“The need is great” according to Anne Driscoll, executive director of Crescent Valley Community Centre in Saint John. She has a full plate, overseeing numerous programs at the centre, many of them involving issues of food insecurity.
She took her Community Food Mentor (CFM) training in 2016 through the Horizon Health Network. It was taught by dieticians connected through the Food Security Network. “We value the connections that the CFM program give us to other organizations. It gives a stamp of legitimacy to the food security programs that we are doing in Crescent Valley.”
One of the required exercises during the CFM training was to invent a healthy dish using very limited ingredients like one might get from a food bank. “It was a difficult exercise, but you rely on your experience.” They were given some rolled oats, a can of fruit cocktail, brown sugar. “We ended up making a fruit crisp that wasn’t that bad.” It did show how difficult it could be for some people who don’t have any experience cooking and don’t understand ingredients.
Under Anne’s direction is a seniors’s breakfast program, the Muffin Club for school children, Savvy Soup cooking class and food buying club dropoff. But an innovative idea came to Anne when she observed a Starbucks staff wandering around a mall offering product samples. She thought, “We can do that but offer healthy snacks” and The Healthy Snack Wagon idea was born. “We take to the road, or offer snacks from our porch. It gives residents in the area the opportunity to try new foods that they would not ordinarily eat, things like spinach salad or a dish made with fennell, lentils, bulgur or barley.” The dishes are usually plant based, and recipes are provided. “They love it. It’s also great for community engagement. And the food is always gone.”
Many of the residents of Crescent Valley are newcomers from Syria. In the spirit of food sharing, sometimes the tables are turned and these people bring food to the centre. “People really like the food the newcomers bring. It’s delicious. We’re really lucky that they feed us on occasion.”
The newest project at Crescent Valley is The Growing Place Community Garden. It’s an ambitious project that provides growing beds that local residents can rent, grows food for the North End Food Bank, and provides a public event space. A large greenhouse is being built for year round growing which will start this winter. Plus, fruit trees and small fruits will be part of the garden complex next year. Anne says, “Food and gardens bring people together.” She is certain of that.
In September 2019 Crescent Valley hosted a region-wide CFM reunion, taking a leadership role in keeping CFM’s connected.”We want to know what other mentors are doing and how they offer advice to food insecure people.” They brainstorm, problem solve and share information about government agencies and departments to keep the ball rolling. “We need to look a little deeper into the issues of food insecurity.” It’s not an easy fix, according to Anne, but with creativity, perseverance and community engagement, things get done.