What's your twelfth?
St. James Town Good Food Project, September 2011
by Darcy Higgins
The last few years have seen Toronto, a City without the culinary tradition of other global cities, bringing good food to the forefront. Our streets have seen witness to the rise of yum, with great restaurants, urban agriculture, food centres, neighbourhood dinners, farmer’s markets, community canning, and food boxes.
The past year was a particularly exciting year with campus, school and community food projects and micro-businesses filling gaps and needs throughout the City, and innovative events like Food Truck Eats, Scadding Court’s Live Local Marketplace, Leslieville’s Winter Food Mix, the Rusholme Park Supper Club, and the Toronto Underground Market.
The coming year will see a plethora of activity that keeps food climbing to the centre of Torontonians’ desires for wellness, sustainability, equity and new jobs. Here’s a head’s up on 12 changes, trends and happenings to watch and participate in.
Street food - After a breakthrough year for Toronto street food, 2012 has all the ingredients to really get things going. Despite setbacks with vendors in some neighbourhoods, entrepreneurs like Suresh Doss and Marianne Moroney aren’t letting barriers get in their way. City Council’s new mix of lefties keen on health and justice, conservatives that want bureaucracy out the door, and a new group of centrist foodies could make street food a plan that works. With many advocate eaters in public and on Council, watch for the streets to finally heat up.
The suburbs – No, The Arcade Fire’s Grammy win of the same name was last year. 2012 is all about the exciting food projects bubbling up across the City, from Scarborough and North York, South Etobicoke and The Beaches. Soon, few parts of the City will be left untouched. The good eats already available in the ‘burbs may also get the attention they deserve.
Backyard hens – With much back and forth behind the scenes over 2011, a backyard chicken allowance will soon be debated by Council. Popular throughout the world for fresh eggs, many Torontonians have desired the ability to keep a couple of their own for a more healthy and ethical source of protein. Expect them to share this view with their councillors.
We now know that momentum and public opinion in Toronto is against the deep cuts proposed to our health, social, infrastructure and environmental services and grants. Hundreds of Torontonians attended a meeting at Dufferin Grove Park to pen the joint Toronto Declaration. It includes support for food programs, environmental programs and farmer's markets.
Councillors on the fence can we swayed to vote against cuts to food and related programs that make our City a healthier and more prosperous place to live. Cuts to the Riverdale Farm, Toronto Urban farm, Toronto Environment Office and community grants as recommended by the City Manager are not on our agenda. Please call or e-mail Councillors today to let them know that scrapping these programs hurts the most vulnerable Torontonians, job creation and our environment, and that our city can do better. You can still sign our petition before we present it to Council.
In a time when municipal support for food programs like urban agriculture is increasing throughout the world, and the movement explodes in Toronto, we need more City support, not less. Please spread the word online and ask your friends to call or write too. Join our political picnic against the cuts at City Council's lunch break September 26. See our TO Events Hub (above) for more!
Toronto's food movement is using its roots to tell the City what it thinks about potential cuts to the City's urban agriculture program. With over 80 Torontonians registered to give remarks at Thursday's Parks and Environment Committee, community gardens, food centres, neighbuorhood groups, parks users and others are making themselves heard.
Toronto Council committees have been meeting this week to tackle the KPMG reports which have a small scope of reviewing existing City services upon whether they are mandatory, essential, traditional or "other". The Urban Agriculture program and Toronto Environment Office were put in the other category in the report.
Please sign and share this petition to save these programs.
More info on the process of the Parks and Environment Committee can be found here. The Executive Committee which will ultimately set much of the agenda meets next week and will also be open to deputations. The discussions will continue until the budget is decided early next year.
Food Forward congratulates our colleagues in this effort, especially Park People, LEAF, Toronto Environmental Alliance, Fresh City Farms and the Toronto Community Garden Network and the many other groups and individuals who have registered to depute and speak with councillors. Our Executive Director's deputation can be found below, and you can find watch speakers and deliberations live online Thursday, or in person on the second floor of City Hall.
2012 City of Toronto Budget and Parks overview from Park People: http://parkpeople.squarespace.com/parks-budget-watch/?SSScrollPosition=110
Core Service Review Summary to Parks and Environment Office from TEA:
Dear Councillors and members of the public,
I am speaking on behalf of Food Forward, a Toronto-based community organization that provides a people's voice for a better food system. We are made up of members, and dozens of organizational and business partners throughout the City who believe that a healthy, local food system supports economic vitality and diversity in Toronto.
As an avid user of City parks, I appreciate the feedback from other deputants. As someone who has worked in urban forestry, I value the health and residential economic benefits that come from building a strong city tree canopy.
You may not have thought much previously about urban agriculture as a City service, and might be seeing it in this report and wondering if it “core”, and if it should be delivered.
Toronto has actually been providing support for urban agriculture for decades. I’ve been told stories from well before I was born about compost being delivered by the City for allotment gardens at Leslie Spit, with projects in High Park and Thorncliffe Park dating as far back as the 1970s.
Although it has a significant history in the City, today urban agriculture has completely taken off in Toronto like never before. I learn about new projects all the time, in all parts of the City, with neighbourhood groups looking to grow healthy food, and ending up in beneficial situations I’ve seen where seniors and youth work together, where safety has improved in parks, and even programs in which homeless Torontonians have found a place to feel safe and be proud of. We’re using the gardens as springboards for building more projects in our communities, like canning workshops to preserve good food year-round, and providing fresh food for local food banks.
These projects are making a difference in Regent Park, Bathurst and Finch, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Flemingdon Park, Willowdale, Scarborough Village, Jane and Finch, and on and on. Another way to see the interest is by looking at public comments in the Core Service Review where food security, environment, affordable and local food are mentioned countless times.
Work in community gardens now provides employment experience, as entrepreneurs start up companies throughout the City doing urban agriculture for profit, a number of which have begun in the last couple of years.
Toronto is not unique in its dramatic increase in chronic disease, especially in vulnerable areas where access to healthy food is hard to find. But it is a leader in community food and business solutions that are driving positive changes in peoples’ lives.
The Toronto Environment Office and Live Green have been big supporters of urban agriculture, their staff providing needed resources and connections to residents, and their grants helping to provide start-up supplies and valuable internships for youth. Live Green supported a community festival I helped organize in St. James Town that lent an opportunity for kids to interact, learn and become better connected with their community.
The removal of the Toronto Environment Office or urban agriculture program would mean significant loss for many communities who people are working so hard in our neighbourhoods to increase access to healthy, sustainable food.
May there be efficiencies in the urban agriculture program, opportunities to do it better and for the community to become even more engaged? Yes, probably. The biggest complaints I’ve heard are that there is not enough support, lists are too long, or there are too many barriers to get involved. But ignoring the potential for nuanced improvements by eliminating these and related programs as identified in the KPMG report would be the wrong approach.
Torontonians involved in food security have a very clear picture of what would work better: parks and public spaces where gardens, bake ovens, fruit trees, community kitchens and farmers’ markets are welcome and where community innovation and even small business can flourish.
We hope the Committee itself will have a serious discussion about these matters, and we offer our ongoing support to build a stronger, efficient and healthy Toronto.
Executive Director, Food Forward