Cate Ahrens & the Sustainable, Inclusive Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Food Program

Written by Allison Smith, Thrive

“To Preserve and Enhance a Healthy and Vibrant Quality of Life for the Residents of Hillhurst-Sunnyside”

Housed in the vibrant Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Association, is the sustainable, accessible and inclusive Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Food Program. Leading the important initiative is the friendly Cate Ahrens, the Community Food Program Supervisor. I had the pleasure of meeting with Cate to learn more about the awesome work her and her team have been doing this past year, in addressing some of the community’s food security and accessibility issues.

Cate explained that the food programs build off the momentum of the community association’s popular Farmer’s Market and were incorporated in the HSCA food strategy. All the food programs are founded on the CED principles of community development and resident skill building. Currently, there are 5 programs that address the varying food accessibility needs within the community (outlined at the end of this post).

“Farmers shouldn’t be asked to lower their prices, people living in poverty deserve to have better incomes.”

At the mention of living wage, Cate quickly chimed that she is a living wage advocate and that it’s integrated in all the food programs. Although there is a lot of anti-poverty work being done in conjunction with sustainable food programming, there is definitely still a divide. “There is a place in the middle where people living in poverty can’t afford sustainable food. Farmers shouldn’t be asked to lower their prices, people living in poverty deserve to have better incomes,” Cate passionately explained.

Cate went on to describe the disconnect between sustainable food purchasing and poverty displacement both locally and abroad.  “If we’re buying coffee that is not fair trade or organic, because that’s all we can afford, then we’ve just impoverished people in another country. It’s just displacing the poverty, ” she explained. Cate sees the food programs as an opportunity to bridge this gap in the community.

“The farmer’s market isn’t for everyone.”

HSCA has conducted a community need assessment, that is the foundation for all of the food programming. The assessment has helped to address resident’s needs in terms of content, timing and location.

“The farmer’s market isn’t for everyone. It’s about breaking down those perceptions. There has been criticism that farmer’s markets are generally white affluent spaces. How do we challenge that? How do we respond in ways that provide other services for people that don’t feel comfortable there.” said Cate.

They are constantly striving to be more inclusive by  supporting initiatives such as senior specific programs and a farmer’s market seniors day. They also work with residents and partners to ensure that the needs are properly met and aligned.

The importance of partnerships

The HSCA strives to share their knowledge, experience and resources with other Calgary communities interested in food programming. Cate explained having a lot of key partners will help them achieve this goal.  In addition, their existing partners have helped strengthen their existing initiatives and programs. For example the Collective Kitchen Program partners with the Women in Need Society and CUPs. In addition, The Calgary Foundation has been a big supporter of the food programs, and has made it possible for the HSCA to develop these programs.  Other strategic partners include: the Calgary Horticultural Society, Alberta Health Services, local farmers, Calgary Housing,  the City of Calgary Office of Sustainability, Green Calgary and more.

Sharing her knowledge and expertise has gone far beyond just residents and communities, but to the greater Calgary community.  Cate sat on the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative,  Food Constellation and aided in the food strategy recommendations.

The food programs play a vital role in poverty reduction, community engagement and food security. The collective impact of the food programs include:

  • Citizens that are actively engaged in shaping the communities in which they live
  • Citizens are accessing sustainable, healthy food sources
  • Citizens understand the local food system and its place within the global context
  • Citizens are engaged in local, sustainable food production
  • Citizens have gained transferable skills
  • Replicable programs that are available to other communities
  • Multi-sector partners are established or strengthened

The programs are constantly adapting to the needs and issues of the Hillhurst-Sunnyside community. Presently, HSCA food programs include:

1) Kids Food and Garden Leadership Program: The program focuses on leadership development, healthy food production and active community gardening. In addition, the program promotes youth civic engagement by encouraging participants to take action on local food issues that are important to them. Activities have included planting seeds, transplanting, worm composting, garden journals and making herbal teas.

2) Collective Kitchen/Adult Program: This program focuses on Adult skill development, building social connections and creating a positive environment. They use food safety, budgeting and skills training as the medium to do so.

3) Community Food Events/Local 301: Local 301 is an initiative aimed at bringing awareness to food issues such as urban agriculture, raising and eating sustainable meats, and growing food indoors.  These are free public events and gain an audience of between 30-60 people.

4) Community Garden and Orchard Programming: This program intends to build community, relationships and resilience through a shared, collaborative gardening initiative.  That’s not all. The food is then donated to local community agencies.

5) Community Food Network: The goal of the network is to help replicate the food program in other interested neighborhoods. They will do this by using the Hillhurst-Sunnyside experience and community assets to empower other communities to facilitate resident led programs and opportunities.

To learn more about the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Food Program, visit their website here.

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