Image courtesy of Low-Income Families Together (LIFT)
OASIS has been in the works since 2006.
Follow along with the journey below.
Incubator organization LIFT conducted a report in collaboration with Ryerson University, funded by the Wellesley Institute to the U.N. in 2006 on the economic and social rights of St. James Town and identified food insecurity as a significant issue in the neighbourhood.
LIFT incubated the Community Cafe – a resident-started initiative that received funding from Tower Renewal in 2011 to run pay what you can community dinners and nutritional education to help new Canadians navigate a new food system. The project grew to include workshops and even a certificate program with George Brown, but providing healthy food is an unsustainable project without dedicated space.
Toronto funded a feasibility study naming a community enterprise co-op as the most sustainable and appropriate model for moving forward.
The cafe was incorporated as a non profit co-op: The St. James Town Community Co-operative.
This same year, we renewed contact with Tower Renewal to pursue the acquisition of space, as well as pursued conversations with our MPP at the time, Glenn Murray, who wrote us a support letter and facilitated a dialogue between us and TCHC. Despite TCHC’s disinterest in the project, we made progress with Minister Glen Murray, and developed proposals for the Ministry of Environment Climate Change Fund (cancelled by Ford).
We conducted a TimeBank feasibility study in partnership with the Upstream Lab, Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital, funded by the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (published 2017)
We received blueprints and had a walk through of the TCHC buildings with technical consultants and ED of Scadding Court arranged by building oversight staff in March 2017.
Our city councillor passed away and our MPP left office, and we were left with no political representative at the municipal or provincial level with which to engage.
We conducted farm trips, dinners, community led workshops in language, recreation, and cooking through the TimeBank. The Yonge St.Mission’s neighbourhood office where we had storage and regular programming space left the neighbourhood and our kitchen equipment and operations moved into one of the founder’s houses (in south St James Town).
We applied for funding for a feasibility study, to more deeply develop the model with community and experts. We received a letter of support from Tower Renewal for this, and funding from the City of Toronto.
The co-op received $50,000 from the City of Toronto to conduct a feasibility study on OASIS. The technical report was conducted by consultants who have built urban farming solutions for the city of Toronto and Hamilton.
In the feasibility study we held design charrettes with technical partners, community members, and partner organizations. We developed a phased approach, and a partnership network.
Partners: 5 Community Partners who are engaged in food work and community resilience in the neighbourhood + strong collaborative relationship with the community center and local churches. 2 Technical Partners lined up – have supported the ideation process, developed the technical report, and are ready to build the systems and support community training for onsite management.
We have a growing network of partnered local ecological and BIPOC farmers, and key city-wide food organizations and regional food producer union and co-ops. We also now have dried food and tropical import distributors on the Open Food Network ordering platform for our growing distribution of healthy affordable food in St. James Town.
We have activated the first step developed in the feasibility study – a bulk food buying club that uses the above network.
The study also named the need for a collaborative working group with necessary city and other government partners at the table. At the end of our feasibility study, Councilor Wong-Tam came on board and in collaboration with her Office put forward the city motion that activated this working group report recommendation. *
The working group triggered by the City Motion in November 2019 was meant to work through particular barriers we had already identified in our report and dialogue with the Councillor’s Office. We knew there would need to be changes to zoning.
A year later, November 2020, and we received a report telling us we would need to get changes to zoning – yet still no identification of the exact zoning changes needed – from what zone to what zone?
TCHC Technical Team proposed a plan to site Phase 0.5 and Phase 1 around which there was general agreement that these were feasible. They proposed a plan, and we agreed to it though it involved moving the container in keeping with the revitalization plan. In the report, this site plan is named as evidence that we are not reasonable in our plans.
We have a network of partners, volunteers, a solid charity trustee, organizational structure, experience, proven technical delivery partners and networks of food sources. Why are we seen as lacking capacity? We don’t have space – that is the main barrier to our capacity, and securing funding for our climate resilient food hub pilot model that is why we have come to the city looking for support and collaboration.
The city had an opportunity to take a great proposal and turn it into a fantastic pilot project to meet many climate, food security, and poverty reduction objectives – by helping us fill in the gaps in knowledge around municipal processes and to facilitate the use of under and unused space in the neighbourhood as well as leveraging the networks and experience the city brings.
There’s two declared emergencies that actively impact St. James Town food security – Climate Change emergency – declared by the city council in the SAME council meeting as the OASIS City Motion was passed - and the COVID-19 emergency. And St. James Town has faced many smaller emergencies over the years that have further highlighted the need for onsite emergency response including food security interventions led by the residents – 240 Wellesley shut down for 4 days-flooding, winter 2019, 650 Parliament Fire (August 2018), 200 Wellesley Fire in 2010(?).
15% + of St James Town residents are of African Descent, (higher proportion tham most neighbourhoods) some of the co-op’s leadership are AD as well and several partner food businesses and farms are black led. At the same committee meeting November 12th a motion to prioritize Black food sovereignty was passed. So far this goal is being undermined for St James Town.
(more info in feasibility study available upon request)