“The meals make you feel rich!” is a comment you’ll hear often at the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre, located on Primrose Street in Dartmouth. The centre, which opened last year as a project of the Dartmouth Family Centre in partnership with Community Food Centres Canada, takes an innovative, well-rounded approach to addressing food security issues in the community. Programming includes healthy meals, a growing urban farm, an affordable produce market, community kitchens and a community action office. The goal of the centre is to make healthy food more accessible—and more often than not, how to make kale taste delicious!
For many in north Dartmouth, accessing fresh, healthy and varied food is a considerable challenge. There are no grocery stores within walking distance. The nearest one is tricky to access by bus with a load of groceries, and impossible if public transit is out of reach financially. Here’s where the Community Food Centre comes in—allowing folks to drop in, get a fresh meal, purchase food and seek support for what’s happening in their lives. A number of people who walk through the door end up saying, “How can I volunteer and contribute?” One of the reasons people are so keen to help out is the welcoming and respectful atmosphere. Community members sit down in a nice, clean space with flowers on the table and are served, as in a restaurant.
The centre would be nothing without its volunteers, most of whom are from the community. From a propensity for cleanliness and order in the kitchen, to knowledge about best weeding and planting techniques, volunteers bring a lot to the table at the centre. Everyone works hard—folks are willing to spend afternoons doing dishes, chopping onions until teary-eyed, and moving heavy wheelbarrows of soil around the farm. This means that we’re building the centre together, and that we’re part of something bigger. To me, the Food Centre is about connection. Connection with other people, and connection with the food we eat.
On the farm, that sense of connection grows strong. There is something special about growing food for and with your neighbours: A feeling of pride and ownership in seeing your efforts produce something thriving and healthy. It is healing to nurture something and watch it grow, even more so when you know it’s going to be shared in tomorrow’s salad.
After much participation and hard work from residents of north Dartmouth, the Food Centre is planning for our long-term sustainability and hoping to involve the wider Halifax-Dartmouth community. We know a lot of people in our city grow food in their backyards or are involved in urban gardening and we want to involve them in a big way. That’s why we are starting a Grow-a-Row project, an opportunity for gardeners to donate a section of their garden’s harvest to the centre. Launch of the complete project will take place next March, as peak planting season for this year has already passed.
Currently, the centre is seeking donations of fresh quality produce from gardeners across HRM. If you have extra produce from your garden and would like to participate, please contact Rob MacNeish at [email protected] or Rachael Gardiner at [email protected] to sign up.