What’s the first thing you think about when you see the word THANKSGIVING?
Food! Turkey, candied yams, cranberry sauce, and all the trimmings. Thanksgiving food is a time-honoured tradition.
Of course, at my house, as soon as I was old enough to express strong preferences, we switched to ham and my mom made some kind of frozen pumpkin dessert that was not well received. So maybe traditions aren’t completely immutable.
What’s undeniable is that food is a big part of giving thanks. But not everyone in Canada has enough to eat. According to Food Banks Canada, more 863,000 Canadians accessed food banks in 2016, 36% of whom were children—a 28% increase over 2008.
That’s a huge number of people asking for help getting enough food for themselves and their families. It’s a heartbreaking statistic, especially at a time of year when the rest of us are stuffing ourselves with stuffing.
But don’t feel guilty. Do something about it. Here are a bunch of ideas to help hungry neighbours across the country during the upcoming holiday.
Food starts with growth. Everything we eat begins, one way or another, as a plant, so it makes sense that increasing food security begins with growing more veggies.
But not everyone has a green thumb; if you need a little bit of help getting started, community gardens are an excellent way to grow more food locally, whether it’s you, or someone you know, who needs a helping hand. Most community gardens are filled with agriculturally able volunteers who are happy to show you the ropes growing your first bunch of kale or fistful of scallions.
Many community gardens are non-profits or charities, with a mandate to benefit the society around them. For example, my home town has one: the Nanaimo Community Gardens Society works to achieve all kinds of great goals, like food security, inclusion, sharing, and environmental preservation.
Look for a charity-based garden in your town. Some provinces even have directories, like Sustain Ontario, a community garden network that can help you find the best spot for your next pumpkin.
Learn Something New
Making sure everyone has enough to eat doesn’t stop at growing extra food. A major factor in food security is understanding the issues. Two significant ones are food waste and malnutrition. And it just so happens that we talked to three organizations not too long ago that have a lot to say about food issues.
Food Connections is the brainchild of Elaine Cheng, who we talked to for On Purpose. She teaches people and businesses about food waste and how to reduce it, and helps to make delicious food from ingredients that would otherwise have been thrown out. If you’ve got a restaurant or other food service company, Elaine can help you save money and give back.
We also talked to Joey, Jenny and Nicola from the similarly-named The Food Connection. They run a community group that started in a garden in East Vancouver. Now they provide educational potluck seminars that teach people practical food skills to help them cook healthy, nutritious meals.
Give a Little
Financial donations help support organizations whose goal is to combat hunger and malnutrition in Canada.
FoodShare has a four star rating from our friends at Charity Intelligence and works to “improve access to fresh produce, encourage healthy eating, and build sustainable neighbourhoods.” Similar organizations exist across the country, so can give to one close to your heart and your neighbourhood.
Some people don’t have a bunch of extra money but they do have extra food. Farms, grocery stores, and restaurants are just a few of the businesses that call on David Schein on a regular basis. He runs Food Stash Foundation, a charity that picks up unwanted food from a variety of sources and gives it to people in need via organizations such as food banks, outreach centres, and other charities. You can donate food if you have a lot that will go to waste, or you can donate to David to help him run the charity.
Do it Yourself
Maybe there isn’t a community garden near you. Maybe you like the challenge of figuring it out on your own. After all, humans have been growing food for millennia. Can’t be that hard, right?
People in the country seem to have this figured out. Drive through any rural area and you’re bound to see home gardens that are almost farms. But what if you live in the city or the suburbs?
Not to worry. The internet is awash in guides that can assist your agricultural development. If you’re an apartment dweller, growing indoors is a great option to produce a little extra roughage for your family or for your local food bank. Even Martha Stewart weighs in on balcony-based botanicals in this article that outlines the plants that get along best in close quarters.
If you want to get futuristic about growing your veg in small spaces, there’s an app for that. My Green Space is a Vancouver-based app that takes a little bit of info about your growing conditions (sunlight, space, etc.) and gives you a foolproof plan for laying out and maintaining your garden. Easy!
And if you’re a suburbanite who wants to grow more than a green shag carpet in front of your house, How to Eat Your Lawn is a great resource that will help you do something more important and beneficial with your turf.
This Thanksgiving, when you’re eating your turkey (or ham), don’t forget to pass the potatoes to someone who needs them.