A 'seasonal project' grows to address a year-round need

November 2021

At Roots to Harvest there is no typical day. At any time, we could be cooking up a feast with our Cooking for Cred participants, running a market garden from one of two large urban farms, heading up the highway to Kiashke Zaaging Anishnaabek First Nation to run a Community Food Market, hosting an ID clinic for folks having trouble replacing their own, pickling carrots with a high school class, changing a tire, writing a grant, catching a bee swarm. The list goes on.

And honestly, this is what I love about it most of all. At our heart, Roots to Harvest is about people – and we use food to connect meaningfully with them. And this day to day, moment to moment variety of ways that we work with food is what keeps up nimble and adaptable.

It was these qualities that enabled us to weather and respond to the COVID pandemic as we did. As ‘normal’ life and every day systems collapsed, we were able to create new ones by connecting with long time and brand new community partners to develop new ways for people to access food. It’s also this adaptability that inspires new projects and programs such as the Culture Kitchen, a 6 week immersive food course for women who are newcomers and refugees in Thunder Bay.

Roots to Harvest has humble beginnings. We began as a seasonal and short-term project at Lakehead University and slowly built on successes and partnerships to what we are currently –
a multi-faceted organization that employs 15 people full time and up to 30 more during the growing season. In the early days you could find us in any spare room that the social work department had to offer. After our first grant as an independent not for profit, we moved to a teacher prep space in Superior CVI high school. At that time there were two full time staff and a few seasonal summer folks. Eventually we received funding from the City of Thunder Bay to help us afford rent and we moved to the upstairs of Both Hands Wood Fired Pizzeria. With our own space that we could access at any time our year-round programs expanded once again and we were able to bring on more staff to work with more schools and communities. We quickly began to outgrow even that space and finally in 2017, we made what is most likely our last move, to our current location at 450 Fort William Rd – the Monty Parks Centre previously run by Community Living Thunder Bay. Here we built our own community kitchen (no more lugging food at all times of the day and weekends to whatever free kitchen we could find) and with funding from multiple levels of government as well as foundations, renovated our office side as well to include meeting and work space. Our spaces are not just used by us. Community groups frequently rent the board room and new enterprises chefs and food businesses get their start in our commercial kitchen.

With well established programs and partners, as well as a permanent and inspiring workspace, in 2019 we approached Community Food Centres Canada, a national organization dedicated to building health, belonging and social justice in communities across Canada. Community Food Centres provide food programs in the areas of healthy food access, food skills to grow and cook food, as well as advocate on the issues of health equity, income inequality and social isolation and there are currently 14 across the country. We’re happy to announce that Roots to Harvest will become Canada’s 15th Community Food Centre in the spring of 2022, operating under the new name of Roots Community Food Centre. Currently we are in the process of raising $2M to purchase the building we’re currently in and renovate the rest of it to include a new community dining room that will provide meals for seniors and Elders as well as a subsidized fruit and vegetable market for people to stretch their food budgets further. With large gifts from Impala Canada, the Carpenter’s Union Local 1669, Half-Way Motors group, as well as various levels of government, we have already reached 80% of our goal. With $400,000 left to raise, we’re extending the invite to our community for major gifts that will help us reach our goal and impacts thousands of people in our region to achieve better access to good food and community.

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