DIGNIFIED FOOD ACCESS

  • URBAN FARMING POH-POHS: CHINESE SENIORS GARDEN PROJECT DEVELOPS SPACE FOR ELDERS’ FOOD SECURITY

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Community Gardening and Urban Farming, Dignified Food Access, Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, Food Justice, Little Mountain Riley Park Neighbourhood House // April 12, 2019

    Last spring and summer, a group of poh-pohs (Cantonese for “grandmothers “or “elderly women”) gathered every Saturday to grow fresh vegetables in raised beds and pots on the edge of the parking lot at East Hastings Street and Jackson Avenue. Led by local organizer Doris Chow with support from the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House and Carnegie Community Centre, this Chinese Seniors Community Garden became a new space for seniors to share skills and stay healthy.

    Group photo of the gardening poh-pohs. Photo by Clare Yow.

    In Fall 2018, the Sun Wah Centre on Keefer Street hosted CHINATOWN GENERATIONS as part of the Heart of the City Festival. This intergenerational community event celebrated Chinatown and its ongoing presence of cultural heritage. It featured a photo exhibition by and of urban farming poh-pohs and their gardening activities in the Downtown Eastside.

    During this event, an attentive audience listened to these seniors share stories from their experiences in this project with the support of English translators. Unlike many other community garden spaces, these elderly Chinese women tended to the garden beds in a communal fashion and shared the harvest. In addition to obtaining produce and new garden skills, they cultivated stronger friendships and community with one another.

    Seniors’ photography shares personal memories

    Upon my arrival to the event, one of the senior participants, Kong Tai (Mrs. Kong) came over to say hello and handed me a small photo album. Mrs. Kong is a well-known elder in the Chinatown community who advocates on issues of housing justice. Despite the language barrier between us, the photos she offered me conveyed her excitement and happiness for the garden project.

    Photos taken by the seniors exhibited at the Sun Wah building for the Heart of the City Festival. Photo by Clare Yow.

    As I flipped through the photo album, the 4×6 prints displayed the unmistakable film aesthetic of a disposable camera. I realized these photos were taken by the poh pohs themselves. The photos captured many bright faces, green growth, and blurred smiles: Mrs. Kong and her friends working in the garden, a group of elderly women displaying large bunches of Asian greens, a harvest of juicy mo gwa (fuzzy melons). These photos captured the seniors’ experiences through their own lens. 

    CHINATOWN GENERATIONS exhibit featured photography by the poh pohs. Photo by Clare Yow

    “No one needs expensive coffee or skateboards, but we need groceries”

    While the Chinese Seniors Community Garden project is joyful, it is also critically important. With increasing gentrification in Chinatown, 55% of grocery stores have closed down or moved out of the neighbourhood within the past decade (according to a report by hua foundation).

    As Mrs. Kong expresses: 

    We had all the grocery stores and herbal stores, cafes, a variety of restaurants to eat dim sum or dinner, which are important social spaces for us Chinese people… [but] there are not even a lot of grocery shops left. 

    A big problem is that the new places opening in Chinatown are either a coffee shop or a nightclub. These places are really expensive and they don’t sell things that we need, nor are they welcoming spaces for us. They are unsuitable to our needs. I never go into these places and I drink my coffee at the Carnegie. No one needs expensive coffee or skateboards, but we need groceries.

    Mrs. Kong 鄺太, Carnegie Community Action Project Report: “We Are Too Poor To Afford Anything
    Guests view the exhibit at Sun Wah. Photo by Clare Yow.

    Seniors often overlooked in Western society

    Beyond the needs of the Chinatown neighbourhood, increasing numbers of seniors are unable to afford to feed themselves. In December, CBC reported that approximately 10,000 seniors—a figure on the rise—access the food bank each month in B.C. As life expectancy increases, food insecurity for seniors is expected to worsen, too. For seniors who live in poverty, B.C.’s disability and welfare rates do not support them to afford healthy foods. Nearly a third of seniors are deemed “at risk” of not getting adequate nutrition from their diets according to Statistics Canada. 

    Poh pohs explain the Chinese Seniors Community Garden to an audience at the Heart of the City Festival. Photo by Clare Yow

    At the intersection of age, class, gender, and race, many elderly Chinese women experience discrimination while navigating social services. For years, service providers in the Downtown Eastside have recognized the need for more culturally-specific services for Chinese seniors.

    “The [seniors] that are healthiest come [to resource centres in the Downtown Eastside] in the biggest groups. They don’t have any education. They can’t read. They can’t write. But the way they’re happy, the way they survive, and part of why they’re healthy, is because they have each other.”

    Deanna Wong, Chinese seniors outreach coordinator in “Old, Alone and Victims of Racism in Downtown Eastside,” The Tyee

    The success of the Chinese Seniors Community Garden is even more meaningful with an understanding of how immigrant seniors’ needs are not adequately met by Western society. The role of friendship and community in this neighbourhood are necessary for survival. Growing gardens may be the vehicle, but this multi-lingual, culturally-focussed project will have lasting impacts through its built relationships.

    A future with food for all, seniors included

    As the gardening season begins again, more local food security projects are continuing to center the needs of seniors in other parts of the city.

    In the coming months, Little Mountain Neighbourhood House will launch “Sowing the Seeds of Inclusivity,” a gardening project at Riley Park Community Garden to specifically support food security for seniors in Little Mountain-Riley Park neighbourhood. In addition to gardening and cooking activities, the project will provide lunches in the garden and shuttle rides to and from the sessions, as a means of increasing accessibility.

    For those who are looking to get involved or are passionate about seniors’ food security, Riley Park Community Garden is currently looking for new members to join their Seniors Engagement Committee for their “Sowing the Seeds of Inclusivity” project.

    The Chinese Seniors Community Garden is also welcoming new volunteers and gardeners, with no prior experience needed. They will host a public re-opening celebration on Saturday, April 20, 2019 at 10AM. The group will celebrate the new growing season with snacks and an official lion dance opening.

    The Chinese Seniors Garden will re-open on Saturday, April 20, 2019 with a community celebration. Everyone is welcome to attend.

    As the food movement shifts to prioritize more and more underrepresented voices, like those of our elders, I hope we will continue to listen to elders’ stories and learn from the wisdom they have to offer. I hope projects like the Chinese seniors garden plant the seed for more of Vancouver’s food communities to address seniors’ specific needs to access healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate foods with dignity and respect.


    Congratulations to all the poh-poh participants and project facilitator Doris Chow. This project has been supported by the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, Carnegie Community Centre, New Horizons for Seniors, and Wing Wing Sausage Co. Limited. Thank you to Clare Yow for permission to use your photos. 

  • COMMUNITY MEALS: AFFORDABLE, HEALTHY FOOD + SOCIAL SPACES

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Dignified Food Access, Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, Gordon Neighbourhood House, Grandview Woodland Food Connection, Hastings Sunrise Community Food Network, Little Mountain Riley Park Neighbourhood House, Mount Pleasant Food Network, Renfew Collingwood Food Security Institute, South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network // February 18, 2019

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    “Kitchens and dining room tables aren’t just places to make food. They’re also safe and familiar places to gather, connect, organize, plan and to recuperate. Food not only changes the feeling in a space, it also shifts behaviour.”

    Julia Turshen, author of “Feed the Resistance: Recipes + Ideas for Getting Involved”

    The dining room table offers more than a space to eat a meal. While breaking bread, a shared meal is an opportunity to sit down and converse with others. It offers space to share stories, create new ideas, or even informally practice language. As a shared activity, eating food connects people to community.

    According to research at the University of Oxford, the more often people sit down to eat with others, the more likely they are to feel happy and satisfied with their lives.

    In Vancouver, approximately half of local residents find it hard to make friends. Approximately one in four people find themselves isolated more often than they would like.

    Combining the need for healthy, balanced meals with the need for more social spaces in the city, Vancouver Food Networks offer affordable meals for the community. Community meals are meant to offer meals which are accessible, so the cost of an average community meal is between $3 to $7. These are often homestyle meals, usually prepared and cooked on-site during the week. With advance notice, dietary considerations may be taken into account by the kitchen, too.

    If $3 to $7 is still a barrier, free and by-donation meals are available. Breakfasts (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) and lunches (Wednesday) are offered for free at the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House. By-donation lunches (Monday, Wednesday) are available at Gordon Neighbourhood House in the West End.

    These community meals usually consist of multiple courses, including dessert. Weekday meals are offered throughout the city at Britannia Community Centre, Collingwood Neighbourhood House, Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, Hastings Community Centre (for seniors), South Van Neighbourhood House, Little Mountain Neighbourhood House, and Kits Neighbourhood House.

    Find a Food Network which offers free or low cost meals in your neighbourhood. Learn when you are welcome to drop by to eat a hearty meal and meet your neighbours at the same time.

    See up-to-date information on current community meals here.

  • FOOD COSTS RISING IN BC: LACK OF INCOME REMAINS CAUSE OF FOOD INSECURITY

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Dignified Food Access, Downtown Eastside Kitchen Tables, Food Justice, Grandview Woodland Food Connection, Poverty Reduction, Reports, Resources // December 22, 2018

    Average monthly cost to feed a family of four in Vancouver is $1,098

    With the rising cost of food, housing and overall living, the issue of addressing hunger requires a multi-dimensional approach. It does not exist on its own.

    The latest Food Costing in BC report highlights the increasing cost of food. Produced by the BC Centre for Disease Control and Provincial Health Services Authority, this report breaks down the cost of a nutritionally adequate diet.

    The cost to feed an average family of four in B.C. each month has risen by $151 over the past six years. (Image from BC Centre for Disease Control)

    The data in this report represents the “average monthly cost of a nutritionally adequate, balanced diet in BC based on the National Nutritious Food Basket and provides insight into the effects of household food insecurity on individuals and families.”

    “….the root cause of household food insecurity isn’t the price of food – it’s lack of income.”

    BC Centre for Disease Control, Food Cost in BC 2017 report

    Not surprisingly, food costs have been increasing by over 4% on average since 2015. The average monthly cost for a family of four in Vancouver is estimated at $1,098.


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  • HOLIDAY MEALS AND LESSONS FROM THE DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Dignified Food Access, Downtown Eastside Kitchen Tables, News, Resources // November 26, 2018

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    Last year, chefs in the Downtown Eastside reported many challenges associated with their annual holiday meals. We heard stories of food waste and efforts to put on dignified experiences being hampered by the many ‘parachute’ groups that drop into the community and serve meals–often fast food–on the street.

    DTES Kitchen Tables’
    Holiday Meal List

    Neighbourhood Food Network member DTES Kitchen Tables Project sees the distribution of the holiday meal list as an opportunity not only to inform community members on where to find holiday meals but also for people serving meals to make more informed decision on when and where to do so.

    Here, we share the updated meal list for the 2018/19 holiday season in the Downtown Eastside. Please share with anyone you know who might be organizing a “one-time” meal or distributing food in the Downtown Eastside in the coming months.

    We are also sharing Vancouver Coastal Health’s DTES Food Standards to help guide those who wish to create a more nutritious and dignified holiday meal experience.

    Note: Updated on December 5, 2018. 
    Thank you to those who sent in feedback and corrections for the Holiday Meal List. Dounia Saeme of DTES Kitchen Tables has updated this list to reflect changes and additions.