Beyond Food Banks

A new kind of community centre is emerging across Canada, and its focus is food. Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC) was launched in 2012 in an effort to provide a more integrated response to food insecurity and other food issues. One of the main principles behind the project is meeting people where they’re at. Helping people to meet their immediate day-to-day needs acts as the groundwork for addressing more complex food issues – one cannot exist without the other. Simply meeting basic needs, like the food bank model does, is often not enough and they leave people feeling isolated and powerless. Community food centres (CFCs) change that. They provide a space for people to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food in a community setting. It winds up being an effective way to integrate big picture issues with grassroots action to influence policy. The people in these communities tackle income security and health issues, as well as sustainable agriculture. The vision is for a food economy that sustains farmers, people, and the land.

Addressing hunger is about more than simply feeding people.

CFCC began with two pilot projects. The first was The Table CFC in Perth, ON and the second was The Local CFC in Stratford, ON. Both were modeled after The Stop in Toronto, which was founded over 30 years ago to address food insecurity and hunger in the Kensington Market neighbourhood. However, it became rapidly apparent that the food bank model was not working effectively to address poverty and poor health. Local residents expressed interest in being more involved – in wanting to volunteer, cook, garden and learn more about their food – and that’s when it evolved into something much more. The Stop has since relocated to Toronto’s Davenport neighbourhood and has opened a Green Barn in Wychwood Barns.

Though they continue to function partly as a food bank, they also offer a community kitchen, bake ovens, drop-in meals, urban agriculture programs, classes for new and expectant mothers and several community gardens. Many of the educational programs offered by The Stop focus on sustainable food production and they have a compost demonstration centre at their Green Barn. The community gardens offer a space to learn and share knowledge about different methods and techniques for organic gardening, while the Global Roots Garden offers a space for people who have immigrated to Canada to grow food they may have grown in their home countries. These all help build a strong sense of community among those who frequent The Stop, allowing people to address hunger and health issues in an environment of mutual support.

The Stop has been hugely successful, and so far both The Table and The Local are following in its footsteps. Part of the reason it’s such a useful model is that it’s highly adaptable. The community is actively involved in creating the programming and determining what they need from their CFC. Diversity is built right in. CFCC has plans for four more centres this year, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood and Moncton, New Brunswick. Their goal is to develop 15 new CFCs across the country by 2017.

Just as food literacy is about more than being able to read labels and understand the nutritional components of a meal, addressing hunger is about more than simply feeding people. These food centres offer a holistic approach to address a variety of issues in a variety of ways and provide a space for people to be active participants in driving change not just in their individual lives, but in their neighbourhoods, cities and country. Community food centres are truly built and guided by the community members that use them, making them an invaluable addition to neighbourhoods across the country and hopefully something we will see more of as we strive toward a more sustainable and just food system.  

Genevieve is earning her master's degree in Environmental Studies at York University with a focus on sustainable food systems, food education and food literature. In The Mouthful, she blogs about the environmental politics and possibilities of food. Genevieve is a certified pastry chef and aspiring novelist. She lives in Toronto. @GFullan

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