Tag Archives: Toronto

New book coming out in March

The Stop coverI’m thrilled to report that my new book, written with my husband, Nick Saul, is nearly ready and coming out from Random House Canada in the spring. It’s called The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement. It’s an account of Nick’s 14 years working with the community, volunteers and staff at The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto to transform it from a tiny, inadequate food bank into a thriving, multifaceted community centre that supports people to grow, cook, eat, share and advocate for good food for everyone. Part story about The Stop’s people and evolution, part argument for re-imagining emergency food, part call for a new kind of food system altogether, it’s written in Nick’s voice (it is his story, after all), but the book was a true collaboration.

These days, Nick has left The Stop to head up Community Food Centres Canada, an organization that aims to spread the model they developed across the country. We hope the book will be a great calling card as he and his dedicated colleagues work to bring its innovations to other cities and towns.

The Stop is nearly finished (from our perspective—I’m sure the publisher has a few things to do before it ships out in March!), and we’ve been showing it to others, many of whom have offered very moving words of praise. A number of our food movement and activist heroes—people like Marion Nestle, Jan Poppiendieck, Frances Moore Lappé, Naomi Klein and Raj Patel—have provided blurbs for the jacket copy and publicity material. What a humbling and thrilling experience it is to show your baby to someone you admire and have them say they think it’s important and brave and must be read by everyone. Check back soon to read the advance praise here.

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Filed under Community Food Centre, What's for Lunch?

Vegetative states

November is the longest month here in Toronto. (Or maybe February.) The short, grey, cold days and distance from spring make me despair that it will ever be warm and bright again. Luckily, there are photos. I’m going to try and imagine that this sunflower is my own personal Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp and it’s pouring its sunshiney goodness all over me.

And if that doesn’t work, maybe these radishes can inspire a bit of spring-like optimism.

But I’d even settle for the kind of tough, in-it-for-the-long-haul fortitude of a squash.

Who knew light deprivation could make a person want to anthropomorphize vegetables? For a hilarious take on this very subject, check out Don Gillmor’s wonderful children’s book, When Vegetables Go Bad.

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Filed under City gardens, Kids and food, What's for Lunch?

Window shopping

Type books on Toronto’s Queen Street West always has fun, smart and beautiful window displays (not to mention great selection and knowledgeable staff). And while I may be biased (see bottom centre), I think this back to school window really takes the, uh, cake.  It’s hard to tell from this picture, but those floating faces—mustachio’d, long-lashed—are sandwiches. Talk about getting creative with lunch.


Filed under Kids and food, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Tomatoes are for sharing

This year while we were away on summer holidays, I left our garden in the care of a neighbourhood 13-year-old as well as our Garden Guru across the road. I returned to find it much as I left it, growing steadily, but I figured there’d be a few more tomatoes to show for the two weeks. I was a bit disappointed by the barely ripened full size specimens I found, plus a handful of cherry tomatoes, but put the lack of production down to the hot, dry summer we’ve had and my patch’s stubborn streak this particular year. But over the last few days, I’ve been delighted to discover that my neighbours took me up on my offer to eat what they found while we were gone. Seems our various friends and neighbours enjoyed our tomatoes quite a bit. There was even some guerilla watering by an older gentleman down the street.

The idea that our garden is a community project is a total delight to me. It’s been like that from the beginning when the soil was first delivered and everyone pitched in to shovel it into the raised bed. And since it’s right on the sidewalk people can watch its progress closely—and obviously take an interest in its success.

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Filed under City gardens, Kids and food, What's for Lunch?

Taking the guilt out of lunch (or dinner)

The family table in better times, photo by Andrea Curtis

The irony in the fact that I have just finished my second book related to healthy food (this one for adults—and my cowriter/husband and I are not really finished, we just submitted the first draft), while having nothing in the fridge to eat or feed our family is not lost on me. While in the throes of the final edits this past week, our family ate takeout pizza, Indian takeout, Portuguese chicken takeout and pancakes for dinner (twice). We were just too tired and preoccupied to cook. It wasn’t our finest hour at the family table.

But the truth is, struggling to get healthy food on the table every night is a reality for most families with working parents. It’s not easy to get a meal out (let alone lunch in the lunch bag) when you have no time to grocery shop or even think about the prep. (And I’m not even talking about the working families who can’t afford healthy food like we take for granted.) Luckily, life has returned to normal for us, and we’ll get back to our usual schedule and eat mostly from home this week, but I refuse to feel either self-righteous about our home-cooked meals or guilty about the rest of it.

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Filed under Kids and food, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Winter thyme

We had our biggest snowfall of the season last night.

Frankly, that’s not saying much since winter in these generally wintery parts has been unseasonably warm. In fact, I didn’t even pull out some of my garden plants this fall. We’ve used the thyme (above) and even kale for months after the harvest should have ended.

I love winter, but even on the prettiest snow days, I can’t help dreaming of the spring and planting. I’ve been researching seeds we can plant in the school garden for harvest before school ends in June (Evergreen has a great list of heritage varieties here) and thinking about what to do in our own urban patch.

I know I’m not alone. Take Cleveland’s Martinez Garcias, an artist who created a comic series called Brink City: Green in the Ghetto about urban farming, vermicomposting, food deserts and more. The series is aimed at kids and features an unnamed metropolis on the brink of destruction that is forced to rely on a shape-shifting alien to help scientists, kids and community groups reclaim their land. (Thanks to City Farmer for linking to the series.)

Incidentally, Cleveland seems to be a bit of a hotbed of  animation meets urban farming right now. Check out another City Farmer link here highlighting the comic/zine Urban Farm Manifesto by Old Husher, a self-proclaimed “first generation, third year Cleveland farmer.”

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Filed under City gardens, School gardens, School lunch

What does $1,000 get you?

Last week in Toronto, city council spent a great deal of time listening to the difficult stories of people arguing for the value of social services and against higher user fees and service cuts.

One of the funding streams on the chopping block is school nutrition programs. Readers of this blog will know that there is no universal school nutrition program in Canada—families in need rely on a patchwork of offerings.  In a twisted version of the “last in first out” layoff logic, schools that have most recently added these modest snack and breakfast (occasionally lunch) programs to their schedule will be the first to lose them.

After what was no doubt one particularly heart-rending deputation from a school nutrition program coordinator, the mayor’s brother, councillor Doug Ford, handed the woman a cheque for $1,000 for her school.

She was apparently speechless.

I’m not interested in casting aspersions on Ford’s motives. It was a generous, spontaneous gesture.

But what about the 14,000 other children whose programs are getting chopped unceremoniously? Where’s their money? (According to The Toronto Star, the bill would be $380,000.) Is Ford going to cough up for every school that has a story to tell?

My issue is not with the gesture but with the attitude behind it. Ford and his ilk seem to think that government’s job is to clear the snow and repair the roads rather than “meddle” with the health and welfare of children and people struggling on low incomes. Private charity, they say in word and deed, is the place to turn for the latter.

And yet Ford’s own actions reveal starkly the inadequacy and arbitrariness of relying on the vagaries of private donors.  A handful of kids have a snack while thousands of others go hungry (literally in many cases, according to the deputants.)

Of course, people love these stories. Witness the warm fuzzy feelings so many have about the good Samaritans who have been paying off layaway gifts at discount retailers this holiday season. It makes us feel good about the world, especially at this time of year when we’re all looking/hoping for reasons to believe in the better side of humanity.

And while I’d never want to deny how important this is on a psychological level, shouldn’t we be looking upstream on this? Demanding our democratically elected governments—whose job it is to ensure our society functions in all our interests, not just those who benefit from tax cuts—care for those who need help in careful, nonarbitrary and adequate ways?

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding, School lunch

Snack time

On Thursday afternoons during the school year, I run an after-school writing program for Grade 6 kids. It’s called Writing in the City and it’s offered free through the amazing Toronto community-based nonprofit called Word-Play (we just launched our new web site this week—check it out here!). All of Word-Play’s programs operate out of the basement gallery of Toronto’s awesome indie bookstore, TYPE on Queen Street.

www.word-play.caWord-Play is a volunteer-run organization that started in 2006 after TYPE books’ owners Jo Saul and Samara Walbohm began talking to others in the community about what kinds of supports kids in the neighbourhood might need. It’s been going ever since—focusing on children from three neighbourhood schools— and now has three different programs: Reading, Writing and Filming in the City. (Check out the films the kids made this summer in the film program—3 shorts based on Newbery-Award winning novels that were submitted to a New York Public Library film festival that ran this fall.)

From the beginning, snacks have been part of the after-school deal. When I started planning the writing workshop (the kid are 11, some will turn 12 in the winter), one of the first things I thought about was how ravenous my own kids are after school most days. They are growing every day and need regular food just to stay focused (come to think of it, so do I, and I stopped growing a long time ago).

The way we set it up, they actually have two breaks for food in the  2 hours they’re with us.  It’s really simple and healthy stuff: crackers and cheese, pita and hummus, granola bars, apples, carrots, popcorn sometimes. It doesn’t cost a huge amount but it makes a huge difference.

Once the kids in the workshop have eaten, they can relax into the space and whatever art, drama, creative movement, storytelling or writing we’re doing that day. They’re energized and no longer focused on their bellies. I think they also like it because it’s a signal that this is not a school program—where they have to bring their own food if they want to snack.

When we ask the kids a few times a year about the things they wouldn’t want to change about the workshop, they invariably say THE SNACK!!!! (They love those exclamation marks!) They also talk about the staff and the games we do and the writing exercises we experiment with, but they almost always say they love the chance to eat.

I don’t want to downplay all the other great things we do in the writing workshop, but I do think the snack is the foundation of our success.

Now if only we could get the Canadian government to sit up and take notice of the myriad—much researched—benefits of feeding our children at school.

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding

Garden greatest hits

It’s that time of year again. The nights are getting colder, the days darker, and we’re reluctantly preparing ourselves to put our urban veggie garden to bed for the long sleep. Of course, I’m already thinking about what we can do to improve it for next year, especially how we can make it more kid-friendly. I’ll also be doing some serious crop rotation since I lost a number of plants to disease this year. But in the spirit of harvest celebration, here are the summer of 2011’s greatest hits.

Sweet peas. We didn’t get many, but the ones that grew were perfect. The taste of spring.

Chicory (or dandelion). My new favourite bitter green, and a reminder that one woman’s weed is another’s delicious treat.

Carrots. They were shrunken and hairy, and not quite sweet enough, but the juniors loved them. Worth the long summer wait.

Zucchini flowers. Not sure where the zucchini in this picture ended up (the plant died soon after), but the flowers were extraordinary dipped in milk and flour and fried with olive oil.

Kale. It’s the plant that keeps on giving. From fresh new leaves in the spring to kale chips in the summer, and a more mature, slightly bitter version in the fall, it’s the stalwart of my patch.

Tomatoes. Last, but not least in my heart, that much maligned fruit: the tomato. These cherries have provided colour for my salads and fodder for my salsas all summer and fall. Easy and satisfying to grow. Delish.

{All photos by Andrea Curtis}

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Filed under City gardens, School gardens

Good food for all

It’s that time of year again: come out and celebrate the harvest and all the good work of The Stop Community Food Centre.

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Filed under City gardens, Kids and food