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Bill Farrow and Louise Hartley, CFMs

Louise and Bill at the Vestiaire, Shediac

Louise Hartley and Bill Farrow are not exactly two peas in a pod, but a very effective team. These two Community Food Mentors (CFMs) have collaborated in manifesting a dream at the Vestiaire Saint-Joseph food bank in Shediac. But it didn’t happen overnight, nor without growing pains

Bill is the foodie with a background in human service counselling. In 2009 he had the idea to involve clients from the Vestiare in preparing and sharing meals in a teaching kitchen. Bill thought this would this enhance food skills and knowledge, but also build confidence and break isolation.

But it wasn’t until Louise took her CFM training in 2015 and teamed up with Bill that things started to gain momentum. “The fact that we have been able to grow and become very good friends is because we have a shared vision,” says Louise. 

Louise learned food safety, grant writing and networking skills which convinced Bill of the worth of the CFM training. He followed suit in 2016.

Louise became the “salesperson for making connections in the community.” They attracted a few participants at local church kitchens teaching cooking skills, but they wanted to do more. “Basically, we started from scratch. We had no budget,” explains Louise. So they got a small grant to purchase pots and pans but had no permanent kitchen. Still, they were determined to make their vision grow. 

Bill spells out how. “We build relationships with other people, we get their cards.” Louise adds, “It’s essential that organizations in the community are aware of the value of CFM training.” With this in mind, in 2016, she persuaded a Deptartment of Social Services caseworker to refer clients, some struggling with addiction, for CFM training. “We took an hour with social workers and told them what we could do for them. That was a breakthrough.” 

In 2017 they received a Community Food Action Grant to hold CFM training for these clients which generated two volunteers for their teaching kitchen. These clients were committed and they had good sized classes.

Realizing the effectiveness of this work, the board and director of the Vestiaire committed to building a kitchen for the group in 2018.

The pieces came together in Spring 2019. The dream kitchen was completed and their project found a permanent home. Another grant for CFM training was awarded, resulting in more volunteers to teach their food skills programs. With an idea for future classes, Louise recruited a dietician from Sobeys to advise on food for specific health problems. 

In the classes, as well as the CFM sessions, Bill says, “We eat together in community and that means a lot. We want to let them know you can be healthy and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. We show them what they can do with the items that receive in the food box.” Louise adds, “And we have fun.” 

There’s a garden and greenhouse at the Vestiaire this year and plans to hold workshops on preserving the produce. They would also like to host kids cooking classes. Next year they might do some gleaning and bring in some guest speakers. All of these activities will be spearheaded by their growing cadre of CFMs.

Bill and Louise go about their work quietly because they’re not after fame, but the joy and deep satisfaction that comes from seeing real change in their community.

Bill says, “Both Louise and I grew up always having food on the table and eating with others. This is not the case for many. Some grew up without learning food skills. So, something simple can have a big impact.”

Louise adds, “If we don’t help others, what are we here for?”