By Kenda McLellan
My family believes my yearly trips to Toronto are all about them. And, mostly they are. But even without the promise of snuggling grandbabies, I love the city. There is a diversity and a vibrancy that permeates the streets and parks.
Brenda Leenders removes a loaf of bread baked in an outdoor oven as part of a workshop to teach people how to make homemade bread.
The parks of Toronto have become the new kitchen table, long enough for everyone to fit around.
Dufferin Grove, a park in the city's west end, hosts a Friday night pay-what-you-can supper complete with side dishes, main course, dessert and homemade bread. Hipsters, families, single executives and seniors line up between the children's Community Garden and the fire pits before filling up the picnic tables. The food is fresh, local and often prepared using the outdoor oven in the heart of the park. On Tuesday mornings you can bring your own bread to bake in the oven. Wednesdays are pizza day.
Across the city beside an old bus station, a Vietnamese grandmother and an Indo-Canadian teen are planting their shared garden at The Stop, a Community Food Centre (CFC). CFCs are spreading across the country from Winnipeg to Dartmouth.
The Stop originated in the Davenport area, a section of the city known as a food dessert because of it's lack of grocery stores. It began as a food bank, and morphed into much more. Every day cooking classes, catering, meal programs, community kitchens, gardening, social activism, a Good Food Market and community building happen at its two locations.
As Maritimers have always known, we don't have to travel to Toronto to find innovative ideas. Seniors and youth in North End Halifax have grown a social enterprise known as Hope Blooms. Together, they plant, harvest and produce their own line of salad dressings.
Closer to home, Brenda Leenders and Ian McHattie have built their own outdoor oven, protected under a canopy, and perfect for pizza.
Sarah Elton, author of Consumed, was a recent guest on CBC radio's, The Next Chapter. She spoke of meeting a gentleman in France who said, "We look to the past for inspiration, but we don't wear our old clogs."
The issues of hunger and food security, of obesity and healthy eating are not new problems. People across this country are looking to the past - to potluck suppers, neighbours swapping recipes, gardeners sharing plots, grandmothers passing on skills - to build a strong, sustainable food system. But, we don't wear our old clogs.
There is a place for social enterprise and for innovation. There are towns where the Department of Community Services gives income assistance recipients farmers' market bucks to purchase local, healthy food. The great thing is that there is no distinction between those people and anyone else who uses the bucks.
The Amherst Food Bank hosts a community food mentor each week who provides a recipe and samples of a dish prepared with food from the food bank. This is handed out as clients come to receive assistance.
Colchester County is filled with people who love food - love to cook it, love to grow it and love to share it.
We need a forum to gather together to discuss the issues and share solutions, a place to share knowledge, ideas, and a place where there is no organizational hierarchy - a group of people looking to increase the health and vibrancy of our communities.
We look to a future where people are not separated by how much food they have access to. We look to the past, too, but we won't wear our old clogs. Maybe we begin by building an outdoor oven in the new Riverfront Park. Who's up for pizza?
Kenda MacLellan is a community food mentor and a board member of the Living Earth Council. She lives in Truro.