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Healthy and accessible food goal of new GROW centre in Niagara Falls

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

July 6, 2020

Tatiana Bingley of Niagara Falls, who volunteered with her mom and brother to distribute garden starter kits on behalf of the new GROW Community Food Literacy Centre, holds a container with strawberry plants her family got from GROW. - Paul Forsyth/Torstar

Pam Farrell has a term to describe the state of food in the downtown area of Niagara Falls.

She calls it a “food desert.

The executive director of the new GROW Community Food Literacy Centre hopes to begin to change all that, so people living in the area will have access to healthy food choices, just as people in other parts of Niagara Falls do.

The non-profit organization is believed to be Canada’s first food literacy centre, with a mission to engage the community in growing their own food, experiencing the joys of gardening and harvesting food, and learning or rediscovering the pleasure of cooking and eating healthy food.

“There’s no fresh food options available” downtown, said Farrell, with the closest supermarket a fair walk for anyone having to carry groceries. “People shop for groceries at the dollar store or the convenience store,” she said.

Fayth Swain, who along with her mom volunteered to distribute garden starter kits on behalf of the new GROW Community Food Literacy Centre, is shown with raspberry plants at her home in Niagara Falls. They hope to donate some of the raspberries to GROW’s low-cost market when it opens soon. The new GROW Community Food Literacy Centre is opening soon in the former Scouts Canada building on Fourth Avenue in Niagara Falls.

The new, all-volunteer agency started at the end of 2019 with a small grant from the United Way to get a planned new low-cost market off the ground in a building on Fourth Avenue that was a Scouts Canada location for decades.

Farrell said access to fresh food isn’t the only barrier facing residents in the Elgin area of the downtown. The high cost of healthy, fresh food also puts it out of reach for many people in an area where regional statistics show the average income is low and more than half of residents pay 30 per cent or more of their income on rent, she said.

Plans are that once the new market opens, hopefully in July, people experiencing food insecurities will be able to purchase healthy food at far lower prices than traditional supermarkets, said Farrell.

“At our weekly market you’re going to be able to choose a variety of foods,” she said. “You won’t have to make a choice of just potatoes today — you’ll have a variety of food where you can make wholesome meals with smaller portions and quality over quantity.”

Her agency has also embarked on a farm-to-table program, with volunteers tending to a one-and-a-half-acre plot of land at partner St. Davids Farm, growing produce for the new market location.

There are also plans to run cooking classes in the centre’s kitchen starting in 2021 once it gets a new kitchen, covering topics such as Indigenous cooking for high school students, blind/low vision cooking, food preservation/canning, cooking for critical illness survivors and food and mental health.

Community meals are also planned to start in 2021.

The GROW mandate was guided by a new community advisory committee that advises the agency’s volunteer board of directors. Some of the members of that diverse committee have experienced homelessness and extreme poverty.

“We want to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the community,” said Farrell. “The only way we can do that is to hear the voice of the people directly who have been impacted by food insecurity.”

Farrell said her agency’s goal is to complement, rather than compete with, the emergency food bank run by Project SHARE and the soup kitchen run by Niagara Falls Community Outreach.

To introduce itself to the community, the agency had volunteers knock on doors and hand out more than 670 garden starter kits in late May, containing vegetable seedlings, apple trees and strawberry and rhubarb plants, with the help of partners NVK Nurseries, Prima Wrap, St. Davids Farm and Staples.

“It was a way for us to introduce ourselves to the greater neighbourhood,” said Farrell. “It was amazing. People were super excited to get starter kids.”

Tammy Fenner, her daughter Tatiana Bingley and her son Sabrin Bingley, who live right across the street from the new market, along with Roxanne Molyneaux and her daughter Fayth Swain, who live a couple of blocks away, all volunteered to distribute the garden starter kits.

Fenner said reaction to the new initiative has been all positive from neighbours who at first feared a developer might be planning a large apartment building on the site once the sold sign went up.

She’s particularly keen on promoting food literacy and healthy cooking among young people. “The schools don’t teach it anymore,” she said.

Tatiana said the reaction she got while knocking on doors tells her there’s a large void right now that the new centre will fill.

“People were really excited to see it get going,” she said. “There’s a lot of support from the community.”

Her family planted tomato plants and strawberry plants from GROW that are flourishing in their backyard.

Molyneaux said the downtown badly needs something like GROW. “A lot of people have travel across town to shop for groceries,” she said. “This will show the downtown deserves the same options as the other side of town here.”

For Fayth, who like her mom is interested in volunteering to lead Indigenous cooking classes, the new centre could have very real benefits for residents’ physical health and by extension, their mental health.

The current lack of shopping options means for many “you’ll end up eating chips, cooking, candy or you’ll just throw something in the microwave,” she said. “

The current lack of shopping options means for many “you’ll end up eating chips, cooking, candy or you’ll just throw something in the microwave,” she said. “

For more information or to donate to GROW, visit

Niagara This Week - Niagara Falls

Monday, July 6, 2020



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