Local market supports hard-to-reach communities

Affordable organic produce sells at Vancouver Community Food Markets

Janet Yee lays out the leftover produce from the two Community Food Markets last week. Photo by Christina Dommer
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Reported by Christina Dommer

Cedar Cottage Food Network Society is selling more than vegetables: there’s a more secure food system on the menu, and the neighbourhoods they serve are thriving.

“We want to gather more neighbours, so we can all address food insecurity,” said Janet Yee, a Cedar Cottage Food Network board member. Their Community Food Markets are held every Saturday in both East and South Vancouver. Unlike the average farmer’s market, which feature expensive and artisanal products, the Community Food Markets give locals the opportunity to access local, organic produce at a lower cost.

Busy market mornings

Thirty people attended the most recent market on Saturday March 9, packed into a room typically used as a preschool in the basement of Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House at 10 am. After 20 minutes, the market was out of carrots and zucchinis. There was one daikon radish remaining and four oranges.

“Most people come at the beginning, and it’s just a big rush,” said Tiger Adlakcha, the market coordinator.

Again at noon the Kensington Community Centre was full of shoppers. At both markets, the early birds picked the selection nearly clean.

Shopper Susan Fong said, “it’s organic, and everything’s like, a dollar, that’s very cheap.”

She also mentioned the convenience of the community centre being only five minutes away from her home. Many other regular shoppers agreed that location was an important factor.

“I live very close,” shopper Bev Pellegrinsaid, of the Cedar Cottage market. “Closer than to any store.”

Neighbours become friends

The society puts an emphasis on building relationships as part of their Community Food Markets and skill-building workshops such as cooking and gardening.

“Basically, we are building community. We educate and connect,” Yee said.

“This is what we try to do in this space. It’s all about sharing,” Yee explained. She also said that regular shoppers even come to her with their family problems since they’ve gotten to know each other through the market.

“When we have the vegetable trading, swapping, that’s when people will get to know each other better, that feeling of community.”

Not for profit

The produce sold at the Community Food Markets is grown seasonally on various Vancouver-based community and school gardens. These are run by the Cedar Cottage Food Network Society runs through programs like their Fresh Roots Urban Farm initiative.  Otherwise, the network sources its produce from partners and farms across B.C., or from Mexico. Yee also said there are plans to include products such as honey and grains in the market over the next few months.

With funding from City of Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health they don’t have to compete with big box supermarkets, Yee said.

“We try to provide affordable, healthy food to the neighbors. So, we’re not actually competing, in any sense, like a store.”

Shoppers eat seasonally

The 2019 Canada Food Guide recommends seasonal eating and avoiding grocery shopping at convenience stores.

Seasonal eating involves buying foods grown in one’s local area when they’re at peak supply. As a result, the food is fresher, cheaper and better for the environment.

On their website, the B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets states that local produce usually travels less than 300 km from farm to plate, while the “average North American meal travels 2,400 km to get from the field to plate and contains ingredients from five countries in addition to our own.” They also include a full list of B.C.’s seasonal produce on their website.

Shoppers at the Cedar Cottage Food Network Society markets are benefiting from this dietary choice.

At the Kensington location, shopper Susan Fong eats seasonally because it’s affordable.

“When it’s not in season, things are more expensive,” Fong said.

Bev Pellegrin, a shopper at the Cedar Cottage market, doesn’t think she’s sacrificing variety when she eats seasonally.

“We supplement with peaches that are not in season,” Pellegrin said.

For those lacking variety in their produce, Yee said that a program for people who want to learn how to grow their own food is underway.

“We actually want people to grow more food,” Yee said, after cleaning up from the Kensington market.

“[If] they don’t know how, we have garden workshops to… let them know how.”

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