NEWS + EVENTS
Why We Need Taste of Regent Park

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Summer at CRC/Regent Park Community Food Centre means that there is a constant buzz of activity indoors and outdoors.  It’s gorgeous in our 187 community gardens, where downtown east residents of all ages are growing produce ranging from potatoes and beets to kiwi, guava and amaranth. The Kids Cook and Grow program, which teaches kids and youth culinary, gardening and safety skills, just held its graduation ceremony. Our exciting new pilot project to prepare downtown east residents for food industry jobs has kicked off.  Eid celebrations in June drew many mothers and children to 40 Oaks to mark the end of Ramadan with great food and fun.

In the Big Park, thousands of people from our community and from other parts of the City are flocking to our 4th annual Taste of Regent Park festival−happening every Wednesday night this summer. Last year, 3,000 people dropped in to celebrate the vibrant food, music and culture of this community. It is an event where people of all income levels and backgrounds gather, celebrate culture, share resources and access delicious, healthy, affordable and culturally diverse foods.

This annual summer festival exemplifies how we are working to achieve our Mission:

The CRC provides innovative solutions which help residents of Regent Park and the surrounding neighbourhoods enrich community well-being, improve economic conditions, realize their potential and direct their lives. We prioritize our efforts toward individuals and families facing barriers (e.g., caused by poverty, inequity, discrimination).

On the surface, Taste of Regent Park is this amazingly fun, dynamic and diverse event every Wednesday night of the summer.  Great food is prepared by different local caterers each week and budding local vendors test their mettle in developing a sustainable business model. At our Bake Oven, we train members of the community to make naan and pizzas in an ancient wood-fired tradition. Lively entertainment, music and a fun outdoor film round out the fantastic vibe. The Mayor just tweeted us out and BlogTO has done a piece on us as a “place to go in the summer”. Last week, about 1,000 people watched the movie under the stars, hosted by Regent Park Film Festival.

On a deeper level, Taste of Regent Park is a deliberate effort to achieve three key neighbourhood goals:

GOAL #1: STIMULATE SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT AND INCREASE SAFETY IN THE DOWNTOWN EAST:

Taste of Regent Park provides a safe, welcoming space where diverse people come together, meet their neighbours, get to know their community and experience new foods, activities, and cultures – and have fun together.  Social inclusion across the economic divide is a significant aim of the Regent Park Revitalization, and Taste of Regent Park is one of the few initiatives that successfully achieves that key goal. People from the full housing, cultural and socio-economic mix come together in a very positive way to celebrate.  Last year, a local volunteer who lives in a market condo, and who happens to be a Master Baker and an all-around awesome person, taught a whole raft of local youth who live in TCHC housing how to run the Bake Oven.  It is through programs such as Taste of Regent Park that the community can connect, acknowledge and embrace their differences, and built strong bonds over time.

“Very positive, helps to mix the rich and the poor. Cultural diversity is important.”*

 It’s essential in the summer to have this event – people can see they live in an amazing community with people with all kinds of skills.”*

 “Brings the community together and allows people to interact with other cultures from the community. Removes stigma.”*

36675535_1866050296786260_2564048587554029568_nFriends of Regent Park operating the Bake Oven

BackgroundThe Regent Park Social Development Plan:

For 50 years, Regent Park was the largest and lowest-income social housing project in Canada, comprised entirely of social housing physically separated from the neighbourhoods around it. This physical separation was often matched by challenging social outcomes in education, access to employment, good affordable food choices, decent housing and recreational opportunities. Prospects for social and economic advancement were limited for many.

CRC has been working alongside the people of this community since 1964. With the Regent Park Revitalization, the opening of our new amazing community hub and housing facility in 2012 and the opening of the Regent Park Community Food Centre in 2014, CRC is emerging as an innovative, vibrant centre. We offer thousands of healthy meals each year, extensive Food Skills and Culinary Skills training programs and peer advocacy services. We support our 40 Oaks communal garden and allotment gardens in the downtown east, host community events around social justice issues (such as minimum wage, poverty action and elections) and help to stabilize life by accommodating over 100 individuals through our deeply affordable, supported permanent housing project.

The Regent Park Revitalization (we’re about halfway through now) has been an attempt to rebuild Regent Park as “a diverse, mixed income community in an open and integrated neighbourhood.” There were two key parts to Revitalization plan:  the Physical Development Plan (new buildings, services, roads, commerce) and the Social Development Plan (SDP).

The SDP recognized that changing the socio-economic mix in a community that had 50 years of history would require some focused attention and effective strategies.  Residents identified concerns about how this would unfold as a huge number of more affluent individuals and families would move into an existing neighbourhood.  The SDP was based on local feedback and research in other global communities about social cohesion strategies.  Taste of Regent Park is a successful example of a community initiative that draws together that mix in a very positive and engaging manner.

“Gets everyone outside in the same place in public space, makes the community feel vibrant.”*

Attendance Numbers from 2017 Taste of Regent Park:*

  • 3,000+ children, youth, adults and seniors from Regent Park and beyond.
  • Of our Regent Park attendees:
    • 40% live in Toronto Community Housing with 60% living in market condos.
    • 80% said they had experienced something new.
    • 97% said they’d return to Taste of Regent Park.
    • We partnered with 13 Community Groups who shared information about local resources and hosted 20+ local vendors who sold clothes, art and crafts.

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Affordable tomatoes from the produce table

GOAL #2: INCREASE GOOD FOOD ACCESS:

Taste of Regent Park attempts to increase access to fresh, highly affordable, and locally-grown produce and introduce residents and neighbours to interesting food from various local cultural traditions – things that residents can’t always find at affordable prices in grocery stores. Our $2 cartons of fresh strawberries are a constant hit, selling out early each week. It has grown from a small initiative to offer fresh local food with the encouraging and consistent support of Daniels Corp and TCHC to a large and thriving festival that is a mainstay of summer in Regent Park.

 “To me this event has really impacted me to be more social and has let me meet new people and agencies. I’ve also learned how to eat a lot healthier and gotten to taste a lot more cultural food I don’t usually get to eat.”*

Produce Numbers from 2017 Taste of Regent Park:

  • Our Affordable Market Table earned $3,378.
  • We provided opportunity for several local caterers who served 1,770 affordable meals, that were culturally diverse, nutritious and delicious (220 meals each week), earning $3,600.
  • Supported by CRC and Friends of Regent Park, trained animators fired up the Bake Oven each week during Taste of Regent Park, making a range of diverse treats including cinnamon buns, beef patties, mac’n’cheese and roasted corn.
  • Over 1,000 items were prepared and sold.

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Families decorating sugar cookies at the Bake Oven

GOAL #3: FOSTER LOCAL EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES:

ToRP provides a venue for local vendors, caterers and artists to market and sell their goods. The pay-what-you-can Community Catered Meals are prepared by residents who are professionalizing their culinary skills as part of CRC’s Food Skills programming. Our staff support caterers and local vendors with preparation, planning, self-marketing and customer relations.  It’s a win-win.  Folks from the neighbourhood and all the other visiting individuals and families who visit ToRP take pride in supporting startup initiatives and there are always great conversations about how people came to be doing their work.  Taste of Regent Park introduces many Torontonians to a very positive expression of Regent Park.

“Lived here my whole life, so it’s nice to have a space to bring people together, especially new people in neighbourhood”*

 Programming Numbers from 2017 Taste of Regent Park:

  • We were supported by approximately 150 volunteers, including many youth from the community, as well as residents, students, and corporate groups.
  • We invited many local musicians, dancers, artists and entertainers, which included traditional Chinese Folk and Salsa dancers, circus performers from Square Circle, DJs, youth performers, and drum circles.
  • We hosted several workshops/demos on Tai Chi, apple cider pressing, make-your-own dryer sheets, and make-your-own fruit smoothie on our bike-powered blender.

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Face painting at the Kids Corner

Why We Need Taste of Regent Park Moving Forward

There remain very significant challenges in the community we serve.  We continue to be impacted by several risk factors, including high density, immigration, homelessness and poverty. The recent opioid crisis has its epicenter here and has placed a sudden and enormous strain on the downtown east and its social service agencies, hospitals, first responders, shelters and community housing buildings. A recent spike in gun violence has left the City reeling and people are feeling uncertain.

On CBC Radio on July 3, Louis March, founder of Zero Gun Violence said, “There’s a difference between living in High Park and living in Regent Park. No one is born with a gun in their hand — what are the conditions that fuel the demand for violence and this demand for guns?”

Toronto City Councillor Joe Cressy said, “Gun violence is a symptom of poverty and other challenges in neighbourhoods that need to grow stronger and more empowered … to stop the violence at its core. At the end of the day, after the caution tape comes down, that’s when we need to scale up our efforts to build safer and stronger neighbourhoods.”

These voices speak to the complexity of the social challenges; there are no easy solutions to the negative outcomes of poverty. At the core of our mission, CRC is providing our neighbours with good food, community, housing, skills-building and helping them build agency in their lives, with dignity. We are also endeavoring to foster social cohesion, public space animation and safety in the downtown east, to ensure the ambitious Regent Park redevelopment moves toward success. Taste of Regent Park is one example of hope for a united emerging vision of community ahead. Drop by Taste of Regent Park one night this summer and take part in an event bringing the downtown east community together, one Wednesday at a time.

By Claire Barcik, Executive Director

 

* sourced from Taste of Regent Park 2017 participant survey