Wednesday’s post about the DTES Kitchen Tables Series dialogues covered the poverty mentality and food donations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but the majority of food distributed in the DTES is purchased by non-profits from businesses, and some of the discussion focused on the issues they face in sourcing good food for their clients.
Ruth Inglis of the DTES Women’s Centre shared a bit about how she goes about purchasing food for the meal programs in her organization.
When she first took on planning meals for the Centre, food orders were made through a large distributor, and due to the low volume of their orders and the supplier’s minimum purchasing rules, the supplier would only deliver once per month. She was concerned that she was unable to know where the food had come from and how it was grown and wanted to support local and organic growing if it was possible.
She began to look for alternative sources and ultimately settled on another large distributor. In the end, price won out as her main consideration.
Searching for alternatives
There are several organizations that are working in the DTES to provide better access to food. One that was mentioned was Quest Food Exchange, an organization that works with restaurants and grocery stores to divert food that would normally be considered waste toward people who are in need. Some of the food is donated to local charities while much of it is offered for sale to low-income people and non-profits at below cost.
Inglis mentioned that while she was interested in purchasing food from Quest, uncertainty about what goods would be available was a disadvantage. Their stock and prices fluctuate, making it difficult to budget and plan meals, and food may be at the end of it’s shelf life, making storage an issue.
For her organization right now, going with a large commercial distributor is easier and makes more sense.
Large distributors are not necessarily bad. Darren Stott, former director of purchasing for SPUDcontributed some thoughts about distributors and sourcing ethical food. SPUD lists the location that the food it sells comes from so that consumers can make informed choices. Other distributors don’t do this. This is because many other larger distributors are so big and have so many sources that they may not know where their food came from and it is not yet part of their corporate culture to make note of it.
However, this is not to say that it is not possible. SPUD’s decision to list food where food came from was a direct result of consumer pressure. Large distributors have greater capacity and are more efficient at sourcing and purchasing. They would source more ethical products if they felt there was consumer demand.
Kitchen Tables Project
Rock’s vision for the Kitchen Tables Project is a resource that enables easier access to food for organizations in the DTES.
These organizations are small and often acting in isolation from each other. There is a need in the DTES for an organization that helps coordinate communication between different organizations about their needs. This organization could help facilitate collective purchasing directly from farms or from suppliers to drive down the price and support local producers at the same time.
Come join us for the next Kitchen Tables talk this Sunday, November 21, where the next topic will beMaking Food, Making Jobs: Downtown Eastside Residents working in their local food economy.
To learn more about the DTES Kitchen Tables Project, visit dteskitchentables.org
The DTES Kitchen Tables Series is a series of dialogues at MOV that put a lens on the issue of providing nutritious and affordable food to people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
The first dialogue centred around the ‘poverty mentality’, the assumption that because people are poor, they are less deserving of a minimum standard of living. This mentality provides a huge barrier to access for many people in need of nutritious food. Many Downtown Eastside residents have health and mental issues that are exacerbated by their lack of access to adequate nutrition, and while they may not have the money to pay for it, the need is still there.
On October 24 we were joined by Joyce Rock, Executive Director of the DTES Neighbourhood House, Ruth Inglis of the DTES Women’s Centre and Darren Stott, former director of purchasing for SPUD to talk about practical solutions to the food problem in the DTES. The dialogue, “Harvest… What harvest?” centred around the issue of distributing quality food in the DTES and the discussion uncovered several issues that face non-profits as they try to help those in need.
The trouble with donations
Downtown Eastside non-profits are often the recipients of food donations from well-wishing donors and businesses that often unintentionally put the recipient organizations in a difficult position.
While they are desperately in need of donations and resources, they are often the recipients of donations that they are not able to use. Often donations are of food that is of low nutritional value - high in sugar and fat - food that is not well suited to meeting the nutritional needs of their clients who may suffer from diabetes, HIV, malnutrition or other conditions.
At other times food donations may be difficult to process. A donation of vegetables or fruit may be at the end of it’s shelf life and an organization may not have the resources - the staff time, volunteers and storage space to make use of it. The organization must then take on the burden of dealing with it’s disposal.
So why accept these donations in the first place?
Once again, the poverty mentality rears it’s ugly head. What right do these organizations in need have to refuse this help that is offered to them? The panelists revealed that it is often difficult to refuse food donations regardless of the fact that they may not meet their organizations’ needs. Non-profits and charities do not want to burn their bridges or be seen to be ungrateful for the assistance that is offered to them.
These organizations recognize that donors mean well, but that better communication is needed so that organizations in the DTES are the recipients of donations that they can actually use. And, in addition to this, there is a need for organizations to be comfortable with refusing donations, to script a depersonalized and non-alienating ‘no’ so that non-profits have more say in what they ultimately distribute to their clients.
Come join us for the next Kitchen Tables talk this Sunday, November 21, where the next topic will be Making Food, Making Jobs: Downtown Eastside Residents working in their local food economy.
To learn more about the DTES Kitchen Tables Project, visit dteskitchentables.org
They received several excellent submissions, each touching in their own way the themes of home, family and childhood memories. Who would have known that home canning was so inspiring?
In the end, the winner is senoritaJen, who reflects on the magic of canning peaches:
When I was a child, canning seemed as intimidating and thrilling as alchemy. The huge enamel canner was an imposing sight, as it took up most of space on the stovetop and emitted billowing clouds of hot steam. It was remarkable to me that my mother and I could produce something that was sealed in glass jars and looked like it could have come from the store.
It was my task to peel the peaches, which I did while perched on a sturdy kitchen chair, letting the fuzzy skins drop into a large orange mixing bowl. Then later I would observe from a safe distance as my mother fearlessly retrieved the filled jars from the boiling cauldron. We would get such satisfaction at the end of the afternoon, proudly surveying all our mason jars lined up in neat rows on the table, with the sun streaming through the window and turning the peaches into gold.
So congratulations senoritaJen, enjoy your MOV prize pack!
Read the submission from the runner-up here.
Image credit: E. Brown-John
The food at last week’s Local Iron Chef event was donated by the Home Grow-In Grocer, one of the locations featured in the Home Grown exhibit. Kaylin Pearce and I visited the shop during our summer work terms to speak to the owner, Deb Reynolds, about her business and local food.
In our research leading up to our visit we heard nothing but wonderful things about this place, so we were excited to pay it a visit. We wanted to profile the store because for most city-dwellers, we relate to food as consumers. The easiest way to make a difference is to put your money where your heart is and choose ethical products over their alternatives.
The grocery store is unique because it is run with a strong social and environmental conscience. It stocks foods grown and produced in BC, a variety of vegetables, fruit, meat, grains, baked goods, dairy products, preserves and honey. Reynolds explained that she was very picky about the quality and provenance of the goods she sells, recalling times when she had pulled products off her shelves because key ingredients had not been produced locally.
Situated on the corner of two quiet residential streets, the store has become a gathering place for people in the neighbourhood. A few people sat in the shade on lawn chairs that had been placed underneath the trees outside, enjoying the atmosphere.
On the afternoon we visited the store was a hub of activity with deliveries, volunteers and staff setting up for the Home Grow-In’s Buyers Club Co-op. The program aims to make food from local farms more available to people through a harvest box program. Once per week produce is delivered from Metro Vancouver farms to the store where it is boxed and then delivered to subscribers. The program has been so successful that Reynolds is now launching a similar program to distribute locally produced meat.
In addition to this, Reynolds takes an active role in helping the community. She has an agreement with fruit tree growers in the interior to donate culled fruit - edible but too blemished to sell in stores - so she can distribute it to the Surrey Food Bank. To date she has donated significant time and several thousand pounds of produce that would otherwise have rotted. She says that this, as well as her business are part of her effort to give back to communities that helped her when she was in need.
Image credit: Brian Harris
There are many ways to tell a story, and part of curating an exhibit is making the decision as to how to present it to people with the finite space, time and resources you have available. In the case of Home Grown, the partnership between MOV and FarmFolkCityFolk had a huge impact on how the exhibit took form and eventually came to feature the photography of Brian Harris.
These photographs introduce you to people and places that you might not otherwise have access to. They provide brief glimpses into several different kinds of activities relating to agriculture around Metro Vancouver, both urban and rural, community-based and private. The images themselves are very beautiful to look at.
But as with any medium, photography has it’s limits. There is only so much information that can be presented in a single photograph. Certain things are included in the frame while others are not.
As an exhibit, Home Grown provides a broad overview of many things that are currently happening in agriculture around Metro Vancouver, but no one story is explored in any particular depth.
Over the summer Kaylin Pearce and I traveled around to various locations to meet some of the people and places in the photographs. We wanted to talk to them about what they do, how they got into producing food and what they get out of it.
The project had it’s setbacks at times. There were equipment and transit mishaps. Scheduling interviews was a hassle. The summer is a busy season for many farmers, and understandably, many have little time to donate to talking to summer students. Others declined to be interviewed for other reasons. Some of the exhibit images were taken in locations that we were not able to visit within the time that we were allotted.
But over the course of the summer we were able to visit and speak to several individuals who were kind enough to take the time to share their thoughts and spaces with us.
Over the next several weeks I will be sharing a bit about the experience and what we talked about through film, blog posts and photographs. I hope you’ll follow along.
Image credit: E. Brown-John
Opening night of Home Grown was a huge success. Over 500 people came to view the exhibit and sample local organic foods. Thanks to everyone who came!
Home Grown is a photographic exploration of local food production and sustainable farming in Vancouver and the surrounding region, presented by MOV and FarmFolk/CityFolk.
In photo-journalistic style, 39 stunning images by photographer, Brian Harris, contain a call-to-action for individuals and communities to reclaim control of local food systems and to think carefully about the ethics of food consumption decisions that are made everyday.
It runs until January 2nd.
It’s a very busy week at MOV!
On Monday we presented a free screening of Eat Drink Man Woman on the lawn in Vanier Park. The weather cooperated and more than 300 people joined us to watch.
There was a lot of food and no one left hungry. The event was sponsored by Potluck Cafe and Catering, who graciously supplied all viewers with organic blueberries. Left Coast Naturals was also present to distribute a huge amount of free snacks.
Bicycle parking was organized by the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition who reported that it was their most successful bike valet ever.
Many thanks to all the organizations and individuals who helped make the event a success and thanks to everyone who came! It was a really enjoyable evening.
This morning was the media preview for the new Home Grown exhibit. We’ve seen many faces come through the door and have already heard a lot of really positive feedback in person and on twitter. We really hope you like it too!
The opening party for the exhibit is tonight. Doors open at 7:00 and admission is $15 or free for members and those with invites. Home Grown runs until January 2nd.
Image credit: E. Brown-John
For our Home Grown exhibit we’re building a shelf to hold dozens of jars of preserves. Think of it; glass vessels full of your raspberry jam, spicy green beans, dilly pickles all lit up. If you’re into canning and food preservation or know someone who is, this is an opportunity to have your work on display at the Museum of Vancouver as a part of a visual feast (opening August 26th) of local food production.
Jars should be labeled with the contents, where the food was grown, your name, and the date of canning.
You can drop off your donations (maximum size 11” or 28 cm high) at our front desk with attention to Joan Seidl (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Image credit: photogramma1, via flickr.