Trying to get fresh in Lawrence Heights

[attach]5977[/attach]North York Harvest Food Bank has a fresh idea — or three — on how it can make North Toronto more food-friendly.

The food bank launched an action plan in May to pinpoint problem areas for food programs in three priority neighbourhoods: Lawrence Heights, Bathurst-Finch, and Weston-Mt. Dennis.

“With the Food-Friendly Neighbourhood Food Plan, we wanted to find out where exactly to steer our food, who needs it the most … and what we can do to create healthy, resilient neighbourhoods,” said foodbank executive director Anette Chawla.

The launch at Lawrence Heights Community Centre zeroed in on the neighbourhood’s need for fresh produce markets. To drive the point home, a temporary one was set-up on site during the announcement.

“There used to be a produce market here years back … and we’ve wanted one ever since it ended,” said resident Brenda Brooks, who purchased carrots from the market set up by environmental group FutureWatch.

Foodbank organizer Michael Friedman said each community was given a letter grade to assess how they fared on categories such as retail, food assistance, food skills and growing, and produce markets.

Lawrence Heights received the only F for its lack of produce markets.

“We wanted to launch with fresh produce, because it’s eye-catching but it also represents one of the main recommendations,” Friedman said.

He said he was amazed by the steady stream of people who supported the event despite almost no advertising.

“It was a pretty good turnout — we sold $100 worth of produce,” he said, adding that a mobile food market ran by FutureWatch will hopefully be hitting Lawrence Heights’ streets by the end of summer.

Brooks thinks this is a great idea.

“Being close to fresh food is really important to me and probably a lot of people in this neighbourhood,” she said.

According to the plan, Bathurst-Finch, which already has a successful community garden, requires a bigger space to accommodate other community members who are interested.

Western-Mt. Dennis, on the other hand, needs a food action team to bridge the knowledge gap and educate residents with the community kitchens and food outreach programs available in the area.

Councillor Josh Colle, whose Ward 15 includes Lawrence Heights, said he is excited about the initiative.

“Improving the way food programs work is … definitely a great way to bring people together in the community,” he said.

Likewise, Chawla is looking forward to the program’s success especially since she said it’s only just the beginning.

“We’d like to complete these types of plan with priority neighborhoods across the area in North York,” Chawla said. “The next priority is to scale it for other neighbourhoods and get more project funding for the plans.”