A thriving community where people come together around good food for all.
This is the vision statement of the Nelson Community Food Centre. A place where the goals and dreams simply stated in its vision statement are being realized.
One of only two of its kind in BC, the Nelson Community Food Centre is the most recent addition to the Community Food Centre network in Canada.
The Community Food Centre movement – made up of 12 Centres across Canada – started in 2001 in Toronto. Each Centre creates its own unique programming, but each has the same idea at its core – creating a space where the people in a community who are experiencing food insecurity can come together to eat well, create connections and reduce social isolation.
But before they were the Nelson Community Food Centre, they were the Nelson Food Cupboard, an organization that was already leading community-based food security programming in the West Kootenay. The Trust has been supporting them along their journey from Cupboard to Centre, most recently as part of a broad renovation project to improve and expand programming and increase participation by community members.
The Nelson Food Cupboard got its name from just that – a cupboard of food in a space rented from the Nelson United Church. From a single cupboard in 2001, growing community need meant that more space and more volunteers were required. Operations were moved into the basement of the church and programming began to grow.
Following a traditional food bank model at the start, the Nelson Food Cupboard began moving into diversified activities. Andrew Creighton, Community Relations Manager with the Centre, says the name change from Nelson Food Cupboard to Nelson Community Food Centre was a case of playing catch-up.
“We had already been operating like a community food centre for quite some time,” says Andrew. “There is a wide range of where organizations are at in their evolution. For us it was time to officially move to that next level. The Trust’s support on our reno project will enable more people to participate in more programs that are designed for their needs.”
The Centre is visited by close to 2,000 people for its various programs every year. And the number and range of programs has blossomed over the last few years and now includes food skills workshops for young and old, gardening, harvest gleaning, community dinners along with food bank services.
For Andrew, the Centre is working to create a diverse, active community where one connection can spark many more, one relationship can grow into another.
“The magic happens when there is cross pollination between programs. Somebody comes in to do one thing, access one program and ends up getting interested and involved in others. It’s all about connections and being with people. Food is the anchor.”
Many of the programs at the Centre focus around family, community and social well-being. These are at the heart of the what the Nelson Community Food Centre is all about.
Family nights and youth cooking classes are examples of programs that have been developed to reflect the Community Food Centre movement’s core principle of bringing people together to share food.
Family-friendly dinners include everyone from infants to grandparents – a cross-generational gathering that Andrew says helps to create a space where everyone is welcome. “It’s bringing people together for a fun experience. Families cook together, share a meal, clean up together and take the leftovers home. It’s a positive and dignified experience.”
Food skills programs for youth are another way the Centre is helping to bring people together. Kids participate for eight weeks learning to make a range of meals and food items. On the afternoon some of the photos were taken, students were enjoying an end-of-program celebration, making food and sharing all they had learned over the past two months with family and friends.
Along with youth programs, the Centre also offers food skills sessions for adults along with food processing classes where people can learn about canning, drying and making jams and jellies.
Good Food For All
The Centre has its own garden which everyone is welcome to lend a hand with, and a Harvest Rescue program to glean fruit and vegetables in the community. In the fall, the Centre is sometimes busy with processing thousands of pounds of fruit.
“Our garden and community gleaning reflect the wholistic approach of Community Food Centres,” says Andrew. “We grow our own food to share or make sure the excess produce in the community is accessed and utilized. It’s a 360-degree approach that tries to make sure everyone is receiving nutritional, safe, delicious and local food.”
An Improved Space
In 2018, the Nelson Community Food Centre approached the Trust to support their efforts to renovate their space which had been minimally changed since it opened. The goal was to have the space better meet the needs of the community and support expanded activities.
The main room – where most of the programming including events like family evenings and community dinners take place – has been completely renovated. All new flooring and LED lighting has been installed, all windows – which were opaque and allowed minimal natural light to enter – have been updated.
Administrative spaces have been updated to better accommodate staff, new shelving has been added throughout the Centre and a new kitchen is also in the works for completion in 2020. A walk-in cooler is now in place, taking the place of several small fridges.
Together, these changes are helping the Nelson Community Food Centre realize its vision statement for itself and for the community.
“The space before saw many special and good events, but now with the renovation, we are making something good even better. Seeing people’s faces when they walked in for the first time – they were amazed and happy at what they were seeing. It’s really moving. The space is now so much brighter and more welcoming to be in. It’s now a special place they can be in that’s really lovely.”
Learn more about the Nelson Community Food Centre and their programming at https://nelsoncfc.ca.
Story courtesy Columbia Basin Trust.
Following a traditional food bank model at the start, the Nelson Food Cupboard began moving into diversified activities. — Photo courtesy Three Owls Studio