Community Food Program brings people together

Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association (HSCA) has launched five new initiatives within the last year as part of its Community Food Program. The program which also includes the existing farmers’ market was created following community consultation in 2011-12 that identified a need for better financial and physical supports to access food and more opportunities to come together to build community along with food and garden skills.

“The Community Food Program on one level is about food and working toward building a sustainable and resilient local food system but it is also about building and engaging community and we are using food as a tool to do that” says Kate Stenson who was hired as community food program co-ordinator in March 2013 and runs the programs along with her supervisor Cate Ahrens.

“Food is something that is central to everyone and has a history of bringing people together so we have designed our programming with that in mind — with food as the thing that draws people in” Stenson adds. “But what they are leaving with is a more complete network of people that they are engaged with and can rely on; a true community.”

Stenson says the idea is starting to catch on inside and outside the community as other associations are keen to start their own programs.

“Momentum is starting to build” she adds. “It takes a long time to get this going.”

The six HSCA community food programs include:

HSCA Farmers’ Market — held weekly from May to October and monthly during winter. A market had been held in the past and then closed but it started again four years ago after group of community members worked to bring it back. “That is what started to build the momentum around getting a community food program” says Stenson.

Local 301: Urban Agriculture Workshop Series — a mix of hands-on activities and panel discussions with topics ranging from barriers and opportunities within urban agriculture to beekeeping to gardening. Stenson says interest is growing with 60 people at a recent workshop on urban agriculture.

Food Skills Cooking Program — skill-building and community engagement. Ahrens has completed one session with the Women In Need Society (WINS) and is starting another which involves eight weekly classes to teach cooking skills while also providing an opportunity for people to connect with each other.

Community Gardens — HSCA helps manage two gardens Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Garden and Kensington Community First Garden and takes a more active role in a third the Sunnyside Shared Community Garden. The shared garden including six raised beds located in an unfenced space near Memorial Drive is intended to foster engagement and leadership. Stenson says anyone in the city is welcome to participate with some of the harvest shared among volunteers and the remainder donated to WINS. To promote community engagement Stenson says the site hosted a food swap during which people could bring anything — from handmade quilts to pickles to jam — to trade for something else. “We’re hoping to have a little bit more of that and really see it used as a space for the community.”

Community Food Program Network — support for people starting farmers’ markets. Stenson says HSCA received so many calls from other communities interested in having their own markets that Ahrens started hosting meetings to bring them together and share resources. That led to the creation of the network itself which continues to meet regularly.

Kids Food and Garden Program — a pilot program ran during the summer of 2013 and now weekly sessions take place with students in a neighbourhood after-school program (see our story here ).