Ask any Community Food Centre staff what has been core to their approach since the beginning, and we’re willing to bet the word “listening” will always top the list. “Working with people where they’re at” is one of our Good Food Principles, where we “work with people toward self-identified change.” Pinpointing those key community needs and desires happens throughout a CFC’s cycle, but it’s especially critical at the outset, while the space is being planned and as programs are being shaped.
Every Community Food Centre starts this process of listening through a community consultation. Last year we partnered with the Dartmouth Family Centre, a longtime fixture in the Halifax Region Municipality, to create the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre, the first of its kind in Nova Scotia.
Over six months, the CFC consulted with 250 community members and 80 service agency representatives to learn about their experience of living or working in Dartmouth North and how a complex set of factors influences their health, access to food, and their place in the community.
Emerging from the consultations, which comprised of focus groups, questionnaires, and informal conversations, was a stronger understanding of both the day-to-day and systemic challenges local residents face, and how a Community Food Centre could be an important part of the response.
While a general take on the challenges facing the community are often known before delving into community research, a consultation process helps dig deeper, to get a sense of the daily struggles people face, and the particular gaps in services that a CFC could help address. For example, in the recent consultations for the Norwest Co-op CFC in Winnipeg, men experiencing social isolation shared that they were loathed to use emergency food services but would be excited to join a community cooking group. And at the Regent Park CFC, consultations uncovered the importance of making programs inclusive and safe for all members of the community, and that there’s a burgeoning interest among new immigrant women to share their knowledge of cooking.
Back in Dartmouth, poverty and food insecurity were identified as among the biggest challenges facing the neighbourhood, with 93% of participants saying they often or sometimes find it hard to buy healthy food. And with half the local population comprised of especially vulnerable groups such as seniors, new immigrants, and single-parent households, it’s clear that the community would benefit from the programs and services a Community Food Centre can offer.
Residents immediately took to the idea, and through the consultations, offered up their ideas for what a Community Food Centre in Dartmouth could look like: better access to healthy food topped the list, as did family-friendly programs, and building skills and knowledge around cooking and gardening. Many were also keen to volunteer at the Community Food Centre, or wanted to work as a community to take action on issues that affect them. Already the CFC has launched a community kitchen program and a summer kids program (pictured above). And once they open their doors later this fall, many more ideas surfaced in the consultations will get to be realized.
+ To learn more about the consultation`s findings, have a look at their summary report.
+ Want to know more about community consultations? Kristina McMillan, the manager of NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre in Winnipeg, shares her top tips to running community consultations on our blog.