It’s not enough for the West End Food Cooperative to help residents put food on their tables. They want to help put food in their cupboards, pantries and basements, too.
The Parkdale-based organization aims to encourage local food sustainability, especially among immigrants, the disabled and those struggling financially through programs like its canning workshops.
“The primary goal is to bring locally produced food into the city environment, where it’s available for urban consumers, in a way that best serves the interests of both the consumers and their local farmers and producers,” said the West End Food Cooperative’s workshop facilitator, James Partanen.
The organization decided to focus on Parkdale because they saw it as a community with significant struggles.
“Parkdale has a lot of marginalized people, people with economic, mental health, or employment challenges,” Partanen said. “Being able to can your food really increases your food security.”
Buying local and preserving food can significantly cut costs. For example, if one buys locally produced tomatoes and uses a recycled jar, the cost for a jar of tomato sauce goes down to about 75 cents, Partanen said.
This is especially important for low-income residents who face health challenges.
“Someone who’s on Ontario Disability Support Program or a new Canadian who’s only marginally employed, doesn’t make enough money to shop at a health food store,” he said. “With these types of skills, they can shop at No Frills and still make the type of food their dietary requirements need.”
Partanen said the advantage of preserving food is two-fold; not only is it cheaper, but healthier too.
“Not only do they know where the produce came from, but they know what ingredients went into it, so they have that much of an ability to dictate what they’re eating,” he said. “And it’s inexpensive.”
The cooperative is in its sixth year and holds a farmer’s market at Sorauren Park every Monday from 3–7 p.m.
Their ultimate goal is to open a local grocery store, which they anticipate will happen within the next few months. They have already purchased the space.
The cooperative functions with the help of the Small Change Fund, a micro-philanthropy charitable organization that connects donors to local projects.
Small Change Fund’s communications director, Clare McDowall, said the project was chosen because of its scope and strong commitment to local change.
“The reason West End Food Coop was chosen was because of their specific outreach, particularly to new immigrants in the Parkdale area,” she said. “That’s a group that really struggles when they come to Toronto.”
She said it was an easy decision to provide the West End Food Cooperative with a grant because of the work they do.
“I think our advisors were really impressed that such a small amount of money could create such good in that community.”