Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Local Community Food Centre's Grapes of Wrath Fundraiser: 'It ain't kin we, it's will we!'

Tom: Kin we feed a extra mouth? Kin we Ma? 
Ma: It ain't kin we! It's will we!
(John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath)

I think it's incredibly fitting that my 100th blog post as The Local-Come-Lately happens to correspond with the very first Stratford food event I personally coordinated! And this wasn't just any event - it was the breakout fundraiser for The Local Community Food Centre, the not-for-profit food project I've been working on for over six months (I've been recently hired as the Director, and am now officially working at my dream job making a difference via food!).

The Local Community Food Centre involves the creation of 'A Place For Food' here in Stratford. When we open our doors in 2012 we're going to have: community gardens and a greenhouse to give people the chance to get their hands dirty growing their own food; a community kitchen for sharing and developing cooking skills and for cooking healthy drop-in meals to share with folks in need in our dining area; and a Food Distribution Centre where we'll be taking in large scale donations and purchases of healthy (and as much as possible local!) food from agriculture, retailers and processors to distribute back out to Perth County's food banks, community meal providers, student nutrition programs, and other not-for-profit food initiatives.

Although I wish I could take credit for the idea of creating a community food centre here in Stratford, that needs to go to Nick Saul, the Executive Director of The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto (that's him with me above). The Stop has been working for over thirty years to address the problem of hunger in their west end community through innovative programs designed to promote dignity and to empower people to build community around food. They've been so successful in challenging hunger by helping people develop skills like gardening and cooking - and advocacy and activism! - that The Stop received funding and encouragement to create a network of localized versions of community food centres across Canada. After seeing all the great work already happening here around food - including the efforts already underway by the Perth County Food Security Coalition and The United Way of Perth-Huron to establish a Food Distribution Centre - The Stop knew Stratford was the perfect place to set up one of the pilots that will lead the way to the fulfillment of this ambitious and important goal!

Fortuitously, it just so happened that the same year The Stop and The United Way of Perth-Huron partnered to create a resource in Stratford to promote health and dignity among those in our community struggling to put good food on the table, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's lineup included a play that evokes many of the same themes this project will be challenging: hunger, poverty, injustice and inequality. The Stratford Festival recognized these parallels between the theatrical adaption of Steinbeck's classic novel The Grapes of Wrath and the problems the food centre will be grappling with in our community today, and they generously invited us to build a fundraiser around this powerful and thought-provoking play, including a reception following the performance at the Chalmers Lounge of the Avon Theatre. Here is a video of me at the reception inviting the Director of that play (and Artistic Director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival) Antoni Cimolino to say a few words, followed by Nick Saul and Ryan Erb, the Executive Director of the United Way of Perth-Huron:

Of course, my first-ever event had to feature food by some of the best restaurants in Stratford. I was really touched by the willingness of my friends in the food community to support this new initiative by serving up an incredible selection of wonderful dishes for the reception guests to enjoy.

Paul Finkelstein (on left) and his culinary arts students from The Screaming Avocado Cafe (that's not them in the centre - it's Savour Stratford's Danielle Brodhagen with her adorable little girl Eloise) brought along some stellar Duck Mousse Spring Rolls (that's my dad digging into one, I would have been doing the same if I wasn't so busy hosting!).

Chef Janet Ashworth of County Food Co. (featured in my last post about the Savour Stratford Chef Challenge) provided the party with fun vegetarian delights.

Bijou Restaurant donated two offerings: I noticed a few of the Grapes actors who came up for the post-performance reception freaking-out about the veal cheek rilette crostinis and Chinese eggplant with goat's cheese and summer sausage.

Backstage Bar and Grill was on board immediately when the call went out looking for food sponsors to support us. Everyone loved their savoury tarts... the nearby Backstage also provided a great spot for all the volunteers to gather for a post-event drink.

Revel Caffe provided us with the best coffee in town and some biscotti. Revel owner and uber-barrista Anne Campion has already proven to be a real champion for The Local Community Food Centre: Revel raised funds for our project via one day's sales during their1st anniversary week recently! Thanks for the event's bevvies also has to go out to wine sponsor Pelee Island and beer sponsor Stratford Brewing Company.

One thing that will always be emphasized at The Local Community Food Centre is nutrition. I am so thankful that Sara Bradford of Nourish Whole Food Nutrition made us some of her Bliss Balls and Goodness Brownies (above) - sugar and gluten free desserts that were as healthy as they were yummy!

The star performance in the food department was definitely Shawn Hartwell (above) of Simple Fish and Chips (soon to be Simple Fish Co.!). As always, his portable oyster bar was a huge hit: book it for your next party!

Some smooth lounge music was provided by none other than my favourite singing farmer, Antony John (aka the Manic Organic of Soiled Reputation Farm).

The evening wrapped up with a draw for the winners of the Freezer Full o' Food raffle. First prize was a great little chest freezer donated by Turnbull & Stewart, which was filled with local meat by Slow Food Perth County and fish from Simple Fish Co. as well as condiments and gourmet products from Turnbull & Stewart. Congrats to winner Tim Creton (couldn't have been won by a nicer guy - a lot of folks probably know him as the friendliest veggie vendor at the Stratford Farmers Market and the Slow Food Sunday Market!).

I want to thank all the people who came out to this event to show their support for The Local Community Food Centre, including all the folks who attended, all the restaurants and suppliers who  provided the amazing food and bevvies, the raffle prize sponsors, and of course the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for giving us the wonderful opportunity to create this fundraiser around this remarkable play. We raised around $5000 for the project, an achievement I commented on in an article in this week's edition of the Stratford Gazette:

"I’m happy to have raised that much considering we are still a very fledgling organization ... we don’t have a site yet but we have all this amazing support... I can’t even imagine what it will be like this time next year when we actually have an operating community food centre to show them the good work we can do.”


  1. Congrats! Great first event for The Local Community Food Centre. BTW, love the tie!

  2. Cheers Iredaleorama & OoORF! Glad the tie made it into the blog - definitely a special occasion when you see me wearing one!

  3. Congratulations on your dream job! And congratulations to all the residents of Stratford who will benefit from your passion and contributions. Thank you!