Renfrew-Collingwood: Poverty stats spurred neighbourhood house to preserve and pickle

By offering classes in everything from Canning for Convenience, bread baking, Pickling Vietnamese Style, and drop-in gardening, this year’s fall schedule offered by the Food Security Institute at Collingwood Neighbourhood House reads like something out of a hipster-foodie bible with a side of 100 Mile Diet.

Stephanie Lim, who coordinates Food Security Institute programs with co-worker Jason Hsieh, said the classes and initiatives were developed over time in response to a disturbing census find in the early 2000s that showed 30 per cent of the neighbourhood’s residents were living below the poverty line. The institute was established in 2002, with a $65,000 grant from the Vancouver Foundation.

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“It was a way to address hunger and poverty,” said Lim, “while bringing people together to deal with this problem as neighbours.”

As the result of that census, the neighbourhood house launched the free and low-cost Morning Star Breakfast and Shower Program, which turned out to be extremely popular.

“The number of people coming for breakfast kept increasing,” said Lim. “That signaled to neighbourhood house staff that the number of homeless living in the community was increasing. Now the Morning Star program is part of our outreach.”

Lim said today the institute acts as an anchor that brings the many diverse food-related programs, initiatives and classes offered at the neighbourhood house together. One priority is to promote learning and leadership around sustainable growing, local food, multicultural traditions and healthy eating. One of the messages the institute stresses is that food is a human right and that the “right to food” means much more than meeting basic nutritional requirements. To that end institute staff have created programs based on its multicultural community.

Lim noted programs offered are about so much more than food. She said participants of the cooking and gardening classes join initially to learn new food-related skills, but stay for the company, fun and even an opportunity to practise new English skills.

“One of our challenges is space,” said Lim. “We’re over subscribed for all of our classes.”

A demonstration garden on the roof of the neighbourhood house is where drop-in gardening classes are held and through which newcomers to the hobby can learn practical skills and help grow produce for community programs. The Norquay Community Orchard on Horley Street is a natural classroom that gets community members involved in everything from ground preparation to planting and harvesting of organic fruit. The neighbourhod house will host several workshops at the orchard this fall and is looking for community volunteers to help build a tool storage unit and new bench, as well as in planting fig and quince trees.

Meanwhile it’s over at the Collingwood Community Garden near the Joyce Street SkyTrain Station, where residents can tend to their own small plot of soil and grow produce and flowers. Other food-related classes and events being offered this fall at Collingwood Neighbourhood House include Moon Cake Baking, Pickling Cucumbers, Apple and Pear Chips, the ongoing community kitchen and the Seventh Annual Fall Harvest with prizes for the best homegrown produce. For more information visit

Lim and Hsieh will man a booth at the Renfrew Ravine Moon Festival Sept. 21, to offer information about the Food Security Institute. For more information on the festival see related story Spreading the love for Renfrew Ravine.

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