Fighting poverty one farm fresh meal at a time
by Christina Van Starkenburg
According to Stats Canada, the number of families living in poverty across Canada dropped between 2008 and 2017. However, in that same time-frame more individuals felt like they didn’t have enough money to provide a variety of healthy foods to their families. Not having enough to eat, or enough healthy food to eat, can cause all sorts of medical problems.
The official definition of the poverty line is constantly changing. Currently the government is using the Market Basket Measure, which is whether or not an individual can afford food, shelter and activities in their communities. In Vancouver, this magic number is $40,000.
However, while the definition may change, what stays the same is the root cause of poverty. In their report, Healing Poverty, the Canadian Council of Churches state that “at its core… poverty is a result of broken relationships.” Not only is our relationship with God fractured, but so are our relationships with our neighbours, family members, and community members.
Therefore, the report continues, the way to heal poverty is to restore those relationships. Because when people accept “God’s call to live in loving community with others, [they are] sharing in one another’s needs and gifts.”
That belief is why organizations like A Rocha in Burnaby, BC, are stepping up to foster a community among those they serve while meeting their need for food with their Farm to Families program.
“A Rocha is a conservation organization, but it’s not all about the environment. A Rocha is about the health of the people. We care about the people who live in the environment,” explains Ruth Des Cotes the Children’s Education Coordinator at A Rocha. “[Community] is a big part of this.”
This is why the staff and volunteers at A Rocha work with organizations like Umoja Operation Compassion Society, DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society, and the Surrey School District Community Schools Partnership to bring refugees, immigrants, and vulnerable children to their farm to learn about the waterways and the garden.
The attendees get to explore the farm grounds, learn about caring for an organic garden – and sample some fresh produce along the way – and hear about the importance of the local waterways. Then, before they head home, they all sit down together to enjoy a meal prepared from the food on the farm.
This can be a rare experience for the guests. Des Cotes recalled a time when she was sitting down with a group of teenage women. One of them looked around in shock before asking, “Do you always eat like this?” She was even more shocked when Des Cotes said yes, the staff take turns preparing meals, and then they eat them together. When Des Cotes asked her how her meals usually looked, the girl responded, “Most times I eat my lunch in my room.”
Eating together is a wonderful way to rebuild relationships. According to HealthLinkBC, eating together, away from screens, encourages healthier eating and higher self-esteem in children, while also lowering their rates of depression and behavioural issues.
“Food has a way of connecting people differently than other things,” says Des Cotes.
Sometimes it connects people in ways you wouldn’t expect. A few times when Des Cotes was working with refugees and immigrants, different individuals would break down in tears when they saw something in the garden – like pumpkin leaves – that they cannot find in a grocery store.
When Des Cotes and Paul, the farm manager, let one of the women walk away with fists full of pumpkin leaves, they weren’t just feeding her body. “Food is very much tied into our sense of culture, and place and home. And so, for her to see pumpkin leaves here – you can’t get those at the grocery store – and to take some of those home was so meaningful for her,” says Des Cotes. “It’s giving somebody a gift of connection with their own self and their own life and where they’ve come from.”
And, as the workers at A Rocha have seen time and time again, that gift can help raise those individuals out of poverty so they can come back and help out others.