A place for food in Regent Park
Reflections on the first year of the CRC Regent Park Community Food Centre
Gardening is just like life.
Sometimes a fruit is coming, and it’s nice.
Sometimes when a tree is dying, not so nice.
Gardening is really important. It’s an exercise for everything.
Not just body exercise, but also for the mind.
CRC garden program participant
“Good food brings people together. Whether you’re cooking it, growing it, sharing it, or advocating for it, good food is integral to the mental and physical well-being of a community”, remarks Emily Martyn, Community Food Centre Manager as she reflects on the first anniversary of the official opening of the CRC Regent Park Community Food Centre last September.
Today as you walk up to CRC you will notice a new sign that now sits proudly on the front face of the building announcing “A place for food in Regent Park.”
But what does this mean?
According to Emily, “It means access to good food, building food skills, and community engagement.”
Access to good food
Building on the CRC’s longstanding programs, the launch of the Community Food Centre has allowed CRC to prioritize healthy food in the drop-in meal program. By hiring a full-time chef and building connections with local farms, CRC is now able to provide restaurant-quality food to our participants, serving over 65,000 healthy meals this year.
Living in poverty can be emotionally and physically exhausting. CRC believes that a welcoming and dignified atmosphere where people can sit down for a hot meal can do wonders for people’s physical and mental health – and our participants agree, “It changes everything about me. You have heart, have a meal in your belly, leave with a smile.”
Building Food Skills
The Community Food Centre has allowed CRC to build up a robust Food Skills program. Today in the community kitchen kids learn proper knife skills. Around the table, participants share strategies to reduce salt and sugar in their cooking. Outside when the community gathers around the bake oven in the park they learn to make pizza or bread from scratch. And, in the garden people learn not only how to grow food but to also save seeds for our Regent Park Seed Library.
This year, CRC brought 18 kids together in our summer camp to learn about good food from seed to table. Planting and harvesting in the garden led them indoors to cook simple foods and learn about basic ingredients and how to put a healthy twist on their favourite foods. Conversations about food led to bigger discussions, with the kids getting into the election season spirit by voting on toppings for homemade pizza and learning that sometimes – whether political parties or pepperoni – majority rules.
The Community Food Centre has allowed CRC to use food as a catalyst to bring people together. When people come in our doors looking for a meal, they often need to get connected with other services: housing, income supports, or legal advice. The peer advocates who were trained at our Community Action Training in 2014 have been working throughout the year, holding office hours and info tables to share information about social assistance changes, advocate for more affordable housing, and allow people to meet their political candidates.
2015 also saw the launch of “Taste of Regent Park”, a weekly celebration of food and culture held for 12 weeks this summer. This event brought together an affordable fresh produce market, cooking demonstrations, locally grown veggies and neighbourhood vendors, all topped off with a $3 dinner prepared by a different local caterer each week. Taste of Regent Park brought children, families, seniors, and youth together in the park to share good food and build community through art, dance, music, and conversation. CRC served over 1,500 healthy meals in the park, bringing $2,500 back to the local caterers who made them, and selling $3,000 of produce at the market.
So, what’s next?
“With a year of exciting programming behind us, the CRC Regent Park Community Food Centre is looking forward to building on successes in 2015 for 2016” Emily states. “We’ve built great relationships with local farms and are excited to be offering more top-notch produce from Meadowsweet Farm and the New Farm in our kitchen.”
“Our Food Skills programming will continue to expand, with a ‘cook ahead’ program starting early in the year where participants work together to prep meals they’ll take home to their families, taking some of the pressure off of mid-week meals. We’ll be creating more opportunities for community members to share their skills, hosting a series of peer-led cooking workshops where people from the neighbourhood get trained to lead a workshop on their best recipes.”
“Friends of Regent Park will be building new friendships around the bake oven, training people young and old to make new and traditional breads at our community hearth.”
“And. all the while, we’ll be continuing to talk about the social issues that allow food insecurity to persist in our communities, and working with our neighbours to raise our voices and call for social change.”