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A Place for Food Webinar

Added on by Jennifer Truman.

On July 3rd, we listened into a webinar on placemaking from Community Food Centres.  The webinar featured a strong panel of active community builders - women with years of experience working in neighborhood parks using food to bring people together.

The panel discussed the heart and soul they pour into their parks to make them lively urban spaces, where everything centers around food. In each park there are opportunities for gardening, cooking, buying and selling at markets every day.  They discussed their inspirations, their successes, their failures and the impact of their newest programs. A big takeaway was that strong community organizations engaged in the programs and the park itself have been able to work over the years with local government to adapt and change regulations regarding gardening and commercial cooking.

The panelists:

Jutta Mason of Dufferin Grove Park, worked there since 1993. She started by baking cookies for cranky adolescent hockey players to make the ice skating rink more fun for everyone. Now the project has grown into a community garden in the summer, an active farmer’s market, community wood-fired baking ovens. and weekly community programs. 

Sabina Ali of Thorncliffe Park, worked there since 2008. In a neighborhood of immigrants, the park brings neighbors together to get outside, form bonds, promote cultural heritage and empower women and men alike through open markets and gatherings. An imported tandoor oven used for traditional South Asian breads forms a central story for the park, attracting crowds whenever it's fired up. A farmer’s market was started by the farmers and a community garden was started by the community, many of whom are immigrants that missed farming in the old country. The farms and gardens are now ways for this community to share their farming knowledge across generations and cultures.

Liz Curran, of new Regent Park Community Food Centre, moderated.


Of course, there was plenty of tweeting during the webinar, so we’ve gathered some of the highlights:

urban food and the open city

Added on by Erin White.
garden tours.jpg

One of the difficulties working in local food systems is communicating why these kinds of systems, and local food, are important. The interconnections, the convergent benefits, the local love. There are, honestly, enough benefits in local food to attract anyone to get involved, if you can angle the conversation the right way. The challenge, see, when you have so many sales points is choosing the right one for the right audience. For some people, seven colors of local carrots and ten heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market is enough reason. For others, fresh food access in chronically poor neighborhoods is the reason to push local food production and distribution. In other settings, the rationale is about public health, or economic development, or nutrient recycling and soil creation. The reason we have so many ways to hype local food is because food, especially in fresh, nutritious, whole forms, is foundational to life and to our social structures. Because food runs so deep, it connects to just about everything. So when I meet someone new, or speak to an audience that needs some of the backstory, I get to choose which parts of the local food system will get their imagination going.

But when I start talking about local food to people that already get it, the conversation goes a little deeper. 

Here's the thing, really. The reason I work in local food systems is because our society is becoming more and more polarized and more and more divided. Politically, economically, culturally, racially divided. This is a huge problem that has led to diminishment of understanding, of the ability to cooperate, and the ability to govern ourselves. A great book on the subject, The Big Sort. These separations within our society are driven by many interconnected factors, and as a result of our seeking out like-minded and like-looking people, our cities have fewer places where we can honestly encounter difference, and hear others' points of view. The physical city has started to reflect our disinterest in open, democratic, public spaces by leaving them out of new developments, streetscapes, or events. 

But if you believe, as do the coiners of the term the 'Open City', that we can learn to design cities and public spaces so that co-existence and multilicity are celebrated, then perhaps we have tools to work against the divisions in our society. By making places that bring people together, allow side-by-side labor or dialogue, perhaps the Open City can become a real thread in planning our places. Because allowing the media, our political machine, and marketers to steer us away from one another isn't a good choice.

So we come back to food. Growing, cooking, and eating food creates human connections. New friends are made in a community garden. Ideas are shared waiting in line at the best taco truck in the neighborhood. The smell of grilling meat in your front yard is certain to bring curious sniffers asking about your smoking technique. Neighbors are met when looking for scrap material to build a compost bin. These are the unmeasurable connections that make communities, and make places. These connections occur in an Open City, and these connections are the social capital of resilient, not divided, societies. 

starting points: the architect and the local food system

Added on by Erin White.

My formal research and design into local food systems began in 2009, and led to the production of this masters thesis. The design problem: intervene in the physical and economic environments of Durham to bring about change in local food system participation. By design any proposal would require balance between top-down initiatives, strategic investment, and grassroots organization and capacity building. 

Between 2011 and 2013, the principles I developed in this work and the ideas I proposed have led to the body of work, relationships, and practice methods I've decided to call Community Food Lab. It is a touchstone, a solid ground from which to leap off into a hybrid model of practice, in which the designer becomes a strategic partner in food system policy, planning, and development.


Architectural thinking and operation ought to extend from the building to include the system; ought to extend to the programming of system interventions; ought to extend to and internalize socio-cultural implications, ecological responsibility, and community-based solutions.

Design thinking is especially well suited for intervention in complex systems. Characterized by critical spatial analysis, interdisciplinary engagement, and open-ended problem solving, design thinking provides the opportunity to read and react to the economic, social, cultural, and physical aspects of real-world systems in meaningful, sustainable ways.

This project posed the following question: How can architectural and urban design strategies strengthen community food system initiatives and interventions? One proposition is that an architect’s role in helping build healthy community food systems should not be limited to client-initiated service design, and that research and active speculation into local food communities may reveal productive territory for place-based and place-supportive design.

Through tools such as design, advocacy, and engagement the architect and designer can reach beyond a service-based model and create methods that link social intention with design outcomes. In this East Durham design proposal, strategic investment is centered around existing neighborhood nodes, to build critical mass and mutual benefit of adjacency. Corridors are identified between nodes, and along these corridors multi-mode transportation is encouraged while at the same time grassroots initiatives are encouraged that lead to a physical expression of an interactive local food system. It is a flexible scheme driven by principles of diversity, inclusiveness, and participatory opportunity into the local food system as more than just consumers. 


inter-tidal zone: extended metaphor for a hybrid design approach

Added on by Erin White.

In an ecological sense, the zones where particular systems meet are the richest in species diversity, are quickest to respond to environmental shifts, and are places to learn not about either system specifically, but rather about how systems interact. On a rocky coastline, for instance, a particular ecosystem of grasses, lichens, snails, mice, and perhaps tall pine trees can be found above the high tide line, and another ecosystem with corals, sea slugs, fish, seaweed, and maybe a lobster or crab exists below the low tide line. In between is a space that is sometimes submerged, and sometimes dry. The tide washes in and brings seaweed and fish, but prevents trees from taking root, or mice from making nests. The tide washes out, drying the roots of some salt-hardy plants, and exposing the rocks and shallow tidepools to shorebirds. This in-between space is sort of both, but also neither. There is an overlap, but in this overlap are also species that only exist in the in-between. Barnacles, limpets, and snails thrive in this part-wet and part-dry zone, this thin ribbon of both-and that wraps the entire shoreline, anywhere the sea meets the land. 


In the same way that ecosystems overlap to create the in-between zone of species richness and the emergence of new multi-state habitat occupied with creatures like limpets and barnacles that thrive there, any other kinds of systems can overlap and produce diversity and greater capability for resilience. Design systems, political systems, food systems, or educational systems - these all have overlap and in the overlaps are the in-between. 

As a design firm in the process of defining itself, we think of ourselves as part of an in-between zone, working the space between design and food systems, developing expertise and experience in both, and most importantly building the new forms of inquiry and partnerships that can only live in the in-between. Because it is a process of self-definition, and because we are looking for the new, right forms and methods, it will be an iterative process towards success. Some attempts will fail, some will teach us how to succeed. Learning is the nature of the in-between zone.