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A visit to The Stop, Toronto’s Community Food Centre

July 3, 2011

As I walk down Christie Street to the Wynchwood Barns, The Stop’s Community Center location, I am amazed to find a city treasure that until that moment I had no idea existed.

That evening I am meeting new friends, interns of The New Farm, who are volunteering at a black-tie fundraiser event. This 300 person gourmet dinner is hosted by The Stop’s chef Chris Brown & crew.  Its 9pm and The New Farm interns are serving tables desert, wine is flowing & people are smiling wide – they have already eaten a two course meal plus canapés made from fresh local food  including Rowe Farms chicken & The New Farm salad greens.

As I wait for new friends I can’t help to explore this food security wonderland.

Walking around the building I find a series of culturally diverse small plot gardens. Each garden is labeled with signs like “Latino America” and “Italia Garden” that showcase where the season’s vegetables were originally harvested. These gardens are not only educational but edible & cute– my favorite three things combined.

The Latino-American Garden

My next stop is into the greenhouse in Barn 5. As I walk in I meet one of The Stop’s greenhouse interns. I am surprised to find such a dedicated greenhouse worker and she is happy to spend half an hour (of her “off” time & possibly miss her bus home) to show me around the greenhouse where lemons, limes & bananas, along with seasonal varieties of fruits and vegetables, are growing in this green warehouse.

The Greenhouse in Barn 5

What impresses me most is that under each table are stacks of vermiculture boxes made out of Rubbermaid blue containers. With all of their community kitchen fruit & veggie remnants, The Stop is able to make enough compost to supply all of their needs, and no longer need to purchase soil from outside sources. Their technique seems very technical as there is a 3 step process before the compost actually reaches the vermiculture boxes – and each step is written down with date & time.  Again, I am impressed.

50 Vermiculture boxes are all it takes to create soil for the greenhouse, community garden & cultural gardens.

This reminds me that I haven’t even spoke of their community kitchen yet – one of the most fundamental parts of The Stop. Twice a week The Stop prepares a free lunch for low-income Torontians. This meal is unlike community kitchens throughout the city as The Stop’s focuses on organically grown produce that they get from their own gardens and purchase from local farms. This approach is similar to the “teach a man to fish” approach to food as The Stop’s community kitchen educates people on how to eat, how to cook and how to grow healthy food.

This party is bustling & looks pretty fun! Guests mingle while sipping on Burgundy & Sancerre

As the night goes on, the event finales and I finally get to sit down with my new friends. We are offered canapés and beer left-over from the evening’s event and Nick Saul, The Stop’s CEO, sits down with us to chat about The New Farm and their upcoming events. Nick, who has personally greeted each and every guest that evening, finds time to ask me questions about myself and my own personal interest in farming, urban agriculture and my so-called “career”. And again, like my meeting with the greenhouse intern, I am shocked that so much personal attention is being given.

And so, to conclude, I like this place – and I am sure that I will be writing much more about The Stop as time goes on.

To read more about the Stop and Toronto’s food culture I suggest picking up the book “The Edible City: Toronto’s food from farm to fork”, which combines articles about Toronto’s community food initiatives, gourmet restaurants, green buildings & (my favorite) secret city bees.

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