Archive for the ‘Food security’ Category

2013 yielded bumper crop for Hidden Harvest and Ottawa Food Bank’s Community Harvest

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

Community Harvest grows food for Ottawa’s needy.
Photo by Jason Gray

Fresh, nutritious food is often seen as a luxury only the rich can afford.

In 2013, two food security organizations – Hidden Harvest Ottawa and the Ottawa Food Bank’s Community Harvest program —  turned that assumption on its head by producing, gathering and donating well over 100,000 pounds of fresh local fruit, vegetables and nuts to those in need.

Edible fruit and nut trees

Hidden Harvest was created less than two years ago to provide Ottawa residents with the knowledge, organizational support and legal means to access edible fruit and nut trees on public and private property. It connects tree owners with volunteer harvesters and with Ottawa Food Bank agencies that can make good use of the food, which includes apples, cherries, elderberries, plums, black walnuts, buttternuts and more. Community agencies, tree owners and volunteers all share in the harvest.

According to the organization’s results for 2013, volunteers harvested about 5,984 lbs of fruit and nuts from 142 trees and the food was likely shared among more than 7,000 people. Of the total harvest, more than 2,000 lbs were donated. This represents a huge increase over the 467 lbs harvested in 2012, of which 152 lbs were donated.

As Hidden Harvest co-founders Jay Garlough and Katrina Siks point out, the bounty of 2013 came from just 142 trees. As more of Ottawa’s 17,000 mapped, food-bearing trees become available for harvesting, how many more people could benefit?

Growing food for Ottawa’s hungry  

This past year, the Ottawa Food Bank’s Community Harvest program grew, gleaned and gathered donations of 104,710 pounds of fresh local fruit and vegetables for those in need. This yield is an 87% increase over 2012, and well beyond the program’s original goal of $75,000 for this year, says program coordinator Jason Gray.

Community Harvest obtains food by:

  • growing its own organic crops on the Black Family Farm in Stittsville
  • gleaning unpicked produce that would be thrown away otherwise or ploughed back into the soil at the end of the season
  • gathering donations from partner farms, urban gardeners and vendors at the Ottawa Farmers Market.

If the program’s past three seasons are any indication, Jason says, the program will keep on growing. “Every year, we get more positive feedback from the Ottawa Food Bank’s member agencies, and from Community Harvest volunteers, member agencies, and farmers.”

More land, bigger yields, added volunteers

Here are more program highlights from 2013.

  • The amount of land available for Community Harvest’s growing project at Black Family Farm expanded to 4 acres from 2.5, due in part to the success of the project in 2012.
  • Total fresh produce yield rose from 56,130 lbs in 2012 to 104,710 lbs. The yield from the growing project at the Black Farm alone jumped from 15,017 lbs last year to 53,561 lbs this year.
  • The total number of crops (grown and collected) increased from 7 last year to 14 this year. In addition to staples such as beets, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, winter squash and zucchini, new crops included cucumbers, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peppers, herbs, and small plantings of Brussels sprouts, celery and tomatillos.
  • The number of crop varieties also increased (e.g., 7 types of potato). These varieties reached maturity at different times, giving Ottawa Food Bank member agencies a more diverse and even supply of fruits and vegetables.
  • 4 new farms joined the list of produce donors, bringing to 18 the number of partner farms. One of these, Shouldice Berry Farm, donated 2,781 lbs of day-old strawberries.
  • 489 volunteers worked 1,544 hours, up from 285 people who worked 1,219 hours in 2012. Corporate teams and school and community groups also participated. Volunteers help with most aspects of planting and harvesting the crops at Black Family Farm,  such as preparing beds, weeding, installing row covers and netting, setting up irrigation, storing equipment, loading supplies, and washing and boxing harvested produce.

Sign up to volunteer in 2014

Interested in helping either Hidden Harvest Ottawa or Community Harvest in 2014?

For Hidden Harvest, sign up a fruit or nut tree on your property or register as a volunteer harvester.

For Community Harvest, contact Jason to add your name to the volunteer list. As soon as farm work starts in the spring, you’ll start receiving notices about upcoming opportunities.

Read more about Hidden Harvest Ottawa and the Community Harvest program here, here and here.

Do we need to do more to get fresh, local produce to people in need? What approaches do you think would work best in your neighbourhood?

Get creative: Help Hidden Harvest Ottawa make aprons for “fruit superheroes”

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Hidden Harvest Ottawa volunteers
Photo: Courtesy of Hidden Harvest Ottawa

If you’re a supporter of local tree fruit, join Hidden Harvest Ottawa this Sunday, July 21 for a free sewing workshop where you’ll help make “fruit superhero” aprons for the volunteer harvesters of Ottawa’s fruit and nut trees. No experience is necessary and you can register online for the event, to be held at Fabrications.

The workshop is one of several activities Hidden Harvest has planned for the summer as part of its long-term goal to make Ottawa a food-tree friendly city.  The group rescues fruit and nuts that would otherwise go to waste by organizing harvests of suitable trees and distributing the produce to community food agencies.

Here’s a closer look at Hidden Harvest Ottawa, what else it has scheduled for the summer, and how you can help.

Tell me more about Hidden Harvest Ottawa.

In operation for just over a year, co-founders Katrina Siks and Jay Garlough created Hidden Harvest to provide Ottawa residents with the knowledge, organizational support and legal means to access edible fruit and nut trees on public and private property. The five-year goal is to make Ottawa the largest urban orchard in Eastern Canada.

The business connects tree owners with volunteer harvesters and Ottawa Food Bank agencies that can make good use of the food, which can range from apples, pears and soft fruits to black walnuts and hazelnuts. Harvests are shared with the community agency, the homeowner and volunteers. Hidden Harvest also uses a portion of the fruit for activities such as juice- and jam-making workshops.  In addition, it sells high quality food-bearing trees suited to Ottawa’s soils and climate, such as paw paw, serviceberry, heartnut and Asian pear.

Hidden Harvest follows in the footsteps of Not Far From the Tree and similar groups across Canada dedicated to supporting urban orchards.

Is it a for-profit business or a charity?

Siks and Garlough say the organization uses a social purpose business (SPB) model. SPBs are for-profit but place equal emphasis on creating measureable social benefits. In the case of Hidden Harvest, the social benefits include boosting Ottawa’s food security, making the city food-tree friendly, and addressing climate change by strengthening the local food economy. Plans are for Hidden Harvest to be financially self-sufficient in three years through strategies such as the tree sales.

How can I help?

Besides the fruit superhero apron workshop, what other events does Hidden Harvest Ottawa have lined up for the summer?

The key activities will be the harvests themselves, along with volunteer training workshops. Siks estimates that about 40 harvests will take place this year, up from 10 in 2012. Once a harvest event is arranged for a certain neighbourhood, volunteers who’ve signed up to pick fruit in that area receive an email with the date, time and locations.

At this point, two volunteer training sessions are on tap for August:

  1. Introduction to being a Hidden Harvest Volunteer

When:                  August 12, 6-7 p.m.

Where:                 HUB Ottawa,  F6, 71 Bank Street

Register online.

  1. Introduction to being a Hidden Harvest Neighbourhood Leader

When:                  August 13

Where:                 Also at HUB Ottawa

Other activities are also being considered for the coming months, such as a fundraising jam-making event and a permaculture yard tour.

What fruit and nut trees do you have in your neighbourhood? Is the food harvested or does it go to waste?

Affordable, healthy food at Ottawa’s Good Food Markets

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Photo: Ottawa Good Food Markets/Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centre’s Anti-Poverty Project.

Guest post by Denise Deby. Denise blogs at Green Living Ottawa and writes on social and environmental issues ( Her articles have appeared in publications such as Alternatives Journal (A\J), This Magazine, Ottawa Citizen and


If you enjoy shopping at local food markets but don’t have one near you, or if cost is an issue, you might want to check out the Ottawa Good Food Markets.

The Good Food Markets are bringing healthy food to several Ottawa neighbourhoods this summer, offering fresh produce and staples in locations that don’t have farmers’ markets or food stores nearby. What’s more, the markets sell food at wholesale prices to keep it affordable.

Who’s behind the Good Food Markets?

Several organizations in Ottawa have come together to form the Poverty and Hunger Working Group. Coordinated by the Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres of Ottawa, their aim is to improve food security – that is, to help ensure that people in Ottawa have access to healthy, affordable food.

Kaitrin Doll, the Coalition’s anti-poverty community engagement worker, says the Good Food Markets are a tangible way to do this. ‘‘We wanted to focus on implementable projects that will make a difference for our community,” she explains.

Partners include the Ottawa Good Food Box, the Social Planning Council of Ottawa, Just Food, the City of Ottawa’s Community and Social Services Department, Ottawa Public Health, community health and resource centres and others.

What’s available at the Good Food Markets?

The markets offer fruits and vegetables, grains such as rice or couscous, legumes, dried fruit and nuts. A local community health, resource centre or group organizes each market, and decides what to stock based on community interest. While the aim is to provide as much locally grown food as possible, keeping prices down and providing imported favourites are also priorities.

The Ottawa Good Food Box orders the produce from food wholesalers and local farmers who provide items for its Good Food Box program (a non-profit initiative that brings people together to buy fresh produce at wholesale prices). The Social Planning Council of Ottawa, which runs a community food pantry, sources dried goods.

The Good Food Markets are also a hub for music, entertainment and kids’ activities, and Ottawa Public Health community food advisors are on hand to provide food samples and recipes. Doll says that the markets aim to promote community engagement as well as healthy eating, and so far, it’s working. In a survey of 220 market-goers last year, most said they were very satisfied and wanted to see it more often, with many noting its nutritional and community benefits.

When and where are the markets?

Offered as a pilot project in four sites last year, the Good Food Markets are expanding to six locations in 2013:

  • Strathcona Heights: 731A Chapel St. at Wiggins Private (Sandy Hill Community Health Centre) June 22, July 20, August 31
  • Michele Heights: 2955 Michele Dr. off Carling Avenue (Pinecrest Queensway Community Health Centre), June 30
  • Rochester Heights 299 Rochester St. near Somerset West (Somerset West Community Health Centre) June 15 at Laroche Park in Mechanicsville; June 20 and July 20 in Rochester Heights
  • Centretown: Bronson and Laurier (Nanny Goat Hill Community Garden) July 13, August 10, September 14, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
  • Overbrook: east of Vanier Parkway (Rideau Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre) June 15, July 6, August 24, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • Parkwood Hills: 76 Inverness Ave. near Meadowlands (Nepean, Rideau and Osgoode Community Resource Centre and South Nepean Community Health Centre) June 22, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

See the Good Food Markets Facebook page for updates.

Who are the Good Food Markets for?

Everyone is welcome, to drop by, shop or volunteer. “We’re open to ideas and collaborations,” adds Doll.

Will you be checking out the Ottawa Good Food Markets?

Volunteer with Ottawa’s Community Harvest program this season

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Community Harvest volunteers
Photo: Courtesy of Ottawa Food Bank

A few months ago, I wrote about the inspiring work of Community Harvest,  a program that provides fresh local produce to about 48,000 people who use Ottawa Food Bank services every month. In 2012, the program supplied 56,130 lbs of fresh fruit and vegetables to the food bank’s 140 member agencies, and the goal for 2013 is 75,000 lbs.

To supply the food, Community Harvest grows a variety of organic crops at Tom Black farm in Stittsville. It also gleans unpicked produce that would get thrown out otherwise or plowed under at the end of the season. Finally, it solicits donations of fruit and vegetables from the Ottawa Farmers’ Market and partner farms.

Program relies on volunteers

To get all this work done, Community Harvest depends heavily on volunteers.  Last year, 285 individual volunteers and 10 corporate groups spent more than 1,200 hours planting, weeding and harvesting, says Jason Gray, the program’s coordinator at the Ottawa Food Bank.

Beginning the week of June 3, there will be a push for more volunteers, he adds. There’s lots of weeding to do in the already-planted rows of cabbages, broccoli, carrots and beets, as well as many more vegetables to plant, including peppers, okra, eggplant, squash and cantaloupe.

Why it’s rewarding

There are many good reasons to help out.

For starters, you get to work outdoors in peaceful farm fields. For another, all that bending and stretching is a great workout. You also have the chance to meet other volunteers and socialize a bit as you work alongside them.

Above all, you have the sense of well-being that comes from knowing that you’re helping to raise healthy food for people in the community (many of them children) who are in need.

What to expect

Typically, you’ll work a two-hour shift – weeding, planting or harvesting with other volunteers, with Jason Gray’s guidance. If you’re new to the work, allow yourself time to find your own rhythm.  I discovered this for myself when I did a stint planting potatoes earlier this week.

I fumbled at first, planting the potato pieces too close together, then too far apart, before getting the hang of it. But by the end of the morning, two more experienced volunteers and I had somehow managed to plant 3,400 pieces of four different varieties of potato.

What to bring

Always dress for the weather. Work will be cancelled if there’s heavy rain, but be ready to persevere through showers and summer heat. Choose clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and wear boots or shoes with closed toes. Pack water, snacks, sun screen and a hat.

 How to sign up

Just contact Jason and ask him to add your name to his volunteer listserv. Then, each time Community Harvest needs volunteers, you’ll receive an email with dates and times for upcoming shifts and directions to Tom Black Farm.

Have you volunteered on a farm before? What was your experience?

Field of potatoes at Tom Black Farm
Photo: Valerie Ward


Community Harvest grows fresh local produce for Ottawa’s hungry

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

What comes to mind when you think of food bank food? Canned goods, probably. Processed foods high in salt, sugar and fat.

The Ottawa Food Bank and Community Harvest Ontario are challenging that stereotype. Together, they’re transforming emergency food relief in this city by making fresh, local fruit and vegetables available to those in need.  In 2012 — its third year of operation –Community Harvest grew and sourced 56,130 lbs of fresh produce for the Ottawa Food Bank to distribute to its 140 member agencies.  The goal for 2013 is even higher, at 75,000 lbs.

The Community Harvest program gives the estimated 48,000 people (37% of them children) who use Ottawa Food Bank services each month the chance to eat more nutritiously.  At the same time, it helps strengthen community by building relationships with local farmers, recruiting local volunteers and soliciting in-kind support from local businesses.

“The whole program is very rewarding,” says Jason Gray, Community Harvest coordinator for the Ottawa Food Bank. “The community benefit gives you a real sense of wellbeing.”

Ontario Association of Food Banks

An initiative of the Ontario Association of Food Banks, Community Harvest Ontario got started in 2009 in response to the global recession, declines in Ontario’s food manufacturing sector, and rising demand for food bank services.  Successful pilot projects in the Toronto area led to expanded programs in partnership with regional food banks in Ottawa, Hamilton, London and Thunder Bay the following year.

The push to provide nutritious fresh food is consistent with other Ottawa Food Bank practices, Jason points out. “Many people aren’t aware, but we distribute a lot of fresh food, and for after-school programs it’s all fresh.  Through our annual Food Aid event, we raise money to purchase beef from a local sale barn that we can process locally, freeze, and supply to our member agencies.”

Grow, glean, give

To provide fresh local fruit and vegetables, Community Harvest uses three main strategies:

  1. It grows its own crops at local farms, using organic methods.
  2. It gleans unpicked produce that would otherwise be disposed of or ploughed back into the soil at the end of the season, and
  3. It promotes giving – that is, donations of produce from partner farms and farmers’ markets (in Ottawa’s case, from the Ottawa Farmers’ Market).

These strategies are clearly working. For example, last year’s growing projects at Black Farm in Stittsville and Roots and Shoots Farm near Manotick Station yielded a total of 15,017 lbs of vegetables, up 83% from 2011. Gleaning from partner farms yielded nearly 17,000 lbs, while produce donations added more than 24,000 lbs. As the program grows, so does the variety of produce; in 2012, it included potatoes, carrots, corn, squash, beets and apples, as well as small crops of broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatillos, Swiss chard and other vegetables.

To meet its 2013 goal of 75,000 lbs of fresh produce, Community Harvest plans to consolidate its growing projects and search for a new one closer to Ottawa Food Bank’s warehouse in Gloucester. There are also opportunities to add new crops, depending on the needs of member agencies.

 Volunteers at the heart of Community Harvest

None of these successes would have been possible without the hard work of volunteers, Jason Gray notes. “They’re at the heart of what we do.” In 2012, 285 individual volunteers and 10 corporate groups spent 1,219 hours planting, weeding and harvesting.

Jason says he’s always interested in signing up new volunteers, and wants to engage more corporate groups this year. He’s also looking for donations of equipment to streamline the farm work and money to expand the program. Contact him if you’d like to help.

 What other ways can Ottawa make fresh local food available to those in need?