It’s safe to say that through all our current challenges, togetherness has proven to be a strength which will transform our communities during the pandemic and after it passes.
As we all give thanks to our frontline workers for what they are doing to help us in combating our current situation, Building Roots wants to drop you a reminder to thank yourselves.
This is important to remember because collaborative change is found through selflove and self-growth. A beautiful example we are grateful to witness is how the Moss Park Market wouldn’t be what it is today without the community members who were gracious enough to share a little bit of that love.
Our Moss Park Market is a pay-what-you-can service open every Saturday from 11AM – 4PM where you can access food and produce bags for safe pick-up with absolutely no information collected.
These food bags are fueled by a spread of community partners who contribute everything from baked goods to raw vegetables weekly. Because of the cold weather, we want to make sure that everyone can
be served quickly and safely.
If it is your first time visiting us at 260 Queen St. E, one of our volunteers will kindly touch base with you to arrange the details of any future Covid-safe pickups.
We are here to help fill an important gap – and that’s the knowledge and security you will have accessing fresh, healthy food on a regular basis.
That way, you can focus on thanking yourself.
As featured in The Bridge community newspaper issue of March 2021
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.
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.
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.
The Building Roots urban farm at Ashbridge Estate is small (there’s not a lot of room in a city) but mighty – mighty enough to transform this worrying year to reliable joy for a dozen participants. From May through October we gathered weekly to perform and witness many small magics.
First there’s the obvious – from minuscule specks of seed and spindly 3” seedlings, we produced … food.
That’s peppers, tomatoes, peas, beans, zucchini, bitter melon, turnips, kohlrabi, garlic, chard, mint, dill, thyme, basil, and more.
We know the seed needs to be in the right place (for sun), with the right resources (water and good soil) and the right helpers (soil micro-organisms, and a human helper (to provide a stake, prune suckers, protect against pests and disease).
So far, that’s just like a child growing up to be a poet or an engineer or an analyst – to flourish, both seed and child need many things to come together: a suitable environment, resources, helpers – and time.
But then there’s the mystery of it. We don’t know all about how a seed becomes a mature plant, and certainly not about how a child explores and develops its talents. Watching something creative and mysterious unfold is a joy that nourished the farm crew every week. (It also sent a few of us to botany books!)
Second, the farm is volunteer-powered, raising this food not for ourselves but for the Building Roots produce bags distributed at the Moss Park Market year-round.
The kindness of people to each other is another magic, one of the greatest there is. Our dozen participants joined a river of human decency that flowed this year.
We also produced food for bees and other pollinators – borage, yarrow, dill, cosmos, zinnia, apple blossoms, and clover among our well-received offerings.
Over the season we put in more than 800 hours; why? Making a gift of time and attention is very satisfying and more-ish. There are reductionist explanations for the pleasure of giving to others (a boost of oxytocin is one), but the experiential fact is that we’re social beings and like to connect.
At the farm – masked and distanced – we are engaged in a collaborative project, connecting strongly with each other, with the people who eat what we produce, with the warm-hearted staff at our host, the Ontario Heritage Trust, and with a dozen businesses and organizations that were generous to the farm.
To name just four – Miceli’s Seasonals gifted us 15 (!) flats of seedlings; Lazy Daisy Café provided coffee grounds for soil amendment; FoodShare through CAMh gave garlic to plant and a beautiful cedar 3-bin composter; and with our participation Not Far From The Tree delivered a few hundred pounds of organic fruit to the Moss Park Market. (And Manning Canning turned some of that into jars of applesauce for the market.)
This is the instigation of a virtuous cycle – resources flowing to us that we put to use for others, enabling them in turn to be more for those around them.
To all who supported the urban farm this year, our deepest thanks for enabling this flow of goodness.
We also gave to each other – blueberry muffins, nasturtium pesto, green-tomato chutney, kombucha starter, gecko keychains – and connections beyond the farm to mushroom foraging, tai chi in the park, and more – and ad hoc workshops on pruning, propagating, raising caterpillars to butterflies, hugelkultur, plant families, Three-Sisters plantings, tying secure knots and splices. The Building Roots urban farm is a learning place!
Third, every week we turned our backs on cement, pandemics, job worries, and odious politics … to spend a sunny morning surrounded by trees, flower beds, and birdsong, collaborating with companionable others in light physical exercise that has a kindly and creative purpose.
That’s a checkmark on most of the major factors that contribute to personal and social well-being.
That’s how this otherwise difficult year paradoxically gave us six months of laughter, abundance, and delight. It’s how we delivered weekly harvests to the Moss Park Market. And it’s how, from small seeds, we at the urban farm nurture the Building Roots mission of social cohesion. To manifest its potential, social cohesion – like a seed or a child – needs a nourishing environment, resources, helpers … and time.
My wish for 2021 is that, whatever else is going on, ever more of us engage in the small magics that give others – and ourselves – the joy of flourishing.
I started following the shop after stumbling in one day and learning about the owners’ philosophy that an artist is merely one who creates. Whether you’ve had years of success in the fashion industry or just last year discovered the healing powers of pottery and got inspired to now want to spread your shiny, pottery-shaped love, the owners would be willing to put your creations on shelf. I was touched by this, and devastated to hear of the loss of the shop.
I am waiting to hear test results from a loved one I was in brief contact with who was exposed to Covid-19, and therefore may have infected me. Home in isolation since the encounter, I do not think my risk was high, but it still terrifies me. All the people they might have infected, all the people their infector might have infected – you know the thought process.
This is all so messy. People call 2020 a horrible year, but I argue it’s as messy as it is merciless. So many firsts, so much change. The horribleness of 2020 is indisputable, so instead I focus on the messy.
Messy is uncomfortable, but no change was ever created from within “the comfort zone”. Push sometimes comes to shove whether we like it or not, and falling hurts, but it’s also how we learn to get back up. Perhaps if we’re smart, we can learn how to plant our feet and situate ourselves so the next time we won’t fall down when shoved.
For example, we could change our public perception of harm reduction initiatives and enact better laws around drug use, so that next time the city (or the world) goes into crisis, we don’t see an unprecedented spike in fatal overdoses.
We could ensure access to affordable, dignified housing for all, so it doesn’t take city parks filling up with an upsetting number of unhoused Torontonians for us to realize we are in a housing crisis that is not going away.
Speaking from my experience with Building Roots – a local grassroots organization that works collaboratively with just about every community agency and social enterprise in Moss Park (including the bridge, our proud partner and collaborator since its launch), and, most important, being on the ground hearing directly from those most vulnerable to the virus and its social implications – it’s clear that the answer is going to be found in cooperation.
Perhaps it is merely the circles I am grateful to find myself in, or being situated in the inspiringly resilient and beautiful Moss Park community, but for every story of an oversized pantry jam-packed with the local grocery store’s remaining stock of toilet paper, I can offer you three about the power of togetherness that could move you to tears.
People have found a million and one new ways to connect, to make one another smile, to ensure that no one goes hungry and that no one gets left behind. Speaking for myself, this community I have found in Building Roots and in Moss Park – people from walks of life I’ve never known existed, and displays of kindness I’d never have imagined – have made 2020 not merely a year of disaster, but ultimately a story of hope.
Thank you to all of my neighbours in Moss Park, housed and unhoused. We will get through this – and the next challenge, and the next – facing up to and taking action on our vulnerabilities, doing it together, and becoming more resilient and vibrant with each challenge we overcome.
Dear, 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.
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 fromTiffinday, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.