A few years ago, I was the keynote speaker at the American Community Garden Association annual conference, held in Toronto. The organizers put together a fabulous event. One of the activities was a tour of FoodShare with Executive Dynamo Debbie Field. That was really my first introduction to this amazing group. They were trailblazers then and they are leading the way now.
FoodShare grew out of the food bank response that occurred when the recession hit in the early 1980’s. Their original mandate was to co-ordinate emergency food services, and to collect and distribute food. But it wasn’t long before they saw that the hunger problem was only getting worse. And there was a real stigma to lining up for food. So they moved away from the charity model and began to develop more sustainable food, self-help programs, like buying co-ops, community gardens and kitchens.
Today they have a veritable crop of sustainable programs. Their Good Food Box distributes 4000 boxes a month of healthy fruit and veggies through 200 neighbourhood depots. They have extended that concept into Good Food Markets, their version of a pocket market, with local community organizations actually running the mini, local food markets.
In their Field to Table kitchen, the professional staff provide hands on training for youth groups, community gardeners and women with breast cancer, and participants in the market garden project in partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. They also offer a course called “Cooking out of the Box” that teaches folks how to cook using the food provided in the good food box, community kitchen style. They cater events with menus of healthy, seasonal, local food – more training opportunities for the interns.
Something else that comes out of that kitchen are power soups and meals for the homeless. The nutrient dense meals are sold to local shelters at subsidized prices improving vastly on the donut and packaged food fare. They have nutrition programs in schools and in turn schools can buy wholesale for their meal programs through FoodShare. They are currently piloting a Salad Bar project to get kids pumped about veggies. They run baby food making workshops too. The kitchen also serves as an incubator for small food business ventures.