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:
https://www.nationalobserver.com/2020/10/20/news/moss-park-residents-hear-from-NDP-candidate-new-Greens-leader

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

Adaptability

An emotionally charged ode to how our year of change is progressing in an annual season of change this fall.

Outside my door bees are busy at the blue asters, robins and grackles are rustling in the Virginia creeper for the purple berries; yesterday geese were calling; the nights are drawing in. 

As a gardener, I’m deeply ambivalent about October. What’s done is done, well or ill alike; it’s time to say this story’s over, say farewell to the season. And yet in the same moment, I’m also looking to the next season, because the last fall task at the Ashbridge Urban Farm is to get ready for spring – clear and mulch the beds so they’ll be prepared for an early start. 

In just a month I’ll be pouring through catalogues, trying to shorten wishful lists of heirloom food plants; eight weeks after that is not too early to start the seeds of woody herbs; four weeks takes me to cabbages; another four and it’s time to start tomato seeds; and a few weeks after that we’re off and running hard to keep ahead of the season.

The Roman god Janus, with one face looking to the past and the other to the future, represented transitions, both literal and metaphorical – doorways and gates, war and peace, motion and time. The month of January is named for the transition from one calendar year to the next; if a gardener had decided this, January would be a fall month.

We’re all in a transition now, as the pandemic reality sinks in: this isn’t a 3-month sprint, it’s an 18-month marathon. It’s very not clear how we get through it – individually, or as a city, or an economy, or as a species. But as I think about it, my thoughts keep drifting to peoples and countries that have gone through – are going through – far worse disruptions.

This isn’t a 3-month sprint, it’s an 18-month marathon.

The people of Fukushima and Chernobyl and the Three Gorges Dam. The people of the Gulf of Mexico and Puerto Rico. The peoples of the Arctic and California and Australia and the Amazon and Fiji and the Maldives and the Solomon Islands. The people of Afghanistan and Syria and North Vietnam and the Crimea. The people of Greece and Brazil. The Rohingya people of Myanmar, the Buddhists of Tibet. The people of Minamata and Grassy Narrows and Flint and Love Canal and Bhopal. The child soldiers of the Congo and the children of the Sixties Scoop.

These are just highlights you might recognize; there are terribly many more.

So I think some balance is called for. 

Yes, coping with covid-19 is disruptive. Yes, being so unsure of what to do next or what comes next makes us anxious. Yes, we in Canada have been living in a bubble of stability compared to the rest of the world, and so a big change leaves us unprepared, unnerved, unsure how to adapt. 

But good golly, the essence of being human is our amazing, outstanding ability to adapt! We can do this. Most of our families have, within one or two generations back, surmounted major change; we too can adapt – to this transition period when the virus is loose, and again when it’s been quelled.

Looking forward – adaptation will require spirit, ingenuity, collaboration, lateral thinking – we humans have got those totally covered. And looking back, in a Janus spirit, to January – my first post of the year, before we were even aware of the pandemic, was about adapting to (a different) change by embracing it.

It began,

“The past year had me continually adapting to new circumstances, both bad and good. Jolting change is wearing, but it may be what 2020 has in store for most of us. If that’s right, we will need to keep each other’s energy up, and our own,”

and ended,

“Change is coming… Here’s to seeing a 2020 when our choices are better because we require it – and when we help each other embrace them.”

Just two months after that post, the Building Roots team adapted instantly to the pandemic, embracing the reality of the situation and putting better choices on the table (literally as well as figuratively) for people. We’re not the only organization to do that, to be sure. Every one of us has the ability to use mind, body, and spirit to adapt and to help each other. 

Here’s to having that very human capability strengthen us in this “season” of pandemic – and to having it give us empathy with other people’s troubles. It may be October now, but any farmer will tell you that when trouble hits we band together to get everyone through it – and that April is up ahead.



Kate Hamilton is the Urban Farm Manager and coordinates the Building Roots urban farming initiative at Ashbridge Estate and skills workshop series. You can find Kate almost weekly at the Ashbridge Estate location or writing inspiring articles such as this piece.

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. 

The Building Roots Urban Farm

On the radio I hear people feeling distraught that distancing has taken their summer away – no cottage, no music or food festivals, no bar patios; how will they even know it’s summer?

I’m not lost in time at all. Snowdrops, daffodils, bright forsythia, flamboyant magnolia, and brilliant tulips are my countdown to getting seed in the ground & doing my part to help sun & soil make food.

Now that the polar vortex is behind us and the City has decided the rules for teamwork gardening, I’ve been preparing beds at the Building Roots volunteer-powered urban farm.

We grow vegetables for the Building Roots market at Moss Park – a food desert (which means you can’t find fresh food for many blocks). Last year we delivered radish and lettuce and spinach, peas and beans, tomatoes and zucchini and garlic, and – the market serves a diverse culinary base – callaloo and Ethiopian kale. This year we’re adding other nutritious greens including fenugreek (mehti) and tatsoi.

The urban farm is in a lovely spot at Ashbridge Estate, an Ontario Heritage Trust site in east Toronto. Last year we doubled the growing space, but it’s not a huge area so I was able to start the beds working alone.

(There are new rules this year – signing in and out, sanitizing tools – but the distancing feels normal: we’re always only a couple of people at a time, much more than 6’ apart, comfortably companionable.)

Dig, dig, dig … the best way to get a summer body back! If you’re missing your gym, come lend a hand – farm work uses every muscle – in the beautiful outdoors with sunshine, trees, and birdsong : )

My first session didn’t involve any digging, though. I just walked around seeing how the beds had come through the winter, and noticing –

  • Garlic – planted in October – poking up
  • Self-seeded Ethiopian kale, well along in our cold frame
  • Overwintered Noir de Pardailhan turnips going to seed for us

These are a tether anchored in last fall, reaching through the dead of winter to this moment in spring. They tell me where we are in the sun’s circle, in the year’s cycle, and I know what to do next.

This sense of the season is not something I grew up with; it came from the doing. All kinds of production have their own lore built in; what is yours instilling in you?

Keeping It Together (Part 3)

Well-being is about mind, body, and spirit – or some say mind, body, and emotions. This post is about spirit, with three points.

1.     Attitude is everything

Notes from people who’ve been there themselves –

There are actual immunological reasons to cultivate happiness, joy, awe, wonder (short and sensible article). Try a “happiness library” or a shared Spotify account of music that celebrates joy, courage, achievement. (I’d include the blues song “Strawberry Jam”; see if you can find it.)

A few people who are quite comfortable living alone have written about this being different: they’re feeling frighteningly invisible. Touch (see below) helps with that; just as important is to manifest your existence to others. We need to be seen, at least metaphorically. Helping is a way to have an effect in the world, and thanks to the ‘net there are ways to do that even now. It also puts some beacons in the murky future to steer by, and gives you accomplishments as milestones. An hour a week on a help line? It does matter.

Some ways to contain waves of worry here. And don’t be too stubborn to reach out when you want to.

2.     Own your time

Often one wished for more free time, but what we have now is uncomfortable – “A sustained, long-run lockdown means that a vast stretch of undifferentiated time is unfurling ahead of us, stripped bare of the usual divisions and markers.”

We need milestones: “We want to feel time is precious; we don’t want to write it off. We don’t want to lose a summer that we’ll never get back. We don’t want to do time; we don’t want to be inside. We want to live.” [source, a thoughtful article]

So live! Own your life, even now: create your own milestones –

  • Make the effort to make memories – create a rich subjective time. “[D]istinct events and experiences … stretch out the temporal landscape.” [source]
  • Put a fixed point in your day – a sit-down lunch, blues at 8pm, 5 minutes screaming into a pillow, whatever: something you want and decide on and will look forward to.
  • Try one of the things you’ve never had time for. Time is the one renewable resource we all have; don’t let it slip through your fingers. This too is life: what will you do with it? Whether it’s building a puppet theatre or playing recorder or saying hello in a dozen languages or making papier mache animals, you can do it – and when you have, you’ll feel good and want to do another.

3.     The importance of touch

Touch is really important to well-being. For those of us living alone, and for all of us who now aren’t touching many things out in the world, this is a significant loss even if we’re not directly aware of its effects.

  • The challenges of isolating (G&M article)
  • Short overview of the importance of touch. Neuroscientist David Lindon writes that our skin is a social organ that cultivates cooperation, improves health and enhances development.
  • From another article: “Touch makes your brain grow…. Touch is how we become part of this human community.” Touch “let me know that I existed, that I was here.” [source]

What to do with that knowledge? Well, it’s a wonderful fact that our brains don’t distinguish clearly between experience and memory.

  • Take a few minutes to remember – the feeling of being hand-in-hand with another person, the hugs you’ve had, running your fingers along rough bark or soft pine needles, the wind on your arms and the sun on your face, petting a dog’s head or wrestling a snowsuit onto a squirming child, cuddling and dancing, turning a key in a lock or leaning against a heavy door, the weight of a teacup or the warmth of a sweater.
  • Pull up your touch memories every day – you have them, and they will help in the now.

You can add new touch experiences, even now.

  • Massage your feet, noticing how it feels in your foot and in your hands. Rest your cheek against a windowpane and experience its texture. Close your eyes and feel a sheet of paper and a piece of wood: can you tell the difference? What is the difference? What are the fabric textures in your closet?
  • If you can get outdoors, try short barefoot walks. (In the city, choose your place and watch for glass!) You too may discover “the small joy of finding a dandelion stalk caught between the toes … touching rocks and roots, just feels good.”

Mental imagery works with photographs too.

  • In this gallery of outstanding wildlife shots, imagine stroking the fur of the arctic fox, touching the wrinkled orangutan cheek, feeling the hard scales of the pangolin, shaking hands with the mountain gorilla, being explored by the elephant’s trunk.

And for off-the-wall inspiration, here’s an inventive wood-worker’s creation, Proud Parent. The video is 16min and it’s a giggle – I think you won’t count it as lost time!

Last word

A quote I’m finding very helpful –

“Inspiration and small pleasures can hide in plain sight, patiently waiting for a keen co-conspirator to spring them loose.” – Jez Burrows, Dictionary Stories

Net Picks (Part 3)

Now that so much performance art is online, it’s almost overwhelming.

What’s working for me is to listen to radio or music while I’m doing dishes or other chores; a walk after dinner and then relax into culture / entertainment. I choose the performance or venue in the morning – all day I have a fine evening to look forward to!

Or – just click on something, check it out – the world is out there, and bursting with variety.

Words

  • Children’s bedtime stories read by Dolly Parton; her Imagination Library has delivered more than 130m free books to children. Here’s The little engine that could on YouTube, which to my surprise has tremendous present relevance (essential work, role of the powerful, small-scale kindness, persistence, …); there are lots more stories.
  • Poetry Jukebox – requests read by actor Samuel West and friends. Completely accessible; try #2, The Lion and Albert (3min), or #6, On the Ning Nang Nong (1min), both very silly. There are also wry, loving, angry, and courageous  selections. Try #21, Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things (1½ min).
  • The Ancient Mariner Big Read  and article on this 3-year project
  • Spoken word for Earth Day (3min, top-quality performance)

Comedy

  • CBC’s Laugh Out Loud not an essential service?!! Dozens of past episodes available. Laughter is good for spirit – and boosts health too.

Art

  • ArtUK exhibits 250,000 artworks from 3,290 UK venues and 4,500 artists. In May an innovative new feature will launch – Curations – create your own virtual exhibition.
  • All the arts – a new Canadian site, Arts At Home, brings together sites for art, dance, music, theatre, and more. Find it here – Harbourfront’s Thursday Crafternoons,

Ballet

  • Bella Dance online – for children and adults – from Yellowknife, NWT, Includes charming activities and resources for kids under 7yo. article
  • Article listing more dance opportunities with top ballet performers
  • Cinderella and other performances by the Australian Ballet
  • Swan (5min) – Royal Birmingham Ballet

Music

Theatre

  • UK’s National Theatre – a new play every Thursday on YouTube, free for a week.
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber is releasing musicals on YouTube each week, Fridays at 7pm BST, for 48 hours. (Also on that channel, excerpts from other Weber operas.)
  • Link list of more theatre and ballet – too many to detail! Shakespeare’s Globe, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, Deafinitely Theatre (BSL and spoken English), the Broken Wings ballet, puppet performances of I have seen my hat, This is not my hat and We found a hat.
  • Another link list of theatre, with selections for all ages. Anansi the Spider, I wish I was a mountain, A Tiger’s Tale (! until May 24) – also Mother Courage (15-22 May), A Doll’s House, and much much more.

Inner world

  • Mondays at 7pm, Toronto’s Annie Lockerbie Newton’s 31min meditation streaming on Facebook and Instagram.
  • TED talks – short talks on new ideas and achievements. Most are high quality.
  • Code.org has a very gentle introduction to coding as a technique for breaking big tasks down into smaller ones (a useful skill : ) and making a computer do what you tell it to (highly absorbing). The “classes” are set up as puzzles – try Dance Party. There’s also a 1pm ET “Code Break” session on Wednesdays.
  • Unusual – DigVentures is waiving the fee for the June 1 course How to do archaeology. A 6-week certificate course approved by the UK’s Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. Discover the parts of a dig, the clues, the roles.

“Inspired by the DigVentures course, one woman has dug a trench a metre-deep in her back garden, in which she has found nothing more precious than a fork and a marble. ‘But a couple of days ago when sitting in my trench with my brush and my palette knife, I suddenly realised that I actually felt happy and unstressed – both feelings somewhat alien to me currently.’” [article]

Escape to the wider world

  • YouTube walking videos – it’s a thing.
  • Visit Amsterdam – article linking to excellent online resources, from the Rijksmuseum which has been digitizing for years, to photographers to music to street art.
    • Challenge: curate your own guide to another city.
  • Remote Tourism – live experience with a guide (article). Realtime is engaging : )

Participants decide which way to turn, what to look at. On Wednesday when I watched, we were in the oldest village in the Faroe Islands. There was a nasty North Atlantic storm blowing in, so the guide turned back from the hills into the village where there was more shelter. Had to avoid the geese. Who knows where next!

  • Nest-flix and other delights – article linking to the Cornell Lab birdcams, Edinburgh Zoo, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and more. “They offer connection and continuity – the transporting sensation of watching a creature indifferent to human endeavour going about its life.”
  • HotDocs at home through CBC TV. Toronto’s film festivals are known worldwide – here’s a front-row seat to documentaries about current issues – with no standing in line.
  • 10 of the world’s best museum and gallery tours (suggestion: start with the Natural History Museum, London – its online presence is excellent)
  • Go local – The Radio Garden app and article suggesting a few stations.

For light relief right now, in the moment –

Cherry Date Bars – #NoFoodWaste

Photo taken by Mary McCusker, Building Roots team member and author of this article.

At the Moss Park Market, we have been receiving donations of food items from many different people and organizations. Amidst our massive influx of food deliveries as part of our COVID-19 relief efforts, we sometimes receive one-off items that are hard to decide what to do with. We want to make sure that everyone’s food bags are similar and that all the food is distributed as evenly as possible.

A couple of weeks ago we ended up with a single bag of chopped dates and two cans of cherry pie filling from Second Harvest that we were unsure what to do with. I took them home because I hate to see food wasted and came up with this recipe using the cherry pie filling, chopped dates and bananas from the market.

#NoFoodWaste Cherry Date Bars

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup flour

1 ½ cup oats

¼ cup salted butter

¼ cup sugar

3 bananas

1 ½ cup chopped dates

¼ cup flaked coconut

¼ cup chia seeds

¼ cup hemp seeds

1 cup chopped almonds

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Splash of milk as needed

1 can of cherry pie filling

Steps:

  • Heat Oven to 350 °F
  • Combine flour oats and sugar in one bowl
  • Combine almonds, coconut, hemp and chia seeds in a separate bowl
  • In a third bowl mash the bananas and combine with the melted butter (not too hot), vanilla extract and milk as needed until it is a fairly liquid consistency
  • Combine the flour and the banana bowls together to create the crumb mixture
  • Fold in the dates, almonds and seeds (the mixture will be very sticky at this point)
  • Press half of the mixture into the bottom of a parchment paper lined baking pan. *NOTE: If using wax paper (or no paper) make sure that you oil the paper or pan first with butter
  • Pour cherry pie filling on top and spread evenly
  • Use the other half of the mixture and crumble small circles evenly across the surface
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes until the bottom is browned
  • Let cool and cut into squares
  • ENJOY!!

Net Picks (Part 2)

7:30pm every evening – go out on the street to cheer for our healthcare workers. If you have a musical instrument, bring it! On my corner there`s bagpipes and an accordion : )