Another Pre-Dawn Flight
By MARK BITTMAN
When the hotel clerk recommended that I set my alarm at 3 a.m. for my 6:15 a.m. flight to Miami, I gasped. Why is it that arrangements that seemed so reasonable a month ago are now horrifying? Maybe I should just cancel, spend an extra day in Canada, tour a cattle farm, chill? But no: The Florida trip is important, and so there I was, dutifully, in a cab at 4 a.m., to join a couple of hundred other bleary-eyed travelers on a long customs line that lasted until 4:45 a.m. (or maybe it was 5 a.m.? Who can remember, even only a couple of hours later) and led to a series of steel shutters. The customs officers were not as eager as the rest of us.
Anyway. I’ve been reflecting on my developing affection for Toronto (one reason I liked it more yesterday than on previous visits was because, for at least half the day, the sun was out). Its core reminds me of Queens – not Manhattan – in its astonishing diversity; everyone seems from everywhere.
Thus I wasn’t surprised when Nick Saul, who runs the city’s progressive, multi-faceted food agency, The Stop, picked me up yesterday morning and took me off to a farm “incubator,” where I met as many people of different nationalities in an hour as I do on an average day in New York. There, in the middle of a neighborhood that reeked of suburban sprawl, I chatted with men from India, Pakistan, Jamaica, China and Barbados, and with women from France, Zimbabwe and Canada (of all places). Evidently I’d just missed a Mauritian.
This all happened on the McVean Incubator Farm, where a non-profit called Farm Start loans people the land, equipment, and funds they need to see whether farming is the life for them. It’s too long a story for here and now, but I’ll get to it.
Exciting news for Ontario communities as The Stop has announced their partners in expanding their innovative community food centre model. We hope to see partnerships develop to expand this model throughout different parts of Toronto as well.
See their media release:
Toronto, March 8, 2011 – The Stop Community Food Centre today announced that it has selected two Ontario towns, Perth and Stratford, as the first pilot sites to replicate The Stop’s innovative community food centre model, where food is used to build health, skills, and community. This unique and unprecedented collaboration is the first phase of a process that The Stop hopes will eventually bring the CFC model to every community in the country.
The Stop began life in the 1970s as one of Canada’s first food banks, and has been on the frontlines of confronting hunger ever since. Over the years, in order to confront the root causes of poverty, poor nutrition and social isolation, the non-profit organization has evolved into a thriving, holistic community centre offering a wide range of services and initiatives, including several community gardens and kitchens; after school cooking and gardening programs; a farmers’ market; community advocacy training; a nutritional support program for new and expectant mothers; and a sustainable food systems education centre. On a recent visit to Toronto, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver said of The Stop: “I’ve travelled all around the world, and I’ve never seen anything like The Stop. Every city should have one.”
“The Stop is a grassroots approach to tackling some of the really big problems we have in our food system: diet-related illness, disappearing farmland, deepening poverty,” says Nick Saul, The Stop’s Executive Director. “There’s so much interest in food at the moment, and what good food can do for people and communities. We get calls and visits almost every day from other organizations interested in our approach.” Saul says the pilot process will be geared toward measuring the impact that multifaceted food centres can have on individual and community health to make the case that society needs to invest in more community food centres. “Traditionally, food programs have been run out of basements on a shoestring. We’re going to try to change that, to aim higher and to build a vibrant funding program that brings public and private money together to support these programs at the level they deserve.”
In the fall of 2010, a committee from The Stop, with funding from the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion’s Healthy Communities Fund and The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, set out to locate other communities who could most effectively adapt The Stop’s model for their own needs. After considering several locations, Perth and Stratford were chosen because of the combination of need and local infrastructure, as well as the strong and diverse set of local partners who share The Stop’s philosophy and are prepared to drive the project forward.
In Perth, The Stop will be partnering with the Perth and District Food Bank, a food bank whose staff and volunteers have decided to re-invent their organization. The food bank has recently purchased a 1960s-era stucco church which, once it is retrofitted with a kitchen and garden, will house their CFC.
“We are excited about the opportunity to work with The Stop to create a version of a community food centre that re-creates the powerful, and exciting programs that we see at The Stop, but that is also relevant to our community,” says Nancy Wildgoose, a local resident who has been one of the driving forces behind the CFC initiative in Perth. Wildgoose envisions dining programs for seniors, healthy cooking programs for young parents and kids living on low incomes, community gardening programs open to the whole community and social enterprise initiatives as some of the options that hold promise for Perth.
In Stratford, the United Way of Perth-Huron is the lead partner and will incubate the project. “Our Food Security Coalition has been working on re-imagining the approach to food security in our community. This is a wonderful opportunity to enhance the range of programs that we can offer and develop other partnerships within the county,” says Ellen Balmain the Executive Director of the United Way of Perth- Huron. “We are thrilled that Stratford was chosen as one of the locations for The Stop’s project.” A location is currently being sought for the new project. Balmain points to the richness of the local food landscape, with the many successful restaurants, chef’s school and Slow Food movement as potentially powerful allies in this project. As with the Town of Perth, the rural environment will present new opportunities to address issues related to local farming and farm families.
Watch Opal's story. Opal, a community food animator with FoodShare and previously a volunteer at The Stop, discusses her reasons for community gardening in Toronto. Access to healthy food is important for all of us, and projects that take this into consideration and their many workers and volunteers are benefiting Torontonians every day. Let's keep going.
Opal, a friend of Food Forward, shares the links between growing food, healthy food access, advocacy and social planning.
This digital story was developed by our partners in the FoodShed Project.