As 2019 comes to a close, the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks continues to celebrate 25 years of delivering food programs for our neighbours.
In 1993, Strathcona Community Centre started their first breakfast program and from there, we have grown to a coalition of 15 Neighbourhood Food Networks across Vancouver to meet the needs of those who face barriers to food security. We have provided food literacy, food skills workshops, community lunches and dinners, community kitchens, gardening programs and have shared many meals and celebrations with our neighbours.
Thank you so much for joining us on our adventures these past years, and here’s to many more together!
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.
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.
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.
“No one needs expensive coffee or skateboards, but we need groceries”
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.
“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.”
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.
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 facilitators Doris Chow and Simin Sun. 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.
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 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.”
Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks participated in this year’s Wild Salmon Caravan parade on Saturday, September 22, 2018.
This is an annual event organized by the Working Group for Indigenous Food Sovereignty in partnership with over 100 local organizations from Vancouver through Chase, B.C. It is also the kick off event for Sustenance Festival, a local community-based food, art, and culture festival.
Photo by Gary Haggquist, Wild Salmon Caravan
The Wild Salmon Caravan festivities began in downtown Vancouver, or what is known as Xwenelmexw on unceded Coast Salish territories.
The Wild Salmon Caravan Parade
Hundreds of people gathered in the streets to celebrate the beauty and resilience of wild salmon as an Indigenous food source, and a significant cultural and ecological keystone species.
Chants of “Wild Salmon Forever!” were accompanied by colourful costumes, mermaid tails, mythical sea creatures, parade floats, bike floats, banners, and artful decor with an homage to wild salmon.
The fourth annual Wild Salmon Caravan Parade is happening in Vancouver this weekend. You’re invited to join in the celebration!
Wild Salmon Caravan is an annual celebration that celebrates wild salmon and follows their journey as they migrate from the Salish Sea to theAdams River in Chase, BC.
The Wild Salmon Caravan parade and ceremony begins in downtown Vancouver. This celebrations will be led by Indigenous Matriarchs and traditional hand drummers and singers from diverse cultural groups. The parade will feature artistic floats, elaborate regalia, costumes, and banners. A full program of performances and speakers will follow with an exhibit of salmon leather making. (more…)
Nominees for the Roger Inman award: VNFN members with Raise the Rates and Sanctuary Health
Last night, the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks attended the CCEC Credit Union AGM as a shortlisted nominee for the Roger Inman Memorial Award, which is given annually in recognition of a project that has made a significant contribution to the economic development of the community. (more…)