An hour away from Ottawa, Perth is a small community of 6,000 which swells to a total of 20,000 when including the greater Perth area. Board members at the Food Bank were dissatisfied with their work. They were itching to try something new that would enable them to make a philosophical shift toward addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty. At the same time, The Stop was looking for a partner interested in joining its food revolution. The moment was ripe. In a very short period of time, a new community food centre took root. Our visit gave us a chance to see how the centre has shaped itself into a dynamic reality for members of the community.
Nancy Wildgoose, The Table's executive director, was our guide for the afternoon. She introduced us to Judy Dempsey, the Table's dedicated chef. Before joining the Table's team, Judy ran the Hungry Planet, a well known local restaurant which used to be listed in Where to Eat in Canada. Three days a week, Judy prepares simple yet delicious dishes for the community meals (check Judy's Kale salad with seeds in our recipe section). When the centre opened in January, an average of 30 people attended each night. The numbers have already tripled in less than a year!
The Table still runs a food bank, in the basement of its building. Staff member Wendy Quarrington designed the program so that it mirrors the look and feel of a grocery store. Users shop for themselves based on a point system. They have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, meats, as well as dairy products. Upon arrival, every user is greeted by a volunteer who offers them a small helping of a dish featuring a key ingredient. Garlic is the ingredient of the month. On Friday the plat du jour was vegetarian chili. Users who want to try the dish at home are given the recipe and a small bundle of spices.
Nancy, who tirelessly promotes the goal of the centre throughout the Perth region, spoke of the need to adapt the model originally developed in Toronto, to fit a more rural landscape. The programs are more modest in their reach but the passion for food and food justice are strongly embedded in everything that is done. The principles articulated by The Stop clearly animate The Table's vision. The centre's activities, for instance, illustrate the agency's unwavering desire to create a welcoming environment where everyone can enjoy good, healthy food.
The power of the Table's success lies in the integration of a wide range of programming within the same place. Food bank users are able to enjoy delicious meals in the bright reconverted church hall. They also have the opportunity to join various cooking classes, enrol in a community garden, or participate in the advocacy program.
Shortly after the centre opened, Advocacy staff member, Samantha Davidson, launched a peer educator initiative. 14 out of the 15 initially enrolled graduated from the program. The impact of this initiative is already clearly visible. Peer educators are now doing advocacy work with users of The Table's food bank. Sam also spoke about the peer educators who, bolstered by their newly found confidence, have been able to move on to new training opportunities. Sam is now offering a social justice training program.
What will be the impact of the The Table Community Food Centre in a couple of years from now? It's too early to tell but already we can begin to see how this food revolution that first sprouted in a metropolitan landscape can take hold in a rural Ontario community. Through its hard work and commitment The Table's team is participating in the birth of a new movement which, hopefully, will revolutionize Ontario and Canada as whole. And in the meantime their work is helping guide ours.