As spring belatedly arrives, thoughts turn to the fruits of nature: vegetables from our gardens, berries from the bushes, the wonderful bounty growing all around us. But for many, access to fresh fruit and veggies is precarious at best. Luckily, some local programs address food insecurity: the Barrie Food Bank (more on this in a future column), the Barrie Good Food Box, and FruitShare Barrie. The latter two will be joining forces this year in a new collaborative venture, named (for now) the Urban Pantry Project, supported by new funds from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
I have written of FruitShare before, so you’ll recall it sends teams of volunteer pickers to glean the fruit from homeowners’ backyard trees and share it between the owner, the pickers, and social agencies like the Food Bank. The Good Food Box is a bulk-buy cooperative, allowing many people to pool their money for fresh produce at wholesale prices. People sign up for the $12 small box or $17 large box and then each month, the program shops and fills the boxes with fresh fruit and vegetables at a significant discount from retail cost. Both programs make a healthy diet more affordable and accessible for families struggling to put food on the table among other bills and expenses, but are open to anyone who wants to hook into the local food movement, regardless of income. Participation from across the community makes it work, and nothing brings your family more joy than fresh, local, healthy food!
While these programs have been successful, they were both in need of a boost. You see, both the Good Food Box and FruitShare are run mainly by volunteers, with minimal paid staff. Yet both need significant oversight, a secure location for storing equipment and distributing food, and access to a truck for site visits and collecting and distributing food. However, neither was large enough to provide any of these for itself, and neither needed any of these full-time. But what if they were to share?
Out of that idea came the Urban Pantry Project, a proposal that has now received a first-year “seed money” grant of $66,800 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Announced this Tuesday by Barrie MPP Ann Hoggarth and Michael Coteau, Ontario’s Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport (and Trillium), this grant will put both projects on solid footing with a shared coordinator, truck, and depot, hopefully expanding over time to several depots bringing food resources, and hope, directly into more Barrie neighbourhoods.
This stable funding and staffing means both programs will be able to expand in scope. FruitShare will provide seminars and discounts on care for fruit trees, including pruning, and continue to plant Barrie’s “Food Forest”, fruit-bearing trees in parks or other public spaces. Together, the projects will offer workshops on food preparation and preserving, where people can re-learn the lost arts of cooking from scratch or canning jams and sauces.
This grant will also bring greater visibility. FruitShare is still seeking local business sponsors to help with program costs, and now is the perfect opportunity for enterprising businesspeople to get their brand a prominent position in our media and promotional materials. (Yes, that’s a big hint). The public, the media, and the government all love projects like FruitShare and the Good Food Box, so this is your chance to get in on the ground floor and show the community that your business cares about food security. Contact FruitShare.Barrie@gmail.com to find out more about sponsorship, volunteering, or having your fruit picked for you; to sign up for the Good Food Box email BarrieGoodFoodBox@gmail.com.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Food security given a boost"