by Tara Zupancic
Tish Carnat is the kind of person that when you talk to her, you feel understood. And that is why, when you walk down Milky Way, a little back alley of Parkdale Toronto, you will spy a backyard full of gardeners tending to their vegetables while practicing their English.
Tish teaches English as a second language. Most of her students are Tibetan and newcomers to Canada. One day in class, she focused on the topic of food. She thought; food is universal and a great topic of conversation. But she was met with silence. “What is it?”, she asked her class, “Don’t you like vegetables?” One of her students spoke and explained that they all liked vegetables but that they were just too expensive.
Many newcomers to Canada live on an income of just over $500/month. And in big cities and even small ones, $500 barely covers the rent. So food choices can be tough ones and fresh fruits and vegetables suddenly become premium products that get left off the grocery list. The need to choose diapers or bus tokens over fresh fruit was a common story.
So Tish took it upon herself to find a place to grow vegetables. Finding an empty backyard and an owner willing to hand over their plot of land to a gang of unknown gardeners wasn’t exactly easy but she persisted and the rest is history. Now about 40 of her students have a place to collectively grow food – this is their second classroom and they practice speaking English while watering the lettuces and cracking a lot of jokes. They are supported by Greenest City, a non-profit organization that runs a community garden with over 33 plots; a place where they integrate with other people growing food in Parkdale.
Did it solve their food issues? Not exactly. Sure, they share in a bumper crop of vegetables several weeks of the summer and there are salads-o-plenty during this time. But for them, the garden is about sharing, community and a chance to feel the earth in an otherwise concrete urban space. Overall they say, the garden has made their lives better. But food is still a major issue.
Food insecurity in Canada is a considerable conundrum; one that the People’s Food Policy Project has been working hard on. Over the past several years they have been developing a national food policy for Canada. The process involved intense discussion with thousands of Canadians, many just like Tish and her fellow gardeners. They hosted innovative “kitchen table talks” to find out what is on the hearts, minds and plates of Canadians facing food challenges. The results are in and Resetting the Table: A People’s Food Policy for Canada was officially launched on Monday April 18th on Parliament Hill.
Among the recommendations are:
* Enacting a strong federal poverty elimination and prevention program, with measurable targets and timelines, to ensure Canadians can better afford healthy food.
* Creating a nationally-funded Children and Food strategy (including school meal programs, school gardens, and food literacy programs) to ensure that all children at all times have access to the food required for healthy lives.
* Ensuring that the public, especially the most marginalized, are actively involved in decisions that affect the food system.
We look forward to the reaction to this massive initiative and encourage focusing on the voices of those most affected by food insecurity who are often left out of decision-making processes in Canada.
Photo by Tish Carnat, SUCCEED Community Researcher, Parkdale Toronto.
Acknowledgement: We are grateful to Tish, her students and Greenest City for their contribution’s to The Centre Environmental Health Equity, SUCCEED research project on Urban Environmental Health Equity