When we think about the importance of buying local food, it is common practice to think “where”; while this is important, far too often we don’t account for the “who” and the “how”. In understanding the promotion of community-based food, we need to push in a direction that asks ‘who is growing my food’, ‘how can I build community with those growing my food’, and ‘how can I be involved’.
Within St. Catharines, the most popular way of supporting local vendors and artisans is going to Market Square on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. At the market, you will often find Josh West at the Chez Nous stall. In addition to working with the Stevensville based organic farm, West is locally known for Streetside Greens, his guerilla gardening project of ensuring the space in the elevated beds on Church Street were not going to waste.
West explained that “it took me a season or two to get all the beds going. It’s a big problem with doing it downtown. It’s not dependable what you can water or what will be taken care of or what will be destroyed. It changes the perspective of the farming”. West often accumulates an audience of people curious about his efforts to repurpose underutilized space for food production and encourage others to try it themselves.
“That’s my favourite part of it, is just to share what I know with the people who are around […] That’s the way. You’ve got to go and get your hands dirty and just do it.”
The importance of utilizing limited space was echoed by Shane Taylor, an urban gardener, who currently works with five different community garden spaces.
“I look at any unused space and all I see is the garden potential out of it,” he said.
In collaboration with his work with Food Not Bombs – St. Catharines, Taylor is working to establish a local chapter of Food Not Lawns. In addition to their current work on community gardens, this emerging group would host workshops on urban foraging, seed saving, and canning. By moving to a collective model of food production, monetary barriers are somewhat addressed. Taylor noted that when “people have more tools than they need or more seeds than they need, and have time and willingness to help each other out, then it becomes way more doable”.
Another approach to getting involved with and gaining transferable skills in food production, is connecting with a farm in the area, and volunteer. Speaking with Elva Tammemägi, local farmer at Rhizome Farms, she explained that “there’s different sorts of skills not just necessarily physical weeding or something, but if somebody is good at marketing, for example”, these are also integral skills for promoting the farm. Looking for regular volunteers, as well as more structured placements like a workshare, where for “a small amount of hours per week and then you get vegetables and an honorarium at the end of the season”. Tammemägi expressed her vision for the future of Rhizome as having “more of a community feel at the farm. And definitely have more people involved. I think people like to be involved in producing food. I think it’s interesting to see how things grow for different people”.
Gaining recognition through social media advertising and word-of-mouth connections Rhizome Farms offers CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) baskets, which has allowed for expanding community dynamic as “you also get to see the same people each week, and get to ask ‘What are you doing? How’s this going?’”. This approach to community-based understanding of food pushes to change the culture of disregard for who and how our food is produced. Taylor explained that to become active in local food is an ongoing process.
“It’s just changing. It won’t shift immediately because people need to try eating new things and trying to cook new things.”
Beyond engaging with the various approaches of West, Taylor, Tammemägi, it doesn’t take much to uncover many communities within our city promoting people actively engage in local food. From tuning in to The Gardening Show Saturday mornings on CFBU 103.7 FM, stopping by the Master Gardeners table at the Downtown Public Library, or attending workshops put on by organization like or Small Scale Farms, there are ever increasing ways of gaining the hands-on skills needed for trying out your green thumb.
In summarizing how to support a growing culture of community food, West summarizes, in that “you either get into with your hands or with your wallet”.
Knowing that growing food happens in all settings, rural and urban, by our neighbours and in our communities, find the space where you can contribute to a growing culture of community food.