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FoodShare brings food justice solutions into classrooms

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I write often about social justice issues -- including the barriers that exist for many people around access to good healthy food produced through environmentally friendly, sustainable means and distributed in ways that allow everyone's dignity to remain intact.

Ideally, this process should empower everyone involved in the food system, including consumers. Tuesday, I found nirvana for those seeking food justice when I visited FoodShare Toronto.

FoodShare is a food hub that advocates for establishing sustainable, healthy, inclusive and resilient communities with equitable access to nutritious and culturally appropriate vegetables and fruits. It's Canada's largest food security charity with a long 30-year history. Through its programs FoodShare is creating integrated solutions to end social injustices.

Currently, FoodShare has over 24 food related programs which run the gamut from a volunteer operated referral service connecting community members with local low-cost food programs including food banks, Good Food Box stops and community gardens; to school nutrition programs; workshops for mothers to learn to make baby food from scratch; a community kitchen for women going through or having finished breast cancer treatment; catering; gift baskets; and education for educators. This is a truly amazing hub.

One of my favourite programs is the award-winning program Field to Table Schools. This student-centered program removes barriers and provides access to multi-faceted opportunities through schoolyard farming projects. Students grow vegetables and fruits on school rooftops and lawns in this urban farming venture.  Field to Table is teaching food literacy and food systems using a hands-on approach.

Activities include composting, gardening and cooking, but participants also learn about food justice and connecting with nature. Each season 25 young people are employed to tend the gardens providing much needed employment and invaluable work and life experience.

FoodShare is expanding its unique reach into classrooms this fall with the launch of its newest program and the first of its kind in Canada, The Good Food Machine. Based on the Green Bronx Machine, FoodShare has partnered with LoyaltyOne to provide Good Food Machine kits to 10 schools. 

Each kit contains two aeroponic tower gardens, a mobile classroom kitchen, iMac computer, multi-media license to access curriculum, as well as access to livestream instruction and FoodShare educators who will regularly visit the schools. This innovative program empowers students and builds classroom community.

The U.S. program measured numerous positive impacts: a 40 per cent daily attendance increased to 93 per cent. It generated a 50 per cent reduction in behavioural incidence and bullying and saw 100 per cent of its post-secondary graduates training or working wage jobs.

According to Katie German, Field to Table Schools Manager, "We've been delivering fun food literacy education to students and teachers throughout Toronto for the past decade and have seen first hand the transformative power working with food and growing has on students. We're thrilled to partner with LoyaltyOne on the Good Food Machine."

The staff at FoodShare work hard year round, but this summer will be especially busy when the facility moves from its current location in Bloordale to its new home at 120 Industry St., in the Mount Dennis neighbourhood. Committed staff (Sybil has been with FoodShare for 25 years), furniture and programs will be moved into the new location in August. But, the new facility is without a kitchen and that's a major obstacle because the kitchen is the heart and soul of FoodShare. 

So, FoodShare has started crowd funding!  Parents, take this opportunity to simplify your life. Stop searching for the ultimate teacher gift. Instead, donate money in name of your child's favourite teachers to FoodShare that way you can all become part of this creative food and social justice revolution.

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