Food as a gateway to community building (and my heart)

Food as a gateway to community building (and my heart)

If you didn’t catch my sentiment from the title, I’m just going to go ahead and say it: I love to eat. And as a former chef, I also love to cook. From adventurous oyster shooters with quail eggs and salmon roe to healthy quinoa salads to deadly Krispy Kreme burgers, I’m always open to trying new culinary experiences. To me, making food is one of those rare activities where the results can be experienced in a tangible and emotional way. Not to mention that going into the food industry with a unique (and delicious) idea is a great way for entrepreneurs to create viable businesses.

Here at Social Innovation Generation (SiG@MaRS), however, food means more than just bold flavours or satisfying a craving. We believe that good food can help create a culture of healthy eating, reconnect people with their communities, promote equality in ever-gentrifying neighbourhoods, foster engagement in local spaces and serve as the basis for successful ventures.

MaRS has a history of helping social innovation clients working in the food industry. For example:

  • FoodShare – an organization that delivers fresh produce to your door
  • FoodVolt – an app and website that helps consumers find the cheapest food options locally
  • Tiffinday – an inclusive organization that serves vegan foods and provides jobs to ethnic minorities

Today, I’d like to highlight one social enterprise that does all of these things: The Stop Community Food Centre (“The Stop”).

The Stop has two Toronto locations, with affiliate sites of Community Food Centres Canada in Stratford and Perth, Ontario:

  • Their main office at 1884 Davenport Road provides multi-service programs, including the Community Action Program, community cooking sessions, a food bank, sustainable food markets and much more.
  • The second location is in the Wychwood Barns at 601 Christie Street, where a sustainable food production and education centre houses a greenhouse, a professional kitchen, gardens and a food education program.
  • The Stratford and Perth locations are replicating the Stop’s model in these regions.

The Stop’s philosophy is that access to healthy food is a basic human right and that the ability to access healthy food is influenced by many factors and is not just the result of socio-economic status. The key approach to The Stop’s food program is that participants are encouraged to be involved in the process.

According to The Stop’s website: “When program participants are involved—as front-line volunteers, program advisory committee members, gardeners or cooks—the stigma associated with receiving free food is often diminished or erased. While our food access programming helps confront the issue of hunger, it also creates opportunities for community members to forge their own responses to hunger.”

By taking the genuine interest in and passion for food that exists in the community and funneling that energy into equity, the community food model is aligned with a business model that serves gourmet artisanal items to paying customers and channels revenue back into programs. While the number of social enterprises doesn’t make up the majority of the funding and the main focus is to foster connections between local farmers and sustainable vendors and their customers, an entrepreneurial spirit always compliments the organization’s objectives.

The Stop Community Food Centre effectively creates a win-win situation, inspiring people like me who love to eat while mobilizing private capital for public good.