Rhonda Teitel-Payne loves fresh, organic food. She has also devoted her life to ensuring that everyone has access to it — something that is often not the case, especially in urban centres.
“How do you talk to people about local, organic food when they can’t even afford to buy any kind of food?” asks the urban agriculture manager for The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto.
Located in the heart of Davenport West — one of the city’s most marginalized and underserviced neighbourhoods — The Stop isn’t like a lot of food banks that rely solely on donations, which generally consist of processed and preserved foods.
“Giving someone a bag of groceries and walking them out the door is not enough,” says Teitel-Payne.
The Stop provides local residents with flavourful, fresh produce like French sorel, Brussels sprouts, chives and strawberries — all cultivated just a few blocks away in its community gardens.
Located in Earlscourt Park, the 8,000-square-foot gardens, along with The Stop’s recently opened year-round greenhouse at the Wychwood Green Barns near St. Clair Avenue West and Christie, yield 1,800 kilograms of produce for its various food programs each year, which includes a drop-in breakfast café and a nutritional support program for pregnant women living with low incomes.
“Food is our priority, but also a community development approach to food,” says Teitel-Payne. “It’s not about charity. It’s about bringing the community together and building skills.”
The gardens are tended to by staff and volunteers who not only get to take produce home with them, but also learn lifelong skills of planting and preserving fresh produce.
“We want people to come to the garden and get their hands in the dirt. On a gorgeous day like today, it’s actually really relaxing,” says Teitel-Payne.
As one of the Toronto Community Foundation’s 2009 Vital People winners, Teitel-Payne will receive a $5,000 grant June 23 in recognition of her ongoing contributions to The Stop.