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This article was published 28/7/2015 (1598 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A local food centre is revitalizing its community one meal at a time.
The NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre aims to provide Inkster with a space to grow, cook, share and advocate for nutritious food, while also addressing diabetes and other health concerns prevalent in the area.
Located at 103-61 Tyndall Ave., the community food centre is a project of NorWest Co-op Community Health, in partnership with Community Food Centres Canada.
Opened in March, the 4,000-square-foot centre is one of six community food centres in Canada, and the first west of Ontario.
NorWest is concerned with the Inkster community, which includes the areas of Inkster East (Brooklands, Burrows-Keewatin, Inkster Industrial Park, Pacific Industrial, Shaughnessy Park, Weston and Weston Shops) and Inkster West (Inkster Gardens, North Inkster, Oak Point Highway and Tyndall Park).
According to a community food assessment by Food Matters Manitoba in 2014, Inkster is home to some of Winnipeg’s lowest-income neighbourhoods, specifically the Weston, Brooklands, Shaughnessy Park and Burrows-Keewatin neighbourhoods.
The assessment also found that Inkster has the fastest-rising diabetes prevalence, the highest rate of hypertension in the city and limited access to grocery stores.
In order to combat these issues, the community food centre currently offers food, and health-related programs, including a healthy baby program, community advocacy training and a free, nutritious community lunch three days a week.
"We have a class you can sign up for to learn about cooking for diabetes," said Kristina McMillan, the centre’s director.
"It’s making healthy choices easy and it’s also supporting people through that process to make those changes in their (lives)."
McMillan said the centre is also helping to repair the disconnect between the production and consumption of food.
The centre’s commercial kitchen, which includes a 17-foot-long island for classes, is completely visible from the dining room. Look out the window and you’ll see the centre’s backyard garden, complete with 12 raised garden beds, fruit trees and berry bushes and an outdoor pizza oven.
"It certainly creates more of a connection with your food when you see how it’s grown," said Stephanie Fulford, the centre’s garden and food skills programmer.
"With the big windows, they’re sitting there eating and looking out at the garden and knowing where their salad came from."
Making that salad is the centre’s chef, Grant Mitchell. He and an army of volunteers prepare and serve a community lunch on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. McMillan said Wednesday’s lunch often attracts upwards of 100 people. Mitchell also whips up a healthy breakfast on Tuesday mornings.
On July 15, Mitchell and company cooked up whitefish from Garden Hill First Nation in northern Manitoba, along with bok choy, organic basmati rice and hemp seeds. The bok choy was harvested from the centre’s garden.
"It (the community food centre) refocuses food as an aspect in people’s lives that’s important," Mitchell said.
"For someone who is economically challenged, having to buy it, it really dissociates you from what food really is, which is stuff growing out of the earth, different flavours and different cultures.
"The whole enjoyment of food just evaporates when you’re under the economic gun. Here, somebody can come in and go ‘Oh, that’s what an eggplant looks like.’ Little things like that. Reconnecting the community to food is a big goal."
Not only does the centre aim to connect the community to food, but also connect the community to each other. For instance, there are programs geared toward youth and seniors, including the after-school smoothie drop-in on Tuesdays. On Saturdays the centre runs a Filipino family cooking group.
"You’re not going to be running the same programming in downtown Toronto as you are in north Winnipeg," Fulford said.
Fulford’s garden is proof that the centre is tailored to the community it’s in.
"The watermelon we’re attempting to grow is a yellow fleshed variety, which is popular in The Philippines," Fulford said. "We’re trying to grow some okra and collards, which some of our newcomer participants requested. Seeing things that are familiar from back home, people get excited about that."
Fulford said the centre is in the process of building a traditional medicine garden under the guidance of an indigenous knowledge keeper.
The knowledge that the community food centre is imparting is sinking in. Lorette Malarsie, a regular community lunch and afterschool smoothie program volunteer, said she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in May of 2014. She said the education she’s received at the centre has helped her take control of her health situation.
"Every time Grant does something, if I like it, I take a recipe from him and I try doing it at home by myself," Malarsie said.
"Diabetes runs in my family. Most of my cousins have diabetes. I have to lose weight to get off a pill so I’ve been doing that, losing the weight, looking after my diet, walking and doing what I need to keep myself healthy and active. I feel more alive and more energetic."
McMillan said having access to a chef, a kitchen, a garden, and fresh food, all in a welcoming and safe space, helps to demystify eating healthy.
"Sometimes people see those cooking shows on TV and think that’s only something chefs can do or someone who has a personal cook," McMillan said.
"That’s the value of having Grant on staff. He works with people every day showing them you can cook cheap and it can be healthy and it can taste delicious.
"That’s the idea, get people excited and then they sign up for a cooking class and they start learning the skills. The spinoff is better health, more friendships and a better community connection. Everything is stronger."
To learn more about the NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre, go to www.norwestcoop.ca/community-food-centre
For more information about community food centres in general, go to www.cfccanada.ca
Something for every day of the week
The NorWest Community Food Centre offers a weekly schedule of programming to increase access to healthy food in the Inkster area:
• 9 to 11 a.m. — Senior’s Drop-in: seniors engage in food and gardening-related activities, conversation and a healthy snack;
• Noon to 1:30 p.m. — Community Lunch: a free, healthy drop-in lunch for adults and supervised children;
• 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. — Gilbert Park Kids in the Kitchen: Gilbert Park youth aged four and up learn how to cook and share a healthy meal. Registration is required. To register, contact Adam Manveiler at 204-782-1517 or email@example.com
• 9 to 11 a.m. — Zumba/Yoga and Healthy Breakfast: exercise and a nutritious meal in the morning;
• 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. — After School Smoothie Drop-in: children and youth make fresh fruit smoothies using pedal power on a bike blender;
• 5:30 to 8 p.m. — Living Well with Diabetes Cooking Group: a cooking class focusing on living well with diabetes. Registration is required. Contact Abby Legaspi at 204-806-3972 or firstname.lastname@example.org
• 9:30 a.m. to noon — Community Advocacy Training: participants learn how to advocate for themselves and their community on food-related issues. Registration is required. Contact Adriana Brydon at 204-795-5921 or email@example.com
• Noon to 1:30 p.m. — Community Lunch;
• 1:30 to 4 p.m. — Healthy Baby: pregnant women and mothers with children under one year learn about pregnancy, health and nutrition.
• 9 a.m. to noon — Men in the Kitchen: senior men share healthy recipes, socialize and learn cooking skills. Registration is required. Contact Harvey Sumka at 204-774-3085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
• 1:15 to 3:30 p.m. — Blake Gardens Fruit & Veggie Market: affordable fresh groceries off-site at 312 Blake St.
• 1 to 3:30 p.m. — Make and Take: families learn to cook healthy meals to take home. Registration is required. Contact Abby Legaspi at 204-806-3972 or email@example.com
• Noon to 1:30 p.m. — Community Lunch.
• 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. — Filipino Family Cooking Group: families learn to cook healthy Filipino/Canadian food. Registration is required. Contact Abby Legaspi at 204-806-3972 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Community journalist — The Times
Jared Story is the community journalist for The Times. Email him at email@example.com Call him at 204-697-7206