Research and the Community: A partnership to end hunger

April 2013

Canning produce ensures a supply of healthy food during the winter months

Food insecurity has emerged as a growing problem on the Island of Montreal. According to West Island Community Shares “there are pockets of poverty on the West Island that are among the poorest on the Island of Montreal.” Researchers in the FAES, led by Professor Kris Koski, Director of the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, Dr. Caroline Begg, Coordinator of Ecological Agriculture (Department of Plant Science), and Field Coordinator Amy Van Elslande (MSc’12), have teamed up with Lucy Baum, Director of the West Island’s Corbeille de Pain/Bread Basket Lac St. Louis (CDP), to improve the food security of CDP’s youth, young mother, refugee, immigrant and senior clientele.

The two-year “Project to End Hunger” funded by the Fonds des services aux collectivités (Community Service Fund) of the Quebec Ministry of Education will transfer university expertise and capacity into CDP’s operations by developing new working relationships between the CDP, the University, community gardens/farms and food aid programs such as the “Good Food Box” program operated by Moissan Montréal.

In the past year, students in the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition performed a complete assessment of agency programs, client food and nutritional status. Students also hosted a number of “community kitchens” where small groups of people came together to learn some basic skills (knife skills, shopping and label reading, understanding the Canada Food Guide) and also how to make nutritious and economical meals based largely on the staples received through food aid programs and on vegetables and fruits processed in the Mary Catherine Freeman Food Laboratory.

The skills and knowledge that participants gained have served them well. One young participant stated that she had “really enjoyed the level of nutrition information provided in the recent kitchens” and felt that the [McGill] animator was knowledgeable, approachable and provided an interesting and delicious menu. She also registered for the next three dates at that location.

Late last summer, donations of surplus produce from the local organic farming community, including the Macdonald Student-Run Ecological Garden, were processed by Food Service Systems Management students in the Mary Catherine Freeman Food Laboratory. Recipes utilizing the produce were developed by the School and tested by CDP clients. Favourite recipes and all of the produce were incorporated into the community kitchens.

According to Lucy Baum, Executive Director of the CDP, “Our clients have enjoyed the food donations and the diversity it adds to our menus. The flash-frozen kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes distributed this winter have added a new dimension to our meals. Many clients wouldn’t seek to incorporate these highly nutritious items during winter months, either due to cost or the lack of knowledge in planning ahead for seasonal cooking.”

Now that the groundwork has been laid, the team will be translating all of the lessons it has learned into the production of fruits and vegetables through a network of community gardens and farms. Caroline Begg is overseeing the production project and is working with contacts in the local community to ensure that the food grown is diverse and nutrient-dense, preserves well and meets client preferences.

“I see this as a win-win situation,” says Kris Koski. “Dietetics and agriculture students are collaborating together to learn about the food production system and community nutrition, and the local community is benefiting from university expertise.”

Of the project to date, Lucy Baum says, “The impact of the project has been immediately felt. It has provided us with a much needed supply of nutritious, preserved vegetables, improved the quality of nutrition education in our programs, and increased the food security of our clients. The partnership will play a critical role in better assessing our community’s food and nutrition needs and in expanding our reach to vulnerable citizens. We are eager to share these lessons with the broader community.”

As the project moves into its second year, all efforts will continue to be monitored and fine-tuned. A series of training materials for both food preparation and garden production is being developed and will be shared across the community service network at the project’s end. Stay tuned for updates as the season progresses.

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