August 2011


Our Café in the Park

Food Forward has been supporting the community food connections to help get a unique project off the ground in St. James Town.  Our member and cafe organizer, Rebecca blogged about its launch event, intended to outreach and build further support.  Our Education Intern Caitlin Greenham and Executive Director, Darcy Higgins spoke at the event on engaging in the municipal budget and provincial election.  Partnerships made this happen, with resident support along with organizations such as Low Income Families Together (LIFT), Toronto Green Community and many neighbourhood organizations.  More photos will be shared on our Facebook group.

Below is from Rebecca's blog, The First Day:

While I haven’t been writing, I haven’t given in to despair. I have been busy working on a project to engage people to enjoy and advocate for for healthy affordable food. Our plan is to establish a co- operative community café where people from many economic and cultural groups can talk, organize, eat, drink, cook, listen to music, and join in growing and preparing food and buying affordable organic food through a food buying club.
Through the amazing connection-making powers of Nancy and Jo, and many others, we have built a strong network of people and organizations who are helping make this project happen (we’re still looking for more – if you’re interested!) On Friday August 19, we held the first trial run of the community café, and it was a fantastic success! 
While we work now on securing funds and a permanent space, we're also looking forward to the next café in the park, on September 23!

Thank you to Jeffrey Chan for the fantastic photos!





Food movement grows on campus

by Linda Swanston and Caitlin Langois Greenham

Sodexo, a major university and college food provider, started a campaign recently to eliminate display plates in cafeterias. Students may no longer have pre-plated roast beef, veggies and gravy to look at before choosing their meal, but over 250,000 pounds of food waste are saved last year alone in Canada.  That’s just from display plates.

Founded in 2011 the Sustainable Food Services Task Force of the Green Education Council(GEC) wants every aspect of post-secondary food service to be as environmentally and socially sustainable as possible.  The GEC is a group of universities, colleges, corporations, government, and not-for-profits committed to re-orienting our post-secondary education system to address issues of sustainability. Food Forward was fortunate to participate in the recent Sustainable Food Services Task Force meeting organized by the GEC in Toronto at the OCAD tabletop on June 15th

The GEC made a real effort to invite a diversity of guests to the table including; small-business food providers focused on the local and sustainable; NGOs in the food sector; corporate food service providers; university food service administrators; student food security organizers; and representatives from the Ontario Public Sector Green Office.  The event was a unique opportunity for cross-pollination between groups that rarely get a chance to sit at the same table to discuss opportunities, challenges, and dreams in Ontario’s post-secondary food sector. The conversations were both productive and at times provocative.

Several student food security initiatives and groups were represented at the meeting.  U of T’s Dig In! Campus Agriculture brought ideas from a myriad of student food projects including the Sky Garden, an interconnected and self-watering container garden atop a Faculty of Engineering building, the B.E.E.S. educational group that’s developing non-invasive and organic apiaries around campus, and multiple student community gardens. Ryerson University’s Rye’s Home Grown Community Garden was also at the table.  It’s a new student and community project that grows fresh produce on campus for project members and for the Ryerson Community Food Bank.  Students from York University also attended to gather knowledge for a new student co-op café that’s starting small in September and hoping to grow, as well as to collaborate with and build support for York’s President’s Sustainability Council Student Subcommittee’s (PSCSS) ongoing push for stronger local/sustainable food policy on campus.  Members of the Fanshawe College Student Union and OCADU also participated to inform their work with food services.

From a student perspective, the meeting was a great opportunity to hear the thoughts of other stakeholders in campus food services and food security.  The meeting reinvigorated conversation between York administrators and the PSCSS about ongoing process of developing a Campus Food Charter and brought the national student food leader, Meal Exchange, into the conversation. For Jason Qu of U of T, the meeting provided a chance to connect with participants from corporate food service - Sodexo, Kraft, and Aramark.  Jason was hopeful after the meeting:

The GEC has brought big-name institutional food service providers around the table, and we're given this opportunity to figure out where they stand - what are their priorities? What are the barriers they face in becoming more sustainable? What sort of language do they frame these issues in? Initiatives like the GEC's [Food Services] Task Force represent, I hope, a chance to figure out the intersecting interests we have, so that we can make real, progressive changes to how food is provided on campus.”

The GEC Food Services Task Force aims to share models of practice, ideas, support, and challenges between its members in in order to catalyze and connect sustainable food systems in Ontario’s post-secondary schools.  A strong partnership between founding GEC members at Queen’s University and Sodexo provides one model for cross-sectoral collaboration.   

Queen’s successfully piloted Sodexo’s new 14-hour composting technology and plans to expand the program to divert 95% of the school’s food waste.  They are also collaborating on My Farm, a farm owned by Sodexo where Queen’s is developing a program to raise money for a local food bank by growing veggies and make fresh soups and stews to sell at the Queen’s Farmer’s Market . 

In the afternoon, we formed break-out groups to brainstorm sustainability elements that could be included in Universities’ Requests for Proposals (RFPs).  A food service RFP is an open call of sorts to potential food service providers that lists a university’s food requirements and can include sustainability criteria.  Toronto is already a leader in this field as U of T was the first university on the continent to formally commit to purchasing local sustainable food for cafeterias and residences in 2006 when it launched a partnership with Local Food Plus.

After the breakout sessions, we compiled our ideas about RFPs in a plenary and five themes emerged: student leadership and collaboration with food services; improving local and sustainable food procurement; reducing and tracking waste;  developing new frameworks for economic opportunities; and compiling data to create targets for change.  It will be exciting to see how post-secondary institutions continue to integrate concerns about sustainability into the quest for flavour and freshness, and if they do so in the more formalized manner of RFP criteria.

2011 is shaping up to be a critical year for advancing food security agendas on campuses across Ontario.  As the Food Services Task Force develops model RFPs, Food Forward develops our Student Food Network with knowledge-sharing and skill-building events for students involved in food studies and initiatives,  and the GEC expands its membership and reaches out to campus community members who’ve not participated so far, a lot is on the menu.  Students have also initiated positive change in campus food systems by collaborating across campuses in the National Student Food Summit this month. The summit will brought together students from universities and colleges across Canada to develop a Campus Food Charter that can be adopted as a framework for campus food security initiatives.  Food Forward's Darcy Higgins was pleased to participate on a panel with his colleagues at this conference.

Food Forward is excited to continue the conversation and support collaborative action to create environmentally and socially sustainable campus food services and programs.

To get involved with the Green Education Council, please ask us or get in touch directly with Pieter Basedow,


One year of good food organizers

Food Forward's team benefits from some of the best folks in the City giving of their time to support our movement. For our First Anniversary, we'd like to share profiles of our key volunteers with their experiences and skills that may go on to support other work. These folks will go far, making a difference in good food work.

- Darcy Higgins, Executive Director

Vanessa Ling Yu

Something you've enjoyed working on for Food Forward:

- Organizing and facilitating dialogue about race and food justice.
- Outreach and education at various events

Skills or experiences you have:

- Workshop development - growing food, cooking/preservation skills,
- Restaurant consultation - business planning, green kitchen/service programming and training, local and seasonal menu planning/ingredient sourcing
- Proposal and research development
- Stakeholder engagement and public/spoke speaking
- Strategic planning and organizational development
- Health Promotion consultation - program and evaluation development and - implementation
- Writing and Editing - grad/prof applications, funding proposals, academic/popular articles, professional reports, etc.

What could you offer in this sector?

- Research and Consultation for any of the above.

Linda Swanston

Something you've enjoyed working on for Food Forward:

Connecting people passionate about improving food in the health sector from farmers to front-line hospital staff has been incredibly enjoyable and inspiring. The innovative and creative approaches different institutions are adopting to create tastier, healthier meals for hospital patients that also support sustainable local food economies keeps me motivated to push for change. Blogging, event organizing, social mapping and research are all ingredients in the recipe!

Skills or experiences you have:

- Research
- Writing
- Editing
- Project Management

What could you offer in this sector?

I'd love to connect with anyone who needs research, writing, or event organizing support in their quest for environmental or social change. Also happy to lend a hand in any collective cooking endeavours!

Andrea Chan

Something you've enjoyed working on for Food Forward:

Bringing together non-profits and for-profits with the foodie community at local establishments serving home-grown food. The Foodie Drinks event series meets so many needs: organizations and businesses get to share their excitement for the amazing work they do, those in attendance mix, mingle, and network, and the host location is supported in their attempt to bring more local and seasonal food (and drinks!) to the table.

Skills or experiences you have:

A hyper-organized approach to project management, a passion for volunteer and intern recruitment and coordination, and a loud voice when it comes to improving the food system!

What could you offer in this sector?

Nothing engages me more than making an organization run more smoothly and efficiently. That's why I joined the Young Urban Farmers CSA team. In the early years of this very young non-profit, I am helping to provide direction and structure, to keep administrative and farming staff on track, and to motivate everyone to collectively work towards the "big picture" goals. When I find groups doing important work within the food system, I do everything in my power to support them.

Michelle Gruda

Something you've enjoyed working on for Food Forward:

The Pushing Forward: growing your career in the good food movement event - was pretty exciting to get so many people with such wonderful passion and motivation for bettering our food system into one room!

Skills or experiences you have:

Writing, marketing, research, content/resource development

What could you offer in this sector?

Happy to connect local food businesses with opportunities to get featured on ethicalDeal. Also happy to lend our support (promotion/fundraising) to all the amazing organizations working hard to change things in our food system.

Judith Van Veldhuysen

Something you've enjoyed working on for Food Forward:

Researching and posting local foodie events through social media tools

Skills or experiences you have:

Traditional and online marketing of preventive healthcare

What could you offer in this sector?

I'm the Green Party of Ontario candidate for the riding of St. Paul's and also the Women's Issues critic for the GPO Shadow Cabinet. I'm interested in meeting new people in my community who also support the local food movement.


Hospital food: local innovations and bigger change

It amazes and inspires me that at 12:30am Debbie Field of FoodShare is deputing to Mayor Ford about the links between student nutrition and reduced violence, better academic achievement and community resilience. She is articulately drawing the links between food and community and individual well-being that also so desperately need to be highlighted in the health care sector. At 12:30 in the morning. That’s the kind of passion and commitment that can really make change in Toronto and hopefully be harnessed to improve health care sector food amongst other things.

As I mentioned in my last post, healthy food is thankfully receiving ever more attention in Toronto area hospitals. The front page article in the Globe and Mail in late June, A cure for the common hospital meal, captured the spirit of excited conversations that are happening between local food entrepreneurs, NGOs and hospital administrators about ways to make health sector food better. The commitment of the Broader Public Sector Investment Fund (BPSF) to support these kinds of collaborations is providing a vital boost of resources.

Look what's possible for hospital food . . . this from France

Celebrated Toronto chef Joshna Maharaj, was recently hired by Scarborough Hospital with funding from the BPSF to revitalize the in-patient food services menu. She is quickly becoming a local foodie hero of sorts as she attempts to prove that patients can eat fresher, healthier, more sustainable foods that are cooked from scratch at the same cost as mass-produced, centrally sourced frozen meals that are defrosted in hospitals “kitchen-less” food service operations.

Food Forward took a field trip to see first-hand how from-scratch cooking can be made possible in “kitchen-less” operations. Leslie Carson, profiled as a 2011 Local Food Champion, took Elena Hall and myself on a fascinating tour of St. Joseph’s Care Facility in Guelph. We happened to visit on the same day as St. Joseph’s annual general meeting so we got to sample some of the delicious special event in-house catering, and meet the food services staff who’ve gone from unpacking frozen lasagne to crafting seasonal menus under Leslie’s leadership.

Seeing the kind of innovation and success that can happen, the first questions that come to mind are, what made is possible? And how can it be replicated in ways that are community and site specific in other institutions?

Food Forward thinks critical components include political leadership and vision, combined with grassroots community support for change.

Joshna suggest in her blog that, “We can make food in health care (and in the rest of our lives, for that matter) an election issue in October and we can push our politicians at every level to consider and address food issues.”

And that’s exactly what Food Forward is doing. Food Forward worked with many community partners to mobilize support for Toronto’s Local Food Procurement Policy (appended to this 2011 update staff report) during recent debates. We petitioned councillors to support local food, and encouraged concerned residents to participate. The resulting municipal win when council overwhelmingly supported Toronto’s Local Food Procurement Policy means that Toronto’s 10 long-term care facilities will seek “to increase the percentage of food that is grown locally when all factors, including costs, quality and availability are equal.”

Given the current climate of cuts in the City of Toronto this support for municipal local food procurement needs to be celebrated and built upon. The opportunity allowed for a rare discussion of local food and institutions and even farmers market's to be discussed in a positive light at Council. But future policy needs to be stronger so that local and sustainable food in a stronger way in our institutions.

At the provincial level Food Forward is collaborating with Sustain Ontario to include institutional and health sector food services in this Fall’s Vote ON Food and Farming Campaign. Healthcare food service, like related food policies, is a multi-level issue that requires municipal, provincial and federal political attention and policy innovations.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, at the grassroots level we are currently looking to connect with anyone who works in the healthcare sector or has had a recent experience of health services as a patient or family member to build our community campaign. Research is our number one need at the moment so if you’re interested please get in touch:

And lastly, just for fun, check out what hospital food trays look like around the world and stay tuned to the Food Forward Blog for further hospital food diversions and campaign developments!