, as momentum builds for urban agriculture in Toronto. The Food Strategy was supposed to have directed the City Manager to bring food thinking into the planning of all staff divisions.

But here’s some more info to bring some hope.

Why did this happen?

Of the six old municipalities that make up Toronto, only one – York – technically allows vegetable gardens on boulevards. This is because their by-law, which is still used, recognizes the allowance of “other plants”. Native gardening is allowed all throughout the City, but only because a court case determined that they should be allowed – another battle of days ago.

Food gardens are basically disallowed in these spaces because they are not noted in the by-law as being authorized – this means they are prohibited. Boulevards are City property.

The family with that garden has an option for now – they can secure what’s called an “encroachment allowance” with the City. That is, work with staff and get something an agreement approved. Such an agreement may through fairly easily, especially with the public pressure in the case. But no one wants to go through City Hall every time they want to start a garden.

The garden was spotted as part of an application to the City to extend building on the family's private property. I am told by city staff that they don’t go out looking for gardens and are in no way opposed to them, but they saw this in their work and had to enforce the by-law.

Good news?

It is good that many people wrote to staff on this issue. At some point in time (before or after this issue), they noticed and decided to act. In the process of harmonizing all the old by-laws relating to streets, staff in 2011 will be recommending a change in rules to allow vegetable gardens. The only caveats will include a reasonable height so they don’t obstruct the road (currently it’s 0.8m for boulevard plants) and that these gardens be maintained. The other note is that Public Health staff are looking into if there are areas that gardens should not exist, such as some arterials where the salt and road chemicals would make them bad ideas.

Get Involved

I’m told there will be many opportunities for public input into the by-law changes before anything is passed at Council. That means public consultations held by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee and by Community Councils in 2011. We get to look through this stuff and raise a fuss if it’s not as good as promised - then encourage our Council to pass it. We need a City that let’s us do things, that stays out of the way of community energy for positive projects – and helps us when it can.

We’ll work to bring these consultations to your attention when we hear about them.

I know many folks have started defiant plans for boulevard vegetable gardens. Shame that this happened in the first place, and that a tomato plant is seen differently than a Black-Eyed Susan. But good that change is coming. And we get to stay vigilant.

Potluck celebration when the rules change?

Nov
19

The other side of the coin

This week I'm swapping diets with Darcy as part of the Do the Math Challenge, see background post.

Right now the green guy is starting to look a little green around the gills from all the sodium and crap he’s eating. He’s basically eating stuff from my pantry that is food bank govno. He will start to get apathetic and listless and, if the diet goes on, lose interest in his world. I on the other hand am feeling recharged with almonds, kale carrots, soy milk etc.. You get the picture. I am eating the apples a day that keep us sharp and rosy.

Maybe if I could eat like this all the time I would be taking less meds for my diabetes and high blood pressure and if I did go back to work. My drugstore bill would be affordable. And going back to work would make me happy and healthier.

Food is a big part of life and people on social assistance have a hard time buying fresh foods due to cost and geography. The better stores that sell local are not here. I know there is Food Share but many want their privacy and don’t like the charity model. We like to buy what we want and not have to register for it. If I get some extra money I go to St Lawrence Market and shop like a fiend for fresh veggies and fingerling potatoes.

Food affects hair and skin and if you are not eating your fruits and veggies you will get all pasty and stringy. Vitamins from a bottle can’t replace good food. When I was a vegan I glowed I also got pregnant cause I glowed so much I attracted a much younger man.. but that’s another story about the power of veggies.

Darcy has given me a chance to maybe get myself back into vegan ways and maybe get the sugar and blood pressure under control again. I tested high a few days ago and I’m not happy. I know Darcy is not happy with this food and his aim is to show how stupid it is not to feed people right. The government is wasting money. On the other hand, money will have to be spent in the schools to teach the kids how to cook in a healthy way and using foods that are grown locally in Ontario and possibly grown by themselves.
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More pictures of Connie and Darcy with their foods here: http://on.fb.me/FFalbum

Nov
18

Stretching three days of food

I'm now at the end of my three day supply of food for the Do the Math Challenge. I've been making my way of it, perhaps body getting a little more used to it. Yesterday felt headache, tiredness and digestion issues through the day. I also ate canned tuna, which doesn't go well with my eating practices or my nose.

I'm heading to an event with nice local foods that I won't be able to eat today. I'm hoping my rice and beans with potato for dinner will hold me over.

So I'll be able to stretch my food supply over through tomorrow, my fourth day. Another friend on low income told me yesterday that he'd love to eat food from the food banks, but it's counterproductive to his health - with his conditions, he just can't do it.

I'm wondering more about the alternatives. Why don't people support their low income neighbours directly with healthy foods instead of giving. There is a lot of unfortunate stigma. Why can't gift cards be used for grocery stores so folks can buy the fresh stuff they need? Or why not raise social assistance rates by $100/month to put food in people's budgets? You can suggest that to your MPP by writing him or her:
http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/members/member_addresses.do?AddType=CONT&loca...

Nov
17

Statement on the death of Bill C-311

Major news outlets and environmental organizations have reported this morning that Bill C-311, the sole proposed federal climate legislation, has been rejected by the Senate in a rushed and secretive vote orchestrated by the Prime Minister's office, see: Tory senators kill climate bill passed by House.

This is a huge blow to binding action on climate change in Canada, which was explicit in legislation already passed by the elected House of Commons. The Senate's move was surprising and unprecedented. In the Senate, the bill was co-sponsored by a Liberal and a Progressive Conservative (still in the former party), and in the House it was an NDP Private Member's Bill supported also by the Bloc Quebecois, Liberals as well as the Green Party.

For what then, is the purpose of democracy if appointed officials can kill, without debate, legislation passed by the will of the people represented by their elected officials... legislation dealing with this most critical global emergency?

If passed, the legislation would have brought about tough new regulations and market measures to significantly reduce greenhouse gases. Agriculture, a major contributor of greenhouse gases in Canada, would have had to be examined to determine areas in which pollution reductions could be made, including practices which could have helped spur a local and sustainable food economy.

Environment is a food issue and vice versa. Now, much work is left to be done, with nothing sitting on the table to reduce rising emissions. We must plan for food security and sustainability, and to adapt to the effect that the climate crisis will play on our global and local food supplies.

Please write your Member of Parliament to let them know what you think about this action.

Reaction so far by other organizations:

Nature Canada
Pembina Institute
David Suzuki Foundation
Greenpeace (en francais)
National Union of Public and General Employees

Nov
15

Low income lunch

As part of my Do The Math Challenge, starting today, one serving of oatmeal was breakfast. Well really, I needed a piece of white toast and peanut butter too, as I understand that three oatmeal servings is more of an actual meal, and the one just made me more hungry after eating.

Lunch was an old American classic, Campbell's soup, condensed, "Creams, made with fresh mushrooms". This brings me from my normally vegan diet, among other things. Did this come out of the war? Popular in the 50s I imagine, one of those products that began to be marketed to women, and more so as they became busier with work. No need to actually blend your own mushrooms any more..

The can reads low in saturated fat, cholesterol, 0 trans fat, no artificial flavours or colours.

Who is it that's been saying, if it says healthy on the package it's probably not. The thing with this food is, what is good about it? I suppose the mushrooms at some level are fine. There's certainly not much of any protein or fibre.

Again, one serving isn't a meal, and so I had to finish the whole small can, which still didn't really fill me up. And that one can is 80% of my daily recommended sodium intake. So there I have my salt for the day in one shot. But it's what I could afford on this diet and what the food bank gives, what people donate.

Why doesn't the label say "Beware: high sodium content, limit consumption".

And I didn't realize that so many products still use MSG...

Nov
12

Our turn to Do The Math - a food bank diet next week

This Monday begins a very particular and not so nutritious diet for me, which I'll be doing next week with a number of others across the province interested in raising an important issue.

The Stop's "Do The Math Challenge" is an event which asks the provincial government to put food in the budget, by considering the importance of healthy food for people on social assistance, while recognizing that a filling and healthy diet just isn't possible for many Ontarians.

So next week I'll be getting what would be in a food bank hamper, basically a three day supply of food, those is provided on more of an emergency basis, only up to once a month for those who need it (supplies are often low and of low quality). I'll be working to stretch it. So that means my food consist of things like Kraft Dinner, rice, soup cans, some bread, etc... and none of my usual nuts, whole grains, fruit, fresh vegetables, tofu, chocolate, meals out, drinks, etc.

I'll be doing the Challenge with a twist, as my friend and Food Forward volunteer Connie - who occasionally speaks and writes about lived experience of poverty - will be trading diets with me, and enjoying fresh, healthy foods for the week. Connie and I believe that all people deserve healthy food, no matter their position or social class. Without it, individuals and families stay in a trap of weak health and limited opportunities. With a broken food system, there are many opportunities for governments to help solve multiple problems while emphasizing health for all.

This diet challenge was done a few months ago by a few high profile Torontonians. As a new organization focused on advocacy and policy, it's Food Forward's turn to get involved. I will be participating and invite you to join me! If you can do a few days next week with a food hamper, try it out. We'll also share other ways to get involved and take action. Follow Food Forward's website through the week for blog posts on our experiences. Others will also be blogging at: http://pfib.posterous.com/

Join us for the start to the campaign, a Rally to Put Food in the Budget this Monday at 7 at the Wychwood Barns.

Nov
11

Event - Pushing Forward: Growing your career in the good food movement

We're sorry, this event is now full.

The booming food sector is providing a number of exciting opportunities for today’s job seekers and those looking for a change of career. Already making up one out of every eight of Toronto’s jobs, food jobs are providing a key component of the City’s employment market and economy.

The purpose of this afternoon is to provide a series of educational and interactive sessions for people interested in getting or starting a job in the food or environmental sector that will also make a difference in society. Key for those interested in opportunities in social entrepreneurship, food businesses, farmers' markets, corporate sustainability, writing and publishing, co-operatives, non-profits.

Date/Time: Saturday, November 27th, full afternoon program

Location: University of Toronto, Sandford Fleming Building

Speakers and workshops:
- Harriet Friedmann, leading food policy researcher, Geography Professor and fellow of the Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto - an introduction to the growing food movement and academic opportunities
- Nogah Kornberg, Executive Director of Young Social Entrepreneurs of Canada - a workshop on skills that define a social entrepreneur, the difference between social entrepreneurship, nonprofit, charity work; and the growing area of "intra-preneurship".
- Melissa Shin, Managing Editor, Corporate Knights Magazine - on a young person succeeding in the field of alternative writing/publishing and clean capitalism
- Anne Freeman, Co-ordinator of the Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers’ Market and the Greenbelt Farmers’ Market Network - on the operation of farmer's markets in Toronto and other small food business start-ups
- "Unconference" style session on food sector work
- Post-event social and networking opportunity
- And more...

Cost: $45.

Registration: Register for this event by contributing $45 on our Get Involved page or becoming a monthly Food Forward Supporter. Current Supporters and those paying on the day of can register by emailing, and anyone with questions, please write: darcy@pushfoodforward.com

Event supported by: Dig In: U of T Campus Agriculture and U of T Urban Agriculture Society

Final details including schedule to be posted here.

This event is a fundraiser for the work of Food Forward, which is advocating for food policy change in Toronto and working to strengthen the City's food movement.

Nov
10

Healthy food tops agenda for new councillors

Immediate Release
Tuesday November 9, 2010

TORONTO, ON – As a new Council prepares for its December start, getting better food on people’s plates has emerged as a priority for many new and incumbent councillors this term. Solutions addressing food insecurity, health and sustainability have become widely discussed as food centres, community gardens and food entrepreneurs continue to sprout up across Toronto.

“I am excited by the number of councillors interested in healthy food and that it will finally be getting Council’s attention,” said Darcy Higgins, Executive Director of Food Forward. “Support for urban agriculture was a highlight of many successful candidates’ election platforms. Food Forward will be advocating to advance solutions,” he said.

Bureaucratic barriers and limited approvals have been the norm for community projects. The City is working to remedy this through the Toronto Food Strategy, a comprehensive approach to food policy which was passed unanimously by the Board of Health earlier this year, which is expected to come to Council for broader support and implementation.

“I am impressed by the work of the Toronto Food Policy Council,” said Kristyn Wong-Tam, Councillor-elect for Ward 27. “I welcome the opportunity to work with residents and businesses to address general concerns about improving healthy food affordability and accessibility in our distinctive neighbourhoods,” she said.

The newly elected Councillor in Ward 32 shares Wong-Tam’s interest.

“I am looking forward to working hard to promote urban agriculture in our great city,” said Mary-Margaret McMahon. “I plan to work with residents to create more community food gardens in Ward 32 as our current gardens have long waiting lists. Starting the East Lynn Farmers' Market with my neighbours has been a wonderful and educational experience. It is now a dynamic community hub promoting Ontario farmers,” she said.

Nov
5

Planning agriculture in the city

City planners are recognizing the importance of integrating food into a city's design. Last week, the Ontario Professional Planners Institute hosted a two-day symposium on healthy communities and food. I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on urban agriculture and city planning, presented by author Lorraine Johnson and Stewart Chisholm and Rebekka Hutton of Evergreen.

Case Studies: Rebekka highlighted several inspiring urban agriculture case studies across North America, including FoodCycles in Toronto, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn, and Growing Power in Milwaukee. Beyond healthy, fresh food, each of these projects also provides educational programs and training opportunities to their communities. Closer to home, the Evergreen Brick Works demonstration gardens, which are open to the public, showcase innovative, intensive urban food growing techniques.

Urban Agriculture Policies: On the policy side, Stewart discussed several new enabling bylaws, such as allowing urban agriculture as a home occupation (Victoria), permitting backyard chickens (Vancouver), and revising zoning bylaws to support urban agriculture (Baltimore and Seattle).

Obstacles & Myths: Lorraine addressed urban agriculture obstacles and myths, which can be daunting to would-be food growers. Of great concern is soil pollution and the idea that cities are inherently dirty and unsuitable for growing food. The solution is to look into the history of the site, test the soil, and remediate the soil or raise the bed if the site is contaminated. Vandalism is another worry. Surprisingly little vandalism occurs, but when it does happen gardeners can take measures such as installing strategic rocks and planting prickly bushes to reduce impacts from others. However, the most effective remedy is engaging the community in the project; the more local residents are involved, the less vandalism occurs.

Rural vs. Urban Farms: One planner, who had an agricultural background, raised her concern about the lines between urban and rural land-use blurring. If urban agriculture becomes more prevalent, where does the separation between urban and rural food production begin? (I think her unspoken question was "Will urban farms threaten the survival of rural ones?")

Rebekka's answer was that farmers would always be needed, and no amount of urban farming could ever replicate or replace the output of rural farms. The importance of urban agriculture lies in strengthening the connection of people to their food and giving them a better appreciation of agriculture. For example, some city children have little understanding of where vegetables and fruit come from. An excellent way to educate them is through first-hand experience in urban gardens, especially if they will never have the opportunity to visit a rural farm.

Let's Get Growing! Including urban agriculture in a city's plan has multiple benefits, from improving access to fresh produce, to providing educational opportunities within the community, to contributing to a healthier environment. The video below, which I created for the workshop, discusses how urban agriculture can be integrated into a city's plan and how communities benefit as a result.