THUNDER BAY, ONT. — RBC has made a two-year, $100,000 commitment to the Roots Community Food Centre — previously called Roots to Harvest — in their support of positive youth employment.
Roots Community Food Centre has been a previous recipient of this funding that is available through RBC’s Future Launch program in what Erin Beagle, the food centre’s executive director, calls a “significant long-term partnership” with RBC.
Including this commitment, Roots Community Food Centre has received $250,000 since 2019, providing critical support for their Seasonal Horticultural Outdoor Worker (SHOW) employment program.
The 20-week program provides urban, farm-focused supportive employment for persons aged 18-30. The 2022 session is underway and currently employs 10 people who form the crew that cares for plants on the urban farm, and harvests and markets the produce each Wednesday beginning in mid-July.
The group also spends time at area farms to work and learn alongside local food producers. Community partners frequently come to the work site during the season to present workshops on financial literacy, communication, health and wellness.
“That committed funding lets us grow this program and actually add some depth to allow us to go beyond . . . and bring (minimum wage) up to a living wage,” Beagle said.
“In Thunder Bay, a living wage is $16.30 an hour and I would say that’s even probably still on the low end for what it actually takes to live here with the cost of transportation, heating and food.”
Beagle says many of the problems that are seen in society are income inequity problems and people need more access to income.
“We want the jobs that we provide through our training programs to showcase that,” she said. “The SHOW program is for folks who have barriers to employment, who have had a hard time finding employment or keeping employment or just feeling comfortable with employers in general.”
She added that there are a lot of things that contribute to that, whether it’s not being able to finish their education, not being able to find adequate housing while they find jobs or just having a lot of tumultuous things happen in their life that they need to try to balance.
“We call this our work supportive employment in the sense that there’s a lot of chances to succeed. There’s a lot of support to be able to explore all the different factors that are in the way, whether that’s child care, housing or health care, that we can outsource to and bring in different resources,” she said. “It’s really not about growing farmers and gardeners, it’s about the essential skills that they get while they do that work.”
Skills in communication and problem solving, a sense of self, being a part of a community, working as an intern and interacting with the public are all part of the learned aspects of employment that builds confidence and experience so that they can go forward into other employment, education or training from there, Beagle explained.
In early 2020, the Roots to Harvest organization signed on with Community Food Centres Canada as a partner in development and have been working towards becoming a Community Food Centre for the last two years. They have achieved their goal by successfully becoming one of 15 across the country and changed their name to Roots Community Food Centre.
Beagle says they align well with the principles of Community Food Centres Canada, which includes the value of good food and community and using food as a tool to give access and advocacy around a lot of the issues that people face every day.
“We’re part of a network that is doing this nationally, but we maintain our autonomy for how this looks in Thunder Bay,” she said.
“All of our programs are (still here). We’re just adding more work around food access, food advocacy and around the root causes of food insecurity and income inequities.”
The SHOW program has been running annually since 2016 and the Urban Youth Farm program for 15- to 18-year-olds has been happening annually since 2008.
Many participants have gone back into education or training or have been successful in acquiring employment with Roots Community Food Centre and several other local businesses including Rose N Crantz Roasting Co., Nomad Bakeshop and Sandwich Bar, Big Lake Pasta and the Dew Drop Inn.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal