Food for thought

The South Osborne Farmers’ Market (SOFM) brings its community-minded, ecologically sustainable vendors to Kylemore Ave. for its fourth year.

The SOFM is run by Farm Fresh Food Hub (FFFH), a volunteer-run community service co-operative spearheaded by activist network Transition Winnipeg. FFFH’s ultimate goal is to create a more sustainable, fair food system in Manitoba.

The SOFM has expanded from eight vendors in 2016 to over 40 vendors in 2019, now offering eco-friendly initiatives, live music, a children’s tent with child-minding and beer gardens.

Former Manitoban photo editor Asha Nelson, this year’s SOFM co-ordinator, described it as “a thriving community space […] where people are coming together not just to purchase their food but actually to gather as a community and help each other out.”

The market also hosts a bi-weekly speaker series entitled “Chew on this!” The informal lectures delve into issues surrounding food production, such as food justice, queering food spaces and Indigenous food.

“Although I don’t think our space ever came across as just a place to come and buy, like a space for commerce, this [speaker series] just further signifies our dedication towards education around food issues,” said Nelson.

The SOFM is also taking environmentally-conscious initiatives in accordance with FFFH’s sustainability ethos.

“We’ve worked hard to make the market more ecologically sustainable, so we’ve introduced a plastic-free policy, and then more recently we’ve also introduced a refillable jar program, or container program,” she said.

Nelson said the initiatives have been positively received.

“It’s exciting to see that both the customers and producers are very much on board and want to make these changes,” said Nelson.

This is Nelson’s first time working with SOFM’s parent organization, Farm Fresh Food Hub.

“It’s really exciting to be a part of this sort of organization that has so much passion and energy behind it.”

This is the first year FFFH has been able to afford to hire a paid co-ordinator. All of FFFH’s board members are volunteers — Nelson is the organization’s first paid employee.

“In the past it was all organized and managed by volunteer board members, and so they were doing that on top of having full-time jobs, which was exhausting and just not sustainable,” said Nelson.

“Obviously a goal with hiring someone was to free up their time and to make the market run more smoothly, but also they really wanted to start focusing on their long-term vision with the Food Hub and then treat the SOFM as a separate project.”

 

Farm Fresh Food Hub

Katie Daman, co-founder and co-chair of FFFH, said the SOFM was the organization’s first initiative, but their overarching mission is more ambitious.

“Our long-term plans are really around getting a food distribution centre for local, sustainably-produced products,” said Daman.

FFFH started in 2016, emerging out of an “idea jam” hosted by Transition Winnipeg and the Canadian Community Economic Development Network of Manitoba.

The idea was “to link rural and urban folks together to start talking about local food and start making it easier to purchase local food,” said Daman.

The volunteer board is now comprised of seven people, including Daman, Kelly Janz, Nathan Enns, Anna Sigrithur, Arianna Hildebrand, Jonathan Kroeker and Nick Rempel.

“Ultimately, our goal is really to support our rural economies, support our rural farmers, support our small farmers that are using sustainable practices that aren’t always the most cost-effective but are certainly very important for our environment,” said Daman.

She also said the organization operates “similarly to a social enterprise.”

FFFH is almost completely self-funded, aside from some small grants from Assiniboine Credit Union and Manitoba Cooperative Association Inc., with about a third of Nelson’s salary coming from the Canada Summer Jobs program.

According to Daman, the city should be moving much faster on food sustainability and local food production in the face of climate change.

“We have the capacity and the capability to be producing way more food than we currently are in this province, and even in the city, but our policies don’t support it,” said Daman.

Daman cited a technicality that does not permit farming for commercial purposes within Winnipeg’s city limits as well as the illegality of selling ungraded eggs at farmer’s markets as examples of the failings of municipal legislation.

While Winnipeg does have a food policy council, it is mostly volunteer-run. Daman and her fellow board members have put in countless hours of free labour to run the SOFM and other sustainable food initiatives in Winnipeg.

“They need to fund a position to have someone focus specifically on sustainable food, local food, food policy,” said Daman.

 

The South Osborne Farmers’ Market runs Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 725 Kylemore until Sept. 25. To learn more about Farm Fresh Food Hub, visit farmfreshfoodhub.ca.