OASIS Food Hub

Render design of OASIS Food Hub. St. James Town Community Co-op.

What is the OASIS Food Hub?

OASIS stands for ‘Organic Agro-ecological Sustainable Integrated System.’ The OASIS Food Hub is an ecological food system model for urban high-rise neighbourhoods that holistically integrates the full food cycle from production to procurement, processing, distribution, waste management, and land regeneration. Experts, Co-op members, and residents developed the OASIS Food Hub model to deliver the human right to food in St. James Town and other low-income neighbourhoods facing systemic food insecurity, while also creating a sustainable, climate-resilient and socio-economically just urban food system.

The OASIS Food Hub is currently in Phase 0.5 of a 5 Phase plan. Learn more about the 2019 Feasibility Study and the present projects including the Good Food Buying Club, Community Garden, Black & Indigenous Food Rights Project, and the Food Corps Project

Why OASIS?

While St. James Town residents have physical access to grocery store, the neighbourhood is food insecure in that it lacks economic access to sufficient, safe, nutritious, and culturally relevant food. In a survey of 180 residents in 2021, 69.1% reported they always or sometimes rely on a food bank. The pandemic has worsened the situation, with 77.6% saying they have less access to healthy, nutritious food since its onset. Lack of green and growing spaces also contribute to food insecurity.

As a global neighbourhood of at least 20,000 people, St. James Town is also impacted by global crises. As the IPCC (2019) notes, climate change “negatively affects all four pillars of food security: availability, access, utilization, and stability” (Mbow et al, 2019) These impacts are already beginning to hit St. James Town economically, and through the increasing arrival of climate refugees. OASIS offers elegant solutions to a compound of local and global problems including the climate change emergency, food waste, inequality, and the climate refugee crisis.

Goals of OASIS

Through healthy, culturally appropriate food growing and sharing, the OASIS Food Hub and Community Co-op aim to:  

Improve Health & Food Security

Provide year-round access to affordable, nutritious, local, and fair/direct-trade food. 

 

Create Sustainable Jobs & Opportunities

Work in food production, green technology, community development, management, education, social enterprise opportunities and more! 

 

Offer Accredited & Community Programs

Cultivate climate-resilient food security skills, knowledge, and relationships through community education and accredited programs. 

 

Reduce Impact on Environment

Implement sustainable systems and technologies for food production, distribution, and waste management.

OASIS Projects

The OASIS Food Hub is constantly adapting and changing to meet the needs of the community using the resources available. The Food Hub Goals are currently accomplished through the following programs:

Good Food Buying Club

An affordable and collaborative way to buy high-quality dried goods and local farmer produce.

Community Garden

The 10-plot community garden is a meeting space and green space for members and residents to grow and learn. 

Black & Indigenous Food Rights

Join us in developing practices for cultural responsiveness in the neighbourhood.

Food Corps

In collaboration with the Eco Just Food Network, urban residents are connected with local farms to gain food system skills.

Structure and Operation

The OASIS Food Hub is Managed by the St. James Town Community Co-operative. 

Modular Phases 

The OASIS Food Hub is designed in modular phases that can be re-ordered, combined, and tangentially developed to meet emergent needs and space opportunities.  

Phase 0.5: Shipping Container, kitchen & storage

Operate Good Food Buying Club, Cooking classes, community meals, food processing, and resident/member capacity training.

Phase 1: Grow the community food hub

Expand storage and add office and community meeting space.  

Phase 2: Food production

Aquaponics & mushroom growing in unused below-grade spaces

Phase 3: Biodigestion and composting

Convert waste into renewable energy and fertilizer

Phase 4: Green Roof & Retail

Rooftop farm, rainwater, office, retail & program space

Feasibility Study

The City of Toronto funded a $50,000 feasibility study in 2018-2019, conducted by St. James Town Community Co-operative with support from Scadding Court Community Center and technical partner, WaterFarmers. To further develop the model, understand community buy-in, technical and financial feasibility, and site possibilities of the Food Hub, researchers engaged:

The Community: 193 food surveys; 3 design gatherings with 35+ residents, and experts; 1 youth-specific design gathering; 30 informational drop-ins; 2 social dinners; a candidates’ debate; weekly community tabling; 3 urban food field visits; and 7 resident working group meetings.

Stakeholders: 4 meetings with TCHC, 5 meetings with city councillors, 3 meetings with Tower Renewal and planning officers, 6 meetings with the MP’s and MPP’s offices, school principals and teachers. 5 partnerships were established.

Technical Experts: A technical study conducted by WaterFarmers, consultants who have built urban farm sites for the City of Toronto and Hamilton. Included: budgets, space requirements, site analysis, and production and waste diversion possibilities.

Key Findings

OASIS is desirable, replicable, and technically feasible.

    • 60% of respondents said they would join a food co-op to increase access to healthy food; 72% of respondents said they want food grown in St. James Town & local trusted farms
    • Resident identified important qualities of a good food hub: high quality food, managed by residents, committed to regenerating the land, full cycle/food systems approach, employment, resilience to emergencies and climate change.
    • The co-op model is sweet spot between for-profit and charitable ventures
    • Measures are proven, off-the-shelf, easily deployed, and scalable.
    • OASIS will significantly increase climate resilience & emergency preparedness
    • OASIS can be replicated in other communities
    • Based on space sizes and constraints in the neighbourhood, OASIS has the potential to:
        • Produce per year: 200,000 heads of leafy greens, 7.7 tonnes of fish biomass, 9,400 lbs of tomatoes, 1,900 lbs of lettuce, 15,900 lbs of specialty mushrooms
        • Divert per year: 485 tonnes of organic waste (10% of the neighbourhood’s waste), 290 tonnes of compost for sale, 77 tonnes of premium worm compost

Key Challenges

    • Zoning/permitting challenges for urban agriculture and composting
    • Biological and economic success is more straightforward for indoor farming: R&D partnerships and no-cost recovery start-up funding can address this
    • Collaboration across different levels of government for funding, retrofitting, and zoning
    • No confirmed space commitments by the end of the study.

Important Dates & Commitments

 2013 - 2015

St. James Town residents identify food security as a major challenge for the neighbourhood. 

Begin planning for on-site sustainable food production, naming the new vision the 'OASIS Food Hub'  

2018

City of Toronto funds Feasibility Study for the OASIS Food Hub.

2019

Feasibility Study is published

Good Food Buying Club is launched, as recommended by residents

Councillor Wong-Tam successfully puts forward City Motion (MM10.13) to bring Social Development, Finance, and Administration in consultation with OASIS, City planners, and staff in various departments to review the actions and approvals necessary to facilitate: A) The creation of an underground aquaponics farm at 325 Bleecker Street, a Toronto Community Housing Corporation Building; and B) The location for OASIS Food Hub for the production, distribution and management of food and water in St. James Town (City Council, 2019). 

2020

SJT Co-op works with City Staff to identify opportunities and obstacles.

COVID-19 hits and SJT Co-op pivots its focus to emergency food provision for neighbourhood.

City Motion working group identifies zoning and by-law obstacles and recommends collaborative framework for food security is developed in the neighbourhood. 

2021

Collaborative Framework for Food Security in St. James Town is launched. 

Framework is developed and submitted to the City in June 2021. 

St. James Town Community Co-op elected to co-facilitate Community Table for Food Security.

More OASIS 

Interested in learning more about the OASIS Food Hub Model? Check out the resources below, or contact us with questions or to view the 2019 Feasibility Study. 

 

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