Jamaica in January: A video by Jamaican Eats Magazine


Sun Worshippers. Beach Lovers. Homesick Jamaicans. COVID-Weary People Everywhere. JAMAICA IS CALLING!

This foodie forward event provides a brief respite of frigid January temperatures and is meant to warm the soul, brighten the spirit and tingle the toes with the luscious flavours of the island.

JAMAICA IN JANUARY Is a 2-part celebration of the delicious vibes of Jamaica with 60-minute Free Virtual Event hosted by Miss Tania Lou who channels the spirit of the late Jamaican folklorist Louise Bennett. Plus JAMAICA IN A BOX…think Spicy Jerk Chicken; Old-time Jamaican Stew Peas with Pig’s Tail; Ginger Beer; and RUM CAKE Cheesecake that has people losing their mind.

Ackee & Saltfish: The Jamaican dish that went where others feared

By: Grace Cameron, Editor JamaicanEats magazine

If food tells the story of a culture, then the choice of ackee and saltfish as Jamaica’s national dish should speak volumes to the bravado, showiness and spirit of the island. 

Ackee, shunned by other Caribbean islands and rarely eaten elsewhere in the world, has had the misfortune of being labelled poisonous. Still, despite its reputation, Jamaicans have embraced the fruit (which has a buttery flavour and resembles scrambled egg when boiled) and made it irresistibly delicious.

About 10 years ago, National Geographic magazine picked ackee and saltfish (cod fish) as the second best national dish in the world. “Every cuisine tells a unique story about its countryside, climate, and culture,” the magazine stated in the online overview to its National Geographic’s Food Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 Extraordinary Places to Eat Around the Globe.

The fruit is indigenous to Ghana, the Ivory Coast and other areas of West Africa where it is rarely eaten. It was brought to Jamaica in 1793 to feed enslaved Africans and was readily adopted, growing in yards, farms and along roadsides in cities, towns and the countryside. 

In the 18th and 19th centuries, ackee was also planted in Panama, along the Atlantic Coast of Guatemala and Costa Rica as well as Trinidad, Haiti, the Bahamas and other islands of the West Indies. In addition, ackee trees are scattered in Suriname; Venezuela; Colombia; Ecuador; Brazil; Calcutta, India; and some are maintained as curiosities in south Florida. (There’s even a lone ackee tree that grows in Allan Gardens, Toronto.)

The tree has been tried in the warm, moist climate of Guyana but has never survived. In 1900 the Trinidadians outlawed the fruit after it had caused some fatalities.

Still, despite ackee’s unhappy origin as slave food and reputation for poison, Jamaicans have claimed it. 

Jamaicans, with their creative culinary skills, have transformed this once lowly food item into amazingly exotic gourmet dishes,

says Janeen McNish, a lecturer in Culinary Arts Production and Experimental Foods at the University of Technology (UTech) in Kingston, Jamaica, in response to National Geographic’s recognition.  

Ackee has become a multi-million dollar export to Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States where it was once banned by the Food and Drug Administration as a health hazard. 

Traditionally boiled and then sautéed with saltfish (cod) or corned pork, onions, tomatoes or tomatise (a small marble-like tomato) ackee, these days, has gone well beyond its marriage with saltfish. Jamaican cooks/chefs at home and abroad are creating items like Ackee Pizza, Jerk Ackee and Ackee and Saltfish Lasagna.



Ackee is safe to eat when picked and processed properly. The pods must open naturally (on their own) and only then are they safe to be cooked and eaten. 

Unopened (unripe) ackees or those that are forced to open prematurely are poisonous because of high levels of hypoglycin, a toxin that exists naturally in ackee.


Other uses for ackee: 

  • Immature fruits can be used to make soap.
  • The wood from the tree is termite resistant and can be used for building.
  • Extracts from the poisonous seeds are taken to treat parasites and are sometimes used as a fish poison.
  • Topical ointment made from crushed ackee leaves is applied to the skin to treat headaches and ulcers. 

And ackee leaves are also good as a fodder for goats.

National Geographic’s Top 10 National Dishes
The American hamburger topped the list, but the Caribbean took second and third spots, with Barbados’ Coo-Coo and Flying Fish at number three.

1: Hamburger, U.S.

2: Ackee and Saltfish, Jamaica

3: Coo-Coo and Flying Fish, Barbados

4: Bulgogi, Korea

5: kibbeh, Lebanon/Syria

6: goulash, Hungary

7: wiener Schnitzel, Austria

8: pot-au-Feu, France

9: Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding, England

10: Irish Stew, Ireland


We are [safely] opening up our shelves once again!

As featured in the February 2021 issue of The Bridge
Written by: Ethan Rosenberg

Winter, a season of comfort. Food is richer, clothes are layered, warmth of our homes becomes all the more precious as light quickly leaves the day. This winter is undoubtedly more challenging. Time away from loved ones leaves us feeling lonely and the chance to step out for a hot chocolate or a warm meal diminishes.

These challenges are hard, but not all-powerful because finding joys in little things seems to be a growing trend. Activities like baking, phone calls with friends and family, and arts & crafts are crucial; anything to bring relief and a small smile is integral to well-being, now more than ever.

Reading is a way for me to feel better. Stories transport me to another world. Books allow us to learn, to nurture and grow empathy, and in a world that feels colder than usual, distraction and compassion are vital.

This is why Building Roots is grateful to give those participating in the Moss Park fresh produce pick-up/delivery program the opportunity to take advantage of our new BookShare program. Through generous donations, we are acquiring towers of books all available for free and to own.

Books are available in multiple genres from fiction to philosophy to children’s books; we are growing our collection to bring in more novels by BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ authors.

BookShare Request Details:

Pickup based out of our Moss Park Market located at 260 Queen St. E

  • Order books via form from Market in-person on Saturdays 11am-4pm
  • Or email bookshare@buildingroots.ca to request form and order online, or for general ordering support
  • Books available 7 days after form is submitted

BookShare Order Pick-up/Delivery details:

Moss Park Market
(260 Queen St. E)

  • Book order available with fresh produce bags assigned for pick-up
  • Book order delivery available for those on our food delivery program

If forms are unavailable, Moss Park Market volunteers will jot down your name and genre of interest — your book order will be available the next week.

Building Roots is thrilled to offer the gift of stories to all who may benefit, bringing ease, comfort, and colour to brighten up this uniquely challenging winter.

Open Letter against Encampment Evictions from Building Roots

Mayor John Tory
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam
Mary-Anne Bedard, General Manager of Shelter, Support & Housing Administration
Janie Romoff, General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department
Christine Elliot, Minister of Health,

December 3, 2020

I’m writing to you from Building Roots, a progressive grassroots social venture that began in 2013 in response to a lack of fresh food access and agricultural growing space across Toronto, more specifically, Moss Park and downtown Toronto East. We work primarily to build resources for social cohesion and co-create targeted interventions with communities. We collaborate closely with partner agencies, volunteers, community leaders, and local businesses to deepen and expand our reach. We develop innovative solutions to some of the city’s lowest income neighbourhoods and social disparities such as poverty, social isolation and inadequate housing.

Thus far, we have provided the Moss Park encampment with over 200 warm meals, weekly cases of fresh fruit, and 100 winterized sleeping bags and emergency blankets. Although a necessary and meaningful offering, this is not enough.

We care deeply about the encampments and our unhoused neighbours for multiple reasons and urge against encampment evictions. Folks in the encampment should be permitted to stay where they are until better and more dignified alternatives are available.

Firstly, we know encampments are the result of a decades-long housing crisis caused by public policy that encouraged the financialization of housing while cutting investments in affordable housing and Rent-Geared-to-Income options in the downtown core. 

Secondly, clearing encampments spreads COVID-19. This is a public health issue. The CDC still recommends that encampments not be cleared: “Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.” 

The City’s winter plan falls short on providing enough space for people. The plan provides space for 560 people but advocates and outreach workers estimate that there are over 1000 people sleeping on the streets and with the current ‘eviction blitz’ that number is going to grow. 

Thirdly, The shelter system is full. People calling central intake every night are not able to get beds. People will be sleeping outside regardless of whether or not encampments are cleared, but without the communities they’ve created over the past months and years. Additionally, shelter hotels don’t work for everyone. Facilities like the City Plaza at Jane & Wilson hotel are far away from people’s communities, families, jobs, friends, social services and overdose prevention sites, and don’t all have robust overdose prevention programs, which can result in death. One death is too many.

Lastly, at this time, it is critical that the City provide encampment residents with basic survival gear and access to sanitation, while also opening recreation centres and public washrooms 24/7 for encampment residents to stay safe, including during the day.

The City should follow the recommendations of the inquest into the death of Grant Faulkner, and provide survival gear, including fire safety, to those sleeping in tents. While City Council voted in favour of handing out survival gear on October 28, 2020, we have yet to see City workers do this on the ground. Thus far, City staff and police have confiscated people’s heat sources and destroyed people’s tents. 

As an organization, we will continue to do what we can to support our unhoused neighbours. We support the Encampment Support Network, and our unhoused neighbours in seeking shelter in encampments, and advocate against encampment clearings.

Thank you for your time,

Building Roots Team
Animal Liberation Kitchen
Community Matters Toronto
Jim Keenan, Minister, Saint Luke’s United Church

Join Us In Our Mission: The Support Our Unhoused Neighbours Campaign

Jeff Bierk of Encampment Support Network (ESN), a group of volunteers who organizes in a grassroots way to bring supplies, awareness, and acts of kindness to folks in the encampments across Toronto says,

“we’re just literally trying to take care of people … and we’re ensuring compassion is paramount,”

(The Star, September, 2020).

ESN, notably not an organization but rather the organized efforts of compassionate neighbours, has been integral in providing folks living in encampments essentials such as toiletries, warm meals, water, ice, sleeping bags, and more.

They connect with local agencies, businesses, and keen individuals to activate a diversity of essential supports, wholly rooted in compassion . Ultimately, permanent housing is needed, and until then, our neighbours in the encampment require support and understanding. 

Thus, Building Roots presents the Support Our Unhoused Neighbours Campaign.

On October 17th, Building Roots worked with ESN to organize “Food with Friends: Moss Park Encampment Action Day,” distributing over 100 warm meals from Tiffinday, with donations from Oh She Glows to folks in the Moss Park Encampment. We also supplied water and fresh fruit. We were truly inspired to see how the community and volunteers pulled together to make a wonderful impact. 

Now, with the help of our friends at Harvey Kalles, we’ve quickly procured funds to provide 100+ sleeping bags and emergency blankets to our unhoused neighbours in the Moss Park Encampment, slated to go out at our next Action Day in November. We know this is necessary as the weather gets cold, and have heard first-hand from folks living in encampments that these supplies will be appreciated and potentially life-saving. Yet we also know that many more supplies are needed still.

If you’re interested and able to donate toward the Support Our Unhoused Neighbours Campaign, supporting the Moss Park Encampment and taking care of those folks in our community who could most use winter warmth, you can do so on our website. Please specify in the message that you would like these funds to be used toward this campaign.

If you’re interested in contributing other forms of support or supplies (such as warm meals, skids or plywood, water, warm clothing), please connect with Hannah at hannah@buildingroots.ca.






It’s Time to Connect – Building Roots Brings the Candidates to the Community

On Oct. 19, 2020 Building Roots hosted its Toronto Centre By-Elections Candidates Online Meeting and we couldn’t be more proud of what we crafted.

We were fortunate to have some positive energy from our community partners and support from the outside media to pull it all together.

We wanted to share this inspiring piece by Alastair Sharp of Canada’s National Observer as a great follow-up on the issues we are addressing entitled:

Moss Park residents hear from NDP candidate, new Green leader hoping to fill Morneau’s seat

Full link for the Article follows or click the photo below:

The park that gives the Moss Park neighbourhood its name has housed a tent encampment during the COVID-19 pandemic that has laid bare the lack of government action to help the most vulnerable.

Higgins and others from Building Roots have been hustling to engage low-income residents in the byelection campaign by telling them how and where to vote during the community group’s regular Moss Park Market events.

“They really want to see a community champion in this role,” he said of residents he’s spoken with recently, noting that “getting people to talk about what they care about has helped to grow the awareness and to think about what it is possible to change for the community.”

Also, you can catch the recap video of the entire Toronto Centre By-Elections Candidates Online Meeting on our Youtube channel below

Thank you for all those that tuned in and we are grateful for everyone who watched it afterwards!

For more information on political participation, or, how to vote visit www.elections.ca

A Story of Hope: Our Personal Retelling

A personal summary of our experience during the COVID-19 Pandemic as featured in the community newspaper The Bridge earlier this October.

Building Roots has always been committed to cultivating vibrant and resilient communities. COVID-19 put that mission to the test – on March 12, 2020, everything changed. 

Having to think fast, we used past insights and input from the communities we serve and set in motion a slew of new programs and partnerships. 

All programming aimed at three specific goals: providing food for the most vulnerable in our community; offering at-home educational and recreational resources for children, families and seniors in need; and ensuring access to vital information about COVID-19 and government supports that they would not otherwise have received. 

We quickly connected with residents, partner agencies, community leaders and volunteers to achieve these goals. With gratitude, great learning and even greater collaborations, in the first 25 weeks of Community Helping Community, together we accomplished: 

6000+ food bags of fresh and local produce, non-perishable staples, and delicious meals and treats distributed to 300 households;

500+ activity kits procured and distributed to children and families, as well as 1000+ books and colouring books with works of local artists, with a focus on promoting mental health;

200 Veg2Grow Kits for Kids to families in Downtown East Toronto, so children could learn how to grow food safely from their homes; 

25+ socially distanced performances by Black, Indigenous, women, people of colour and LGBTQQIP2SAA+ musical artists and dance performers.  We worked with community members to animate public space so everyone could safely enjoy the summer.

Thank you to everyone who supported us, funded our projects, volunteered, donated or otherwise cheered us on through this incredible show of community spirit the past few months. 

These have not been easy times for anyone … thank you for being part of our story of hope. 

Read our whole Story of Hope at buildingroots.ca/a-story-of-hope-covid-19 .

Building Roots Through Social Justice

Through this challenging year of the devastating Coronavirus, Building Roots continues to work with the Moss Park community to create a grassroots network of nourishment and compassion. As an organization, we tackle socio economic issues with food justice, music and social justice, and justice for children.

Food Justice 

It all starts with food. Whilst food banks are a lifeline for many, often they mostly provide canned and non-perishable items. We think every human should have the right to chose fresh food. So our pay-what-you-can market of fresh food is for anyone in need.

Music and Social Justice 

Representation matters. Women, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour), and LGBTQQIP2SAA+ (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, questioning, queer, intersex, pan-sexual, two-spirit, androgynous or asexual) people are grossly underrepresented in the live and electronic music scenes, despite there being no shortage of great performers. There are as many expressions of music as there are people, and promoter bookings should reflect that. We all deserve the richness and full spectrum of musical experience. To redress the imbalance, Building Roots exclusively books women, BIPOC, and LGBTQQIP2SAA artists and performers for our weekly Mini Social Distance Concert Series.  

Justice for Children 

Children have the right to play, creatively express and access educational and recreational resources. This is why we have created a weekly art zone, and toy/book giveaway for kids.

In a system rife with inequality, injustice and marginalization, it can be difficult to know how to support change. Starting “small” – working with what we find valuable and necessary to maintain social harmony and equity – has shown some success in social empowerment. Starting small can seem insignificant, but to some it is immeasurable. In many cases, it’s best to work at the local level, close enough to hone in on a community’s desires and direct needs.

Article written by Building Roots Market Animator Danielle Collrin, originally for the Moss Park paper the bridge.

Summer Fun at the Moss Park Market

This summer, Moss Park Market will be bustling with fun activities!

Live Music. While large gatherings and indoor concerts are off the table, Building Roots has stepped up by offering a bi-weekly concert series in the beautiful green space outside the Moss Park Market, every other week starting June 27th (weather permitting). The performances will take place 12:00-2:00pm, with an emphasis on cultural diversity. Don’t be surprised to see a variety of circus acts as well! We are thrilled to be able to support artists during this very challenging time, as well as bringing the joy of music and performance art to our community members. 

Fun Zone for Kids. Alongside the live music will be our Fun Zone for Kids. This feature will take place on a weekly basis from 12:00-3:00pm. The Fun Zone is where parents from all over Toronto’s Downtown East can come to pick up educational and recreational resources for kids. This includes a wide variety of books from the Children’s Book Bank, art supplies and creativity kits, outdoor activities such as hula hoops and sporting equipment, and even toy packs sponsored by Pokemon Canada (while supplies last). The Fun Zone will also have an activity area where families can safely enjoy the outdoors this summer and children can play with their new toys.  We will have chalk markings on the grass to encourage social distancing, and volunteers helping to enforce these safety measures. 

Toronto Grown Food. The Moss Park Market will continue with curbside pick-up of fresh food bags which are all pay-what-you-can. We are ensuring everybody has affordable access to fresh food during these financially difficult times, and also that community members most vulnerable do not have to travel far or go to crowded indoor spaces for fresh food. In addition to our fresh food bags containing organically grown food from our very own Urban Farm at Ashbridge Estate, they also contain freshly grown food from a whole community of local growers. Our Growing Meals Together program, designed as a solution to potential overcrowding at our urban farm, has people from all over the city growing food in their backyards and rooftops like the Ryerson Urban Farm, and Carrot Green Roof and contributing the harvests to our food bags. Lastly, we’ve partnered with a few other local farms, making the Moss Park Market one of very few farm stands operating in the city of Toronto. 

The Moss Park Market is open 11:00-4:00pm every Saturday. We are located at 260 Queen St. E, one block east of Sherbourne (Queen and Seaton), across from Kim’s Convenience. 

Growing Meals Together: Help Us Grow for the Moss Park Market

Giving food and sharing meals is the most basic and affirming thing people do; it’s a sign of welcome and hospitality around the world, and opens the way to deeper relations.

What you may not know is that much of the produce at the Moss Park Market is donated by farmers, and some is grown by our own tiny volunteer-powered urban farm in the east end.

In this difficult spring of 2020 we can’t meet over a meal, and that’s a sore loss of fellowship. So we’re inviting you to share a meal in a different way – by growing a little for the market.

We’re looking for 20 people to grow a small plot each, 1m by 2m (3’x6’). It might be beets or beans, cucumbers or carrots or cilantro, tomatoes or hot peppers … you get the idea : )

If you haven’t grown vegetables before, this is your chance to notch up a new skill with support from our gardener. It’s very, very satisfying to see a tiny seed develop into … food for a person to eat.

Building Roots can supply seed, help with suggestions, and post photos of your developing plots. It would be ideal if you can bring the harvest to the market, but we do have capacity to do some of the harvesting too.

If you have grown vegetables before, we’d love you to take on some of the trickier veg – for example, carrots that need a deep soil and constant moisture while they germinate.

To be part of this Growing Meals Together program, please contact us. And if you have friends and neighbours who are gardeners or would like to give this a try, pass the message on to them!