Posts Tagged ‘Ontario Association of Food Banks’

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?