While thrifting you can be a bad-ass treasure hunter like Indiana Jones, no degree in Archaeology or wacky side-kick needed.
Many thrifted items are of superior quality and have stood the test of time compared to super disposable generic retail purchases. Big box store retailers want you to come back soon – they make the clothes in such a way that you need to.
If you live in a city like Vancouver, you know that it isn’t cheap. Purchasing second hand clothing increases your buying power. You can often get ten shirts for the price of one in retail clothing store.
4. Bringing it Back
If you’ve got a penchant for retro thrift stores are your playground. Retail Clothing stores just don’t compare on this front, the often sell retro, and vintage reproductions at much higher prices compared to genuine originals found at thrift stores. Aviators anyone?
5. The Earth Smiles Back
The average person throws out 19 kilograms (42 pounds) of textiles every year. Why not donate pre-loved clothes to a thrift store to be re-loved by someone else.
6. Community Impact
When you shop at places like The Attic Thrift Store your purchase supports your community. 100% of proceeds from The Attic Thrift Stores support Gordon Neighbourhood House’s community programs. It allows the neighbourhood house to offer pay-what-you-can and free programming.
7. Green is Beautiful
Producing synthetic fabrics require a lot of energy, and produces toxic gases and chemicals. Transportation of these products creates pollution. Donations to thrift stores are often walked to the front door and then purchased by folks strolling by.
Remember there is a difference between a for profit thrift store and a non-profit thrift store that exists to generate revenue to support community programs. Be an informed and well-dressed thrifter.
Gordon Neighbourhood House (www.gordonhouse.org) operates two Attic Thrift Stores in the West End of Vancouver (1019 Broughton Street and 1340 Davie). We are open 7 days a week for shopping and donation drop offs.
100% of our proceeds support local community programs and initiatives. Follow us on Facebook and be the first to hear about our 50% off sales and promotions. www.facebook.com/TheAtticonDavie or www.facebook.com/TheAtticThriftStore
Like and Share this post to show your support for non-profit thrift stores and the work that they do!
This is a Special to the GNH Blog written by Lisa Halliwell, GNH Blogger/ Community Journalist and local dietitian.
Today I’m switching up my usual food conversation and focusing on a huge change that is occurring in the way we conventionally grow foods. Since the beginning of the agricultural revolution humans have only been able to manipulate plants by selectively picking and breeding the best crops. This is a slow process but eventually farmers can produce the crops that they desire. However, there has recently been a revolution in the way plants can be adapted and “improved” at an increasing speed. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a hot topic these days and there seems to be a lot of contention between both sides of this issue. On the one side, pro-GMO groups claim that GMOs are the answer to world hunger. However, the flip side argues that there may be long-term health and environmental impacts by growing and consuming GMO-containing crops. So when the facts are laid on the table, is the hesitation justified?
Let’s start off by defining genetically modified organisms. GMOs are plants or animals whose genetic material has been artificially altered. The original goal for creating GMOs was to solve hunger issues around the world by creating insect-resistant crops in order to increase yields and decrease cost. Additionally, GMOs have the capacity to address nutritional deficiencies in developing countries. For example: what if we could produce draught-resistant crops that would allow production of life-saving foods in developing countries? Or what if we could grow produce that would resist bruising or delay ripening until it reached its destination on the other side of the world? Sounds great, doesn’t it? But what’s the catch? The fact is that GMOs have not been around long enough to complete long-term studies and thus, we don’t know the long-term consequences of growing and eating GMO products.
In 1994 the FDA approved the first GMO crop, Flavr Savr Tomato. Since then GMOs have made their way into many products. In fact, 90% or more of soy, corn, sugar beets, and rapeseed are made from GMOs in the United States and Canada. What you might not realize is that avoiding these crops is very difficult if you purchase processed and ready-made products. These products contain ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin, and soy isolate, which are ultimately made from these modified crops. In fact, most animal feed contains GMOs, so if you’re purchasing poultry and meat that doesn’t specify how the animals were raised, then in theory you’re also consuming GMOs through their diet.
One big problem in the United States and Canada is that GMO-containing foods do not have to be labeled as such. In most developed countries, these products have to be identified for the consumer. In fact in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, GMOs have been banned until further studies have been conducted. As far as I’m concerned, GMOs have a long way to go before they’re on my list of approved food products. I’m all for supporting a product that helps developing communities access food and nutrients that they would otherwise not be able to grow. However, establishing safe and environmentally-friendly solutions takes time and the necessary studies have to be conducted.
Keep in mind that with everything I discuss, it’s up to you to decide what you are going to feed yourself and your family. The difficulty with GMOs is they are often hidden in products. The only way to be certain that you are not eating a GMO-containing product is to buy certified organic products and of course this is expensive and limiting. You may want to consider avoiding ready-made products that likely contain the crops mentioned above that most often contain GMOs; this will at least eliminate some of your exposure. You could also consider starting your own garden and ask your local garden store if their plants and seeds are GMO-free. This is also in line with the same message I regularly try to get across, which is to make your own food from whole ingredients so you know exactly what’s going into your body. If anything, I hope that this dialogue opens your eyes to the industrialized world that we live in and helps you make informed decisions, whatever those decisions may be.
This is a Special to the GNH Blog written by Lisa Halliwell, GNH Blogger/ Community Journalist and local dietitian.
The road to understanding how our food system works is long and hard. At the end of the Second World War, the world saw an opportunity to help everyday families spend less time in the kitchen and more time at work; we rapidly turned something as simple as food into a massively complex and profitable business. Before industrialized farming there was no need to label foods as “organic” because this was really the only way to practice farming. However, with the incoming of industrialized farming, there also came the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics, and eventually genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Once this happened, not only did consumers have to worry about what ingredients were in their processed foods but they also had to be concerned with how their food was grown.
Before we can get into the pros and cons of choosing organically produced foods, we first have to understand what organic means. Organic is defined by the farming practice by which foods are produced. Organic foods are grown without man-made pesticides or fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics, or GMOs. Animals that are raised organically are also fed exclusively organic feed. Every country has its own specific guidelines on organic labeling. In Canada, the federal government created The Canada Organic Regime in 2009 to implement regulations on organic agriculture within the country. Among many parameters on farming practices, a product that bears the certified organic logo must also contain at least 95% organic ingredients. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for monitoring and enforcing these regulations. Unfortunately the certification itself is quite expensive which prohibits some smaller farms from attaining the documents. I’ll speak more to this later on in the post.
Is organic more nutritious? There is not enough scientific evidence to suggest that eating organic is more nutritious than eating their non-organic equivalents. Although there are some studies that show slightly higher amounts of certain micronutrients in specific fruits and vegetables, there isn’t reason to believe that these higher levels improve overall nutrition and health. There are so many different factors that affect the nutritional content of foods, including soil quality, climate, harvest technique and timing, processing, travel time, and storage. All of these factors play a role in the nutrition profile of fruits and vegetables, which ultimately makes it difficult to conduct these studies.
What about pesticides? When it comes to pesticides, organic foods might have lower levels of pesticide residue on the final products. Pesticide use in non-organic farming is strictly regulated and upper limits are set at safe levels to reduce harm whether you are eating organic foods or not. Regardless of the farming practice, all your fruits and veggies should be washed under cold running water before eating or cooking to remove any residue.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) created a list called TheDirty Dozenthat specifies fruits and vegetables with the highest amount of pesticide residue. Generally speaking, these fruits and veggies have thinner skins and outer layers that are edible, which makes them more susceptible to having higher pesticide residue. The EWG also put together a list of fruits and vegetables with the least amount of residue found on final produce grown with non-organic practices. This list is called The Clean Fifteen.
Why would you choose to farm or buy organic? The goal of organic practices is to protect the environment by minimizing damage to the surrounding plants, animals, soil, and air, as well as to promote health for farm animals and consumers. Farmers are able to meet these values by practicing crop rotation and avoiding the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics. Organic principles also strive to maintain biodiversity of plants and allow animals the freedom to behave naturally. For the larger part of history, these goals have been the norm, not the exception, albeit likely because we previously didn’t have the technology to industrially produce food.
Is organic equivalent to sustainable agriculture? Generally speaking, organic farming usually means sustainable practices. However, it is important to understand the differences between the two because organic farming can be done unsustainably and as previously mentioned, sustainable farming can be done without being certified as organic. The major difference is that organic is a certification a farmer or company can obtain, whereas sustainable agriculture is more of a philosophy. As consumers have become more aware of food production practices in the last decade, the demand for organic products has been on the rise. Not surprisingly, large food corporations have jumped on the organic bandwagon and are now making a large profit under their organic brand names. Even large grocery stores are creating their own organic brands to get in on the profits. Unfortunately this means that the reliability of organic standards is starting to disappear. Large companies are cutting corners and meeting minimum standards to slash production costs and lower selling prices enough to attract consumers but also to cut out small farmers from the business. Moreover, sustainable agriculture ensures that goods are sold as close to the farm as possible in order to reduce their carbon footprint. Unfortunately, organic regulations don’t limit food mileage, so large companies are producing organic foods that must travel thousands of miles to be sold in grocery stores around the country.
I know it seems like I’m giving industrialized organic farming two thumbs down, but I have to admit that it’s not all bad news. These large corporations are bringing awareness to the negative impacts that pesticides and synthetic fertilizers have on the environment, as well as the negative impacts that growth hormones, antibiotics, and GMOs have on humans and livestock. Just keep in mind that even though a product is certified organic, it does not mean that it is healthy for you. There are plenty of organic cookies, granola bars and cold cereals out there, among other processed foods, which are just as nutritionally empty as their non-organic equivalents.
The bottom line is that we should be eating fruits and veggies at every meal, whether they are organically produced or otherwise. Unfortunately our reality is that certified organic products are more expensive and many people are not in the position to buy entirely organic or even to buy organic at all. There are however some ways to start heading in the right direction. Choosing locally produced food allows you the opportunity to meet the farmer. Many small farms practice organic techniques that are sustainable. This means that you are likely getting the benefits of organic practices, as well as eating in season. A few great ways to connect with your local farmers are through farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. We know that foods are nutritionally superior when they are in season and when they don’t have to travel far from the farm to get to your plate. By buying local and in season, you can usually get a better price at the time of purchase. Having a freezer is a great way to store fruits and veggies in the high season so that you have a good supply throughout the winter months. No matter how you choose to feed yourselves, it’s important that you understand which farming practices are out there so that you can use your food dollars wisely to better nourish your body and to support practices that you believe in.
This is a Special to the GNH Blog written by Lisa Halliwell, GNH Blogger/ Community Journalist and local dietitian.
Ideally, I would like this post to be a two-second read – don’t eat prepackaged foods! This way, you wouldn’t need to learn how to read nutrition labels. Unfortunately, this isn’t our reality. As much as I would like everyone (including myself) to make all of their foods from scratch, we know that’s not possible in this day and age. Besides the fact that it takes TIME to prepare the staples in our diets, it also requires skill. Over the last few years I have learned to make foods like yogurt, chicken broth, and bread, so I don’t have to rely on their commercially made counterparts. However, there are still foods that I buy premade, and will likely continue to purchase in the foreseeable future. For this reason, we need to understand what nutrition labels are and how to read them.
Nutrition labels are legally required to be on most packaged items in Canada and must appear in a specified format. You won’t find labels on fresh fruits and veggies, raw meat and poultry (unless it’s ground), raw fish and seafood, foods prepared/processed at a store (e.g. bakery items, salads), foods with only a few ingredients (e.g. tea, coffee, spices), and alcoholic beverages. It’s important to understand a few basic concepts about label reading so that you can a) have a good idea of what kinds and quantities of nutrients are found in different products, and b) compare different brands of the same product to make the most informed purchase. Label reading becomes more important when health problems require you to keep tabs on specific nutrients.
Look at the serving size: The serving size is probably the most important component to check for on a nutrition label. This indicates the volume of food on which the nutrient table is based. Realistically think about how much you will actually eat at one sitting and compare it to the serving size; if the answer is double, then you have to double all of the quantities of the nutrients listed below. Companies don’t have to adhere to a standard serving size, so a loaf of bread can be labeled per 1 slice or 2 slices. Remember that the so-called “junk foods” tend to have smaller serving sizes than are normally consumed, so you will likely have to double or even triple the nutrition information listed to get an accurate idea of what you are eating.
Calories: The first section of the label contains the amount of calories per serving size. People tend to get caught up in the calories because the school of thought is that calories in must equal calories out in order to maintain weight. However, it is not that simple. Calorie counting can help with weight goals, but it is really the quality of the calories that counts. Your body requires essential nutrients that are used for repair, maintenance and growth, and that can only be done if you feed your self with nutrient rich foods. By eating a food of equal calories but devoid of nutrients, you’re doing your body a disservice and likely will not meet or maintain your health goals.
Nutrient breakdown: Thirteen core nutrients must be represented on the label in terms of grams and percent daily value. The nutrients listed include fat (saturated, trans, cholesterol), sodium, carbohydrate (fibre, sugars), protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Other nutrients can be added on the label, but they are optional according to government regulations. The grams indicate the actual weight of the nutrient in the product, per serving size. This can be hard to put into context if you are new at reading labels, but it does give you a platform to compare products to each other. The percent daily value is based on a 2000-calorie diet of an “average” adult. It tells us how much of the recommended daily intake is provided in a serving of a certain product. For example, if a product contains 75 mg of sodium per ¾ cup serving, you will be consuming 3% of the required sodium needed for an average adult in one day. Although the theory behind this calculation is logical, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the majority of the population. Caloric requirements change depending on age, gender, physical activity, health issues, health goals, and much more. A good rule of thumb to follow is that 5% of the daily value is a small amount of a nutrient, and 15% is a large amount. For some nutrients, like fibre and calcium, we want a higher quantity in our packaged items, whereas we are looking for a lower number when it comes to trans-fats. Comparison-shopping allows us to choose the healthier option, even though it still might not be the ideal choice.
What about nutrition claims? Nutrition claims are regulated statements that provide some insight into what nutrients are provided in a product. Nutrition claims are optional for food companies to display, but are regularly used more as a marketing ploy to attract consumers than to help consumers choose healthier options. Nutrition claims include “low fat,” “sodium-free,” “source of fibre,” and “gluten-free.” We must be critical when we read these statements. A corn tortilla package might read “gluten-free” but we have to remember that corn never contained gluten in the first place! This is just a marketing technique to encourage people to choose the “healthy” food option based on trending diets, even though gluten-free is not necessarily the healthier choice.
Understanding nutrition labels has become a necessity in the 21st century. We have to understand that food companies use the cheapest raw ingredients possible to make products that are still attractive and tasty to the consumer. This means that tons of sugar, salt, fat, and preservatives are added to foods that normally wouldn’t require such ingredients. As I continue to reinforce, you’re better off reading the ingredient list in packaged items. As a rule of thumb, limit the amount of ingredients that you can’t pronounce – they’re likely foods that can’t be found in any household pantry around the world and therefore shouldn’t be regularly consumed. We have to stop being passive consumers and start making informed choices about our health and our food system.
Gordon Neighbourhood House (GNH) is thrilled to welcome the new Chair of GNH Community Advisory Board, James Kim! As part of the annual election for positions on the board of GNH, James will fill the position. The previous chair, Matt Schroeter, stepped down from the role to contribute to GNH in different ways. We appreciate the service of Matt and James.
James notes that the huge increase in visitors to GNH since 2012. James is curious about the world and the local, and wider, Vancouver culture as well, especially related to food. He likes to eat. He likes to cook. He likes to share meals. A perfect fit for the GNH community!
He has been associated with GNH for some time as the Communications Consultant (since November, 2012). Even before GNH, he knew Paul Taylor. He heard about the GNH when Paul became the executive director. “Gordon Neighbourhood House was also a good place for me insofar as the catchment area, which is the Downtown Peninsula,” James said, “I’ve been living here for the last 12 years. That worked out for me.”
For the role as the chair, James will be involved in meetings, fundraising efforts, meeting with the city, signing various documents for grants, and so on. “With certain types of grants, for example, there is a request that along with the executive director or staff at Gordon Neighbourhood House there is an indication of endorsement from the advisory board,” James said, “Usually, that would be the chair signing.”
James wants the board to be as inclusive and representative of the community members that GNH is integrated into as much as possible. He wants the conversation of poverty reduction and food security between the community, the city, and the province to continue. James stated that GNH is an important part of that movement to “try and make the world a better place.”
“It has to do with trying to keep the conversation going with a poverty reduction strategy, food security…for everyone from elders to students,” James said, “As part of that strategic goal I think GNH is doing a great job of speaking to the right people and hopefully making a bit of an impact.”
He described the community, and the energy that “informs and influences the GNH,” as his favourite part of the neighbourhood house community. That is, GNH is a community hub or a “home away from home.” James has been touched most by attending some of the volunteer events.
When his parents came to Canada in the late 1960s, they did not have jobs. They weren’t quite food insecure but options were limited. There was less of a Korean-Canadian community compared to today. And there was no such as a neighbourhood house such as GNH and its outreach programs. GNH is good because it can bring people in.
“When I sit down with people, in some cases, I feel like it is revisiting an opportunity when we were young, or my parents were young,” James said, “I feel it is an amazing thing that we are able to do this, to be frank, with the limited resources that we have at neighbourhood houses.”
By: Scott Douglas Jacobsen (GNH Community Journalist/Blogger)
Tell us briefly about your background – family, education, and work.
I was born in Ghana but have grown up and lived in Canada for the majority of my life. (16 years to be exact.) I am now a student at UBC, and I’ve mainly worked in the food service and retail industry before this position.
How did you find out about Gordon Neighbourhood House?
I’m a Co-op student, so I found out about GNH through the Summer Day Camp Leader position that they advertised with Co-op.
What interested you about us?
When I first found out about GNH I was mainly interested in finding a job but now that I’ve worked here for 5 months, I’m really interested in and proud of the fact that we are able to run so many programs that are low-cost and affordable.
Now, you’re working with Gordon Neighbourhood House. What tasks and responsibilities come with this position?
Now that my position has changed, I am a Program Assistant for Young Ideas. I essentially help plan events for people living in the West End area.
Where do you hope Gordon Neighbourhood House moves forward into the future?
Although GNH is well-known in the West End area, I hope that it can become a more recognized name outside of this community.
Gordon Neighbourhood House: What is a Neighbourhood House, and What Does It Do?
Short intro to GNH
Found tucked away in pockets of lively communities, neighbourhood houses are hidden gems enchanted with an ambience of hospitality and zest. Most might not know about neighbourhood houses. Indeed, they might not know their content and purpose. There’s a few in the Lower Mainland including South Vancouver, located on Victoria Drive; Mount Pleasant located on East Broadway; Kitsilano, on West 7th Avenue, and finally, Gordon Neighbourhood House (GNH), which can be found on Broughton Street. Many are associated with the Association of Neighbourhood Houses in British Columbia (ANHBC). We want to explore some of the aspects of a neighbourhood house through a case study in GNH. But what is a neighbourhood house? What is its purpose, and how can one get involved?
The ANHBC helps over 100,000 British Columbians with over 300 programs. These include child care and other family resources, support for seniors and youth, and even food programs. For examples, these can mean camping and community dinners. The ANHBC remains an overarching association for seven neighbourhood houses. Some of these have been around for a long time. For example, and to the case study, GNH has been around since 1942 in Vancouver’s West End.
The organization aims to facilitate community engagement and interaction. This is done through various programs for the development of the community by the community. Now, the key phrase “neighbourhood house” has more clarity. A neighbourhood house is part of the community and a collective effort for public engagement. This will include work with sister associations through bottom-up, or grassroots, organizing for diverse engagement to reflect the West End community.
Throughout the Lower Mainland, neighbourhood houses have become grassroots organizations that are constructed and developed, by, and for, the people of the local community. As with most bottom-up organizing, GNH is one of them.
Victoria’s and Scott’s Experiences
We have been to Gordon Neighbourhood House before, in different events. Scott attended in October for a Young Ideas meeting, which is, as per the title, an event for the organization’s youth wing. Victoria could make it for part of a community dinner, which was connected to the Vancouver Food Conversations event; part of GNH’s annual West End Food Festival. We found the experiences pleasant and informative, and the membership enthusiastic, warm, and professional. Our hope is that individuals will consider these hidden community resources right in their proverbial Lower Mainland backyard. In fact, they have numerous ongoing, upcoming, and annual events.
How to Get Involved/Upcoming Events
The GNH hosts a multitude of events and programs at its venue located on 1019 Broughton Street. Programs are available for citizens of all ages and backgrounds. Families and youth are supported through experiential learning that inspires not only intellectual, but emotional discovery as well. A Seniors’ Advisory Committee consisting of GNH members advises the GNH on improving the issues faced by seniors in the community and city. The GNH also hosts a Seniors’ Lounge every week from Monday to Wednesday, which is open for all West End elders to meet with old and new faces. Additionally, Seniors’ Out-Trips are organized to provide West End’s seniors with the opportunity to take part in the outdoors and diverse cultures in the Greater Vancouver Region, while socializing with other elders.
In GNH’s Young Ideas (YI) initiative, GNH acknowledges that a community is largely affected when its members experience loneliness or social isolation. With 48% of West End’s demographic being between the ages of 20 and 39, 41% of which finding it difficult to make friends, the YI organizes events, activities, and workshops to create opportunities for those between 20 and 39 to engage and forge relationships between West End’s community members. In addition to these programs, GNH also has a “Neighbourhood Small Grants” program and organizes “The Clean Team” in partnership with the West End Business Improvement Association to audit litter and work towards a cleaner neighbourhood.
There are two annual events at GNH: The West End Food Festival and the Vancouver Food Summit. The West End Food Festival is a multi-day event focusing on bringing public attention to various topics of concern in our food system, and using food to bring together community members to celebrate the diversity of food and cultures in the West End community.
The Vancouver Food Summit was an incredible and rare opportunity for individuals, community food practitioners, farmers, community leaders, academics, funders and activists and stakeholders to spend a day sharing experience and expertise, challenging assumptions, having difficult conversations and exploring how to deepen our collective impact. The interest in food in our city has gained significant momentum, in fact this year Vancouver celebrates the third anniversary of the Vancouver Food Strategy.
A key aspect of this work must be focused on a critical analysis of who is typically left out of conversation around our food system and why? The Vancouver Food Summit allowed us to collectively push ourselves to think about what an inclusive food movement looks like. Attendees chose between eight different panels throughout the day, involving discussions on eight topics central to Vancouver’s food movement. Topics included: the advancement of indigenous food sovereignty, a critical look at food banks, the efficacy of food policy at challenging poverty, the question of whether local food is inherently more just, accessibility as more than a ramp, and whether food waste was an opportunity or a curse. Using food to animate important conversations, GNH is a central hub for these activities.
Volunteer postings for GNH can be found on GNH’s website, and include a variety of postings; from yoga instructors to herb garden volunteers, to outreach and awareness volunteers. Becoming a volunteer for the GNH can be a very enriching and fulfilling experience, as well as an effective way to engage with West End’s community.
You can become involved and donate to Gordon Neighbourhood House at their website. Note: there are restrictions on the kinds of material donations. http://gordonhouse.org/
By: Scott Douglas Jacobsen (GNH Community Journalist/Blogger) & Victoria Teo
But for my family this year, it was especially intense — and remarkably inspiring.
Our preparations included eight hours of meetings in one day to find solutions to big challenges, and we still came out excited about going back to school. What thrilled me most was being involved in a gritty but inspiring process that reignited my belief in democracy.
Witnessing people from five to 75 negotiate their needs as individuals and as a community gave me hope. It showed me that when people commit to the work of the democratic process, what seems impossible becomes doable. It made me realize that this is the work that we, as B.C. residents, need to do to build a better province together.
My family is new to Windsor House, an alternative, publicly funded school that offers students from kindergarten to Grade 12 a self-described “free, democratic school” or, as we call it, a school where the kids get to choose what they want to learn. Literally.
It’s an educational model that’s hard to organize at the best of times. But last year the school lost its physical site in North Vancouver and this year, it’s using a “multi-campus model” with several smaller venues while it looks for a new home.
One easy way to manage the change might have been to let school staff set up a schedule and slot students into predetermined activities.
That’s not what we did. In the four-hour meeting I attended with my seven-year old twins, they first had to choose what they wanted to do in their first week. After writing down the activities they were interested in, ranging from animals to woodwork, we all worked together to figure out where students would go each day during the week.
It wasn’t easy. We had four available spaces for learning, offering different activities and topics each day.
Each corner of the room represented one of the different locations, and 25 chairs were set up in each one, showing the number of spaces available. The first Monday was to offer sword-building, gaming, swimming or media arts in the four locations.
The kids raced to find a seat in the corner of their choice and when there were more than 25 kids in a corner, they were involved in finding solutions to accommodate everyone. In some situations, kids who gave up their spots had first choice next week, or perhaps got to determine the activities in a different location. Each day there were more activities and more choices.
I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I suspect we all were. But what I saw unfolding was choice that moved beyond the individual in a complex dance of personal desire, social group dynamics (where is my friend going?), practical logistics, community norms and regulations (which, by the way, are also figured out together at Windsor House), and the needs of the community.
Sounds complicated? It was. At the end of that day of meetings, principal Meghan Carrico described this move as “the hardest thing she has ever done in her entire life.” Then she added, “I can’t imagine a better group of people to do this with.”
It’s not that this is a group of people with special skills or attributes. What makes them exceptional is simply their commitment to a process of full democracy. A process that involves asking and answering difficult questions. A process that provides a space where everybody feels heard and respected. A process where challenges are seen as opportunities. A process that is not reduced to voting (as democracy has been in our electoral system) but invests in coming to a shared solution. A process that doesn’t take democracy for granted but recognizes the work of doing democracy, every day. In short, a process that builds a truly democratic community.
The other four hours of meetings that day were two spent getting to know the kids’ new teacher advisor, who spent time learning what they’re interested in, and then two hours in the evening at a parents’ meeting focused primarily on discussing the pedagogy of this model, and then a bit of time for the practical logistics of bus schedules, etc. This meeting was mandatory (and childcare was provided to make that possible), making me realize that the only thing they force at Windsor House is full engagement.
At the end of the last meeting of the long day, Carrico asked: “Are there any more questions?” Everybody was tired and ready to go home — but no one complained when 10 more hands shot up. Sure there was a collective groan, but there was also a shared laugh as we all dug in for the last few minutes of the late evening.
Democracy in action is not easy — in fact, it’s very, very hard — but it is beautiful.
In my work in poverty reduction, I often see people shy away from engaging in democracy, saying that talking about the root causes of poverty is “too political.” So it’s wonderful to see people working hard at democracy. It’s only a small community of 170 families and a dedicated staff, but being part of it is enough to make me believe that this could be done on a larger scale.
We have an opportunity in the lead-up to the provincial election in May 2017 to work hard at democracy at that level. Ask difficult questions. Include everyone. Face the challenges. Invest in shared solutions. Do democracy every day.
Trish Garner is the community organizer of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, and has two kids entering Grade 3 at Windsor House and a preschooler looking forward to going next year.
This is a special to the GNH Blog by Rebecca Cuttler. Originally posted at Vancouver Observer.
It is, perhaps, a cliche to say that food brings people together. A good meal, shared amongst friends or strangers, can provide an ideal starting place for dialogue, learning and connection. Food is a language we all speak.
Yet food can also be fraught with its own complexities. Consider, for instance, the “ethnic aisle”. In grocery stores across Vancouver, staples from non-European countries are often grouped together in a jumble of sauces, spices and dried goods segregated into their own area.
This phenomenon was the starting point for a recent event at the recently closed Heartwood Cafe entitled “What’s up with the ethnic aisle?” Hosted by Gordon Neighbourhood House, the discussion followed on an earlier panel at the May 2016 Vancouver Food Summit, “Why is the food movement so white?”
Our world is currently experiencing a time when race, ethnicity and culture are at the forefront of many people’s minds. Police killings in the United States and the rise of Black Lives Matter have sparked an urgent dialogue about systemic racism.
Xenophobia in North America and Europe has shaped the current political landscape, with potentially huge implications. These topics are complex and extend far beyond food.
However, it turns out that what we put on our plates, and how we buy it, bring up their own set of important challenges, many of which affect Vancouver directly.
I was fortunate to be able to interview two of the event panelists, indigenous law specialist and former Vancouver Park Board member Niki Sharma, and Chinese-Canadian youth organizer and Executive Director of the hua foundation Kevin Huang.
The panel at the Vancouver Food Summit was entitled “Why is the food movement so white?” Do you think it’s true that the food movement is white?
Niki: There are a lot of people of colour that participate in local food production. I believe the real question is: are the voices of these people represented in the organizations claiming to represent the local food movement?
Kevin: In a local food systemic context contained to the Lower Mainland, yes. While we are often asked to choose organic kale as a way of supporting local farmers and community agriculture, I think it’s just as important to include organic bok choi in these selections as a means of providing culturally appropriate food choices.
How much does the problem have to do with how we define “food movement”? Are there other food movements out there besides organic food, locavorism and farmer’s markets?
Kevin: I don’t see it as a problem of how we define “food movement” as much as questioning who is this movement for, who it is serving, who is not at the table, and who are we excluding? Vancouver’s demographic is diverse and the food movement should reflect that.
The interesting things about Farmer’s Market-style direct sales is that they are also quite prevalent in most places around the world: wet markets, morning markets, you name it. Perhaps increasing the availability of culturally appropriate food items, increasing accessibility, and advancing our cultural competency to work interculturally would fill this engagement gap.
There is also the opportunity for us to expand or even redefine Vancouver’s “Food Movement”. We are missing out on recognizing and celebrating individuals acts such as grandmas and grandpas growing their own food in their backyards or even parents teaching their kids in the privacy of their own home how they should not waste food and to compost.
Niki: I spoke about my father during the panel at the Vancouver Food Summit. He has been collecting seeds and growing food for most of his life. He has a deep knowledge of growing food that he shared with us.
In many ways he is a local food champion, but I am sure he would not know why he was called that. This speaks to the disconnect of the movement to include stories of those with deep knowledge about local food from many different backgrounds. Ultimately, I believe the “food movement” cannot be successful if it chooses to define itself through disconnected and unrepresentative boardrooms.
In terms of other movements, food justices needs to be part of every movement or ultimately it just becomes an club that only few can participate in.
How much of BC’s food system – especially when it comes to things like agricultural production, importing and distribution – is dependent on the work of immigrants and migrant workers?
Niki: I would like to know these statistics. Between migrant workers, Chinese Canadian and South Asian farmers, I would expect this numbers to be high.
Kevin: With the exception of First Nations, acknowledgement that we are all immigrants is important. From hua foundation’s area of work, it is deeply concerning that there are only three academic studies on the Chinese Food Distribution system, considering how large the system is locally.
The Chinese once produced up to 90% of British Columbia’s vegetables before racist policy pushed them out. Similar to how there is little recognition on Chinese contributions, we rarely acknowledge the “immigrants” and migrant workers that continue to produce our food locally.
What’s up with the “ethnic aisle”?
Niki: I think we need to examine the word “ethnic” and think about what we mean when we say it. Canadians of colour will tell you that the ethnic aisle is where all the food from non-white countries is found. Despite being part of Canada for generations – certain backgrounds are considered more Canadian than others. For example, Chinese people migrated here before B.C. was a province. At what point does a culture or food stop being labelled “ethnic” in Canada?
Kevin: From a business logistics point of view, it is where you put all the “exotic” foods that your business traditionally doesn’t import/buy. For mainstream, non-visible-minorities it is where non-staple items can be found.
The sociological issue with the “ethnic aisle” is that it reinforces the “othering” of people of colour and “diverse” communities. The ethnic aisle is a physical manifestation of the fact that we live in a (white) colonial society where people of colour and Indigenous communities are still regarded as “others”.
I have hopes that the “ethnic aisle” is only a transitory stage as we work towards being more inclusive and recognizing our city’s diverse range of cultural backgrounds.
What can the food movement, and individuals who are a part of it, do to be more inclusive? Or, put another way, what can people from diverse cultural backgrounds do to have more prominent voices around food issues?
Kevin: Not a prescriptive checklist but some ideas: Build and invest in cultural competency. Empower those that have the lived cultural experiences. Work with those that are able to bridge cultures and create intercultural understanding.
Design programs and engagement models with a social justice and decolonizing lens. Recognize tokenism, unconscious bias, and avoid the Social and Moral Licensing trap. Be open to learning and challenging established beliefs and ways of thinking, both individual (self) and community (public).
Niki: I think all those involved in the food movement need to make the inclusion of all people of all backgrounds a priority, particularly those who are already participating in local food production but don’t have a voice at the table.
Also, there needs to be more linkages between organizations in different communities doing similar work.
Rebecca Cuttler is an urban gardening teacher, member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council and Houzz.com gardening contributor. She blogs about urban food gardening at http://abundantcity.net.
By: Scott Douglas Jacobsen (GNH Community Journalist/Blogger)
What’s your brief background – family, education, and work? How did you find out about Gordon Neighbourhood House? What was your original interest in us?
My background and how I came to know GNH are closely linked. I studied social work and have always had an interest in agriculture. I had travelled and worked on several farms abroad as a WWOOFer (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) and always knew I wanted to incorporate this passion into my work somehow. Trying to connect my love of agriculture with social work seemed tricky at first, until I became familiar with the work GNH was doing around food and community. The GNH food philosophy was inspiring to me, and I felt this was a place where food could be grown locally with the community, cooked together, and shared over laughs. I am now grateful to be part of it.
Any suggestions for others to become involved with us? Any suggestions in ‘spreading the word’ via social media, word of mouth, newspapers, blog posts, articles, and so on?
We are always looking for folks to get more involved at the house. As cheesy as it sounds I truly believe there is something for everyone here. My suggestion is to check out our programs online or at the front desk, and if there’s something that interests you, sign up! We are also always hosting special events, so it is important to sign up for our newsletter and check out our Facebook page so you don’t miss those. If you see an event, post, or article that you like, chances are your friends might like it too- so be sure to share! GNH is a great place to meet new people, and I often hear stories of long lasting friendships that began at an event, in a program, or through volunteering. Don’t be shy…once you attend something you’ll be part of the GNH family.
You are a farmer and community programmer for Gordon Neighbourhood House. What are your tasks and responsibilities in that role?
As the farmer/community programmer I look after the GNH urban farms and community herb gardens around the West End. With 4 farms and 10 herb gardens to date, it’s safe to say I can’t keep up without an enormous amount of help from volunteers. The urban farm team is incredibly keen, and we go out each week to look after whatever needs to be done (weeding, watering, harvesting, and way more). Together we have learned how to maximize our space with salad greens, companion plant, troubleshoot with pests, and attract pollinators. Once the produce is ready it gets harvested and brought back to Chef Peter, or one of our many other food related programs at the house.
Gordon Neighbourhood House wants to make the West End a better place to “live and grow” whilst remaining “sensitive to the ever changing needs of the diverse groups of people” in the neighbourhood. What do you see as the importance of this message and work by Gordon Neighbourhood House?
Being a better place to live and grow means all people feel welcome in this space. When I say there is something for everyone here, it means we strive to ensure that each person who walks in the door finds something important to them: English conversation class, a new friend, a tasty meal with neighbours, or a treasure at the attic. It also means that this person has something to offer which makes this place grow alongside them: maybe they raise issues that affect seniors at the seniors’ lounge, or are looking to get their hands dirty at the farms, or find themselves starting a dance party at a Young Ideas event. With the West End being a fairly diverse community with a wide set of skills, interests and challenges, we see GNH mirroring such diversity in our programming and activities. This must also come with a commitment to critical conversations around how to make this community better in the future, and advocating to see that change happen.
Where do you hope Gordon Neighbourhood House moves forward into the future?
It is my hope that Gordon House continues to grow in the direction it is headed. I dream of a place with farms on all sides, food in all rooms, and conversation amongst all people. As I say this however, I am sitting at the front desk on a regular Thursday night at GNH and it feels pretty good. The Rainbow Soup Social is cooking up a meal for the Community Food Hub tomorrow and it smells amazing, “Mexican Fiesta soup” they say. In room 1 there’s a free documentary film screening about the Site C dam, with a Coast Salish welcome song and drum. A couple regulars are chatting in the lobby over some coffee, and curious people come and go from the thrift store. I just commented to someone that I hoped to pop in to see the film because “it’s pretty quiet right now”. If this is quiet, I think it’s fair to say we’ve hit a pretty high point. I trust it will continue to grow from here.