How Does Your Garden Grow?
At The Stop — a thriving community hub that provides healthy food, skill-building and the fostering of social connections — the greens and the veggies are blooming.
You’ve heard of paying it forward? Th at’s exactly what happens at The Stop Community Food Centre, located in Toronto. It’s an innovative model: participants and volunteers work side by side to grow food, cook meals and foster community-building. And they’re constantly striving to do better, by increasing access to healthy food and meals in a way that maintains dignity, builds health and community, and challenges inequality.
From its origins as one of Canada’s first food banks in the ’80s, The Stop has blossomed over the years to provide drop-in meals, community kitchens and gardens, as well as a broad range of programs ranging from building cooking and food skills to offering nutrition advice and even family support.
“People have been grateful to be in the garden and to have a space outside, with some semblance of normalcy” — Yuan Xu
What sets The Stop apart from other programs and organizations is its creativity, especially in these unprecedented times. Since the spring, The Stop has had to reduce the amount of people in its gardens at any one time, but the staff have discovered new ways to keep growing and keep participants connected. A lot of the seniors couldn’t participate because of COVID-19 precautions, so staff have been arranging smaller site visits and delivering produce directly to their homes. “People have been grateful to be in the garden and to have a space outside, with some semblance of normalcy,” says Yuan Xu, the community gardens co-ordinator. “For many, this is the first place they’ve been to that isn’t a grocery store. You can really see that they miss being in this space.”
“Now that the market is outside, people in the community can walk up and ask me these things. I think it’s great” — Ramdath, a volunteer with The Stop
Recently, The Stop’s Good Food Market has reopened, and everyone is welcome to shop for low-cost affordable and locally grown fruits and veggies. Two of the volunteers, Ramdath and Anna, have been volunteering at the Good Food Market for years — Ramdath for more than seven years. “It’s wonderful to see familiar faces now that we’ve reopened,” says Anna.
The good news is that The Stop has still been able to have a great growing season this year. The produce is now being harvested, including tomatoes, kale, garlic, onions, radishes and squash, and the harvest is being split with volunteers and The Stop’s food bank and takeaway meals.
It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of community gardens. It’s not just about the food and providing space to grow low-cost fruits and veggies for people without a place to garden at their homes, but also a place for people to meet and make friends with neighbours they might never have met otherwise. It encourages neighbours to support one another by practising teamwork, learning from one another and promoting working together.
One surprising upside this year? A lot of people in the neighbourhood are stopping by the garden for the first time and asking some questions. “We’ve seen new community members showing interest in both contributing to the Earls-court garden and starting their own,” says Xu.
Ramdath agrees. “It’s nice meeting people here,” he says, and Ramdath often shares his cooking tips with shoppers. “People ask all kinds of questions about the food: ‘What is okra? Where does it grow?’”
He’s happy to talk okra and other veggies. “I can explain it to them. I love to cook,” he says. “Now that the market is outside, people in the community can walk up and ask me these things. I think it’s great.”
WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT A GARDEN?
There’s nothing like the taste of a sun-ripened tomato, a snappy cucumber or a tender zucchini grown in your own garden. Harvesting the fruits and veggies is the best part, but there are myriad other benefits, too:
– No pesticides.
– You can grow your favourite varieties for a very low cost.
– A garden is an easy way to teach kids about healthy eating habits.
– Gardening is good exercise, great for stress relief and good for your spirit. Fresh produce is more nutritious than food that has been shipped from thousands of miles away.
– The health benefits of eating fruits and veggies are tremendous, including protection from diseases such as cancer, and it’s easy to eat more when they’re growing in your own backyard.