For five years, The Local Community Food Centre in Stratford, ON grew food in raised garden boxes in their backyard. With city regulations preventing them from planting a garden on the centre’s spacious property, the boxes served as a workaround solution, where program participants built basic gardening skills and complemented community meals with home-grown ingredients. But they always dreamt of doing more. After securing several government and community grants, and a few acres of green space in the form of a city-owned former soccer field, they were ready to dig shovels into the soil on their first community garden.
Everything but the fence was built and planted by 30 hard-working community members, many of whom come to The Local regularly for meals and programming. And 40 community members have been given their own personal plot to grow whatever they like. This group of newly minted gardeners come together three times a week to tend to their plots, swap tips, show off the day’s harvest, and tackle those tasks that require more than two hands. A 1,500-square-foot area of the garden is being used to grow food solely for The Local’s community meal programs. Food can’t get more local than that.
The community garden is just one kind of program offered at The Local CFC. Their food access programs, including the popular Monday Night Dinner, Seniors Lunch, and Community Access Market — which they’ve recently taken on the road to two neighbouring communities with their vibrant Mobile Market — help community members living on low incomes access healthy food. Their many food skills programs, such as Seed, Feed, and Lead, and Family Harvest Kitchen, help participants build skills in both cooking and gardening, and have helped 79% of them make healthy changes to their diets. At FoodFit, facilitator Kate supports both adults and youth to make positive changes to their health through cooking, exercising, and learning about nutrition along the way. And The Local’s EPIC Social Justice Club always has an issues-based campaign on the go. Whether they’re advocating for affordable housing or empowering people to reclaim underused space to grow food, 55% of participants have become more engaged on community issues since coming to The Local.
The Local CFC serves low-income communities in Stratford and three surrounding counties, where 11% of the population is food insecure. Stratford also has a high population of seniors, with 20% of community members age 65 and older. Community Food Centres Canada partnered with the United Way of Perth-Huron to launch The Local Community Food Centre in 2012. It was one of two pilot sites developed to test the CFC model in new communities, and determine if the approach could be scaled nationally. The United Way of Perth-Huron’s leadership in developing one of the earliest Community Food Centres built on their work to engage people living in poverty and mobilize the community to take action.