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NOTL woman helping to feed low-income neighborhood

Pam Farrell has a video explaining the importance of GROW. It can be seen at By Penny Coles Feb 24, 2022

A unique food market in Niagara Falls is operating to help those with low incomes access fresh, healthy and affordable food.

The founder of GROW Community Food Literacy Centre is a Niagara-on-the-Lake woman, Pam Farrell, who with her husband operates a small-scale farm on Line 9. They have horses, sheep and chickens, and grow vegetables. They moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2011, wanting a rural way of life, for themselves, and to bring up a family.

“It’s a beautiful town, with so much to offer,” she says. “It’s the prefect place for us.”

While teaching in Niagara Falls, Farrell became aware of a neighbourhood of low-income families, with no affordable grocery store nearby — she considers it a “food desert,” ironic, she says, in a fruit belt.

Fresh food is a basic human right, Farrell believes, but unfortunately, for some, “it’s a privilege.”

In 2019, Farrell created the strategically located physical space — one that is bright and airy, organized like any food market, with lots of choice — that responds to food insecurity in an innovative way. Some of the produce is grown on her farm, and other local farmers also donate, she says, mentioning MacSween Farms (Quiet Acres) in particular, and Singing Tree Frog Farm. The MacSweens have donated hundreds of vegetable seedlings to use in Farrell’s farm garden, and to hand out to members at GROW to get them involved in food literacy, she says. Singing Tree Frog Farm “has supported us with the most delicious organic produce, including heirloom tomatoes, squash, Swiss chard and more.”

Anyone with proof of low income can shop at GROW, located at 4377 Fourth Ave. in Niagara Falls, although its customers are mostly from the surrounding neighbourhood. Open Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., it is heavily subsidized through donations, without any government support, and focuses on fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat and fish, and meat and dairy alternatives.

It’s a unique model, different from food banks, says Farrell, who believes it’s important for some people not to feel they are taking a handout.

“It’s a different way of approaching a food program. Only 25 per cent of people who are food insecure access a food bank. In part because of the stigma that’s attached, for some people it’s a last resort.”

Food banks often have limited options, with fresh food or items for specialized diets hard to come by, she says. “We want to provide a balanced diet, whatever that may look like for people. We want them to have choices.”

One of eight households is food insecure in Canada, Farrell says, “and GROW is about to change that.”

She has recently had some assistance with that, in the form of a $10,000 donation.

Farrell has been chosen as one of 10 honourees of the L’Oreal Paris 2022 Woman of Worth program. This philanthropic initiative, L’Oreal explains, annually honours a group of strong, diverse, and passionate women leaders who implement change and bring hope to Canadians.

As an honouree, Farrell has received $10,000 from L’Oreal Paris for GROW Community Food Literacy Centre ( As the volunteer executive director, Farrell is supported by a team of 25 volunteers with varying backgrounds and skills. The funding will support food security programs and initiatives at GROW.

But there is more to come, hopefully. The L’Oreal Woman of Worth program is donating another 10,000 to a charity on behalf of one of the 10 women, to be chosen the national honouree. Members of the public can vote online until March 6, with the winner to be announced March 8. A vote for Farrell could mean another $10,000 to support GROW’s mission, which would go a long way to feeding people, she says.



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