The St Vital Community Food Assessment Talking about food in St Vital Mon, 11 Jun 2012 13:30:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Fruit Share! Mon, 11 Jun 2012 12:51:02 +0000 admin Fruit Share is up and running for another season – and looking for fruit and pickers in St Vital.  Find out more here:

Calling all fruit trees and shrubs!

If you’ve got extra fruit – rhubarb, apples, crab apples, grapes, berries, currants or plums growing in your yard, Fruit Share is on the prowl. Our team of fruit loving volunteers will come when you prefer, pick it, compost any waste and then share the delicious fruit with you and your community.

Now’s the time to get involved with Fruit Share. As spring speeds along, we’re ramping up for an even bigger year than last, so contact us soon to get your extra fruit on the list!

Got Fruit?
Fruit owners make their fruit available for picking by registering at  When the fruit is ready for harvest, Fruit Share coordinates a group of volunteer fruit pickers. On the day of the pick, volunteers meet and harvest the fruit together. They split the fruit between volunteers, the fruit owner and then select a community organization to deliver 1/3 of the fruit. Everyone walks away happy and fruit-filled!

Where does Fruit Share pick?
Fruit Share operates throughout Winnipeg and now in Steinbach. In Winnipeg we work in any neighbourhood that has volunteers interested in helping to pick.  Register your tree and we’ll do our best to have your fruit shared.

Get involved.
We welcome everyone to participate in any way they can.  Whether submitting a recipe, sharing fruit, picking fruit or helping with office work, we appreciate whatever you have to offer. Simply register as a volunteer at We promise it will be a fruitful experience!

Register with Fruit Share.
Register your fruit at  We’ll get all the necessary information and then coordinate a time suitable for harvesting your fruit.  You can register any time – you don’t have to wait until your fruit is ripe.

Please email us at or dial 272-8520 in Winnipeg or 204-326-3919 in Steinbach if you have any questions. We look forward to sharing and enjoying local fruit with you!

How did Fruit Share get Started?
Fruit Share started out of a love of fruit and dismay at seeing fresh, local fruit rotting on trees or waiting to be tossed out with the garbage.  The inspiration to create Fruit Share came to Getty Stewart after she read an article about volunteer fruit rescuing operations in cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, and Victoria.   In the spring of 2010, Getty started Fruit Share in her South Osborne neighbourhood.  That first summer, 10 volunteers harvested over 1,600 pounds of fruit at 20 picks and calls started to come in from all over Winnipeg.  By their second year, 2011, Fruit Share grew to a stunning 201 volunteers harvesting over 7,300 pounds of fruit from 153 registered fruit owners.

]]> 0
Something New is Growing in St Vital Tue, 10 Apr 2012 17:32:41 +0000 admin

Photo Credit: Bruce Berry

Something new will be growing in St Vital backyards this summer…a farm!  Erica Young, an aspiring farmer and St Vital native, is looking to farm in backyards throughout the community this summer.

This will be Erica’s first summer with her own farm, after spending a previous summer working at Almost Urban Vegetables in St Norbert.  The backyard approach is an innovative way for her to be able to access land.  Starting to farm can be very expensive, but this provides her with a low capital approach to try her hand as a farmer.

So far Erica has two backyards lined up and is hoping to have one or two more by the time the growing season starts next month.

While backyard farming is new to Erica, it is a concept that has been tried successfully in other places.  Backyard farms exist in many urban centres across Canada and the United States, providing benefits to both homeowners and farmers.  Homeowners are provided with someone to care for their garden and arrangements are often made for some produce as well.  This is especially attractive to people no longer able to care for their yards.  For the farmer, it provides inexpensive access to land, and potentially, different soils and even microclimates that can help produce a diversity of produce.

Agriculture is also not new to St Vital.  For much of the past two centuries, St Vital has been an agricultural hub for both dairies and market gardens and over 10,000 acres of land is still used for agriculture south of the Perimeter Highway.  There are also many gardens across St Vital – over 6.5 acres of community garden space alone.  But this brings small scale vegetable production into the heart of the city, mixing food production with residential neighbourhoods.

Erica Young will sell her produce at farmers’ markets this summer – probably in Osborne Village – and is also looking for potential sites to sell in St Vital itself.

In the long term, Erica intends to become a full-time farmer, perhaps finding land somewhere just outside the city, but close enough to easily market to urban consumers.

To find out more about what Erica has planned for her farm this summer and receive updates on where her produce is available, you can contact her at or call 788-4541.

]]> 2
Community Gardens in St Vital Thu, 10 Nov 2011 14:50:55 +0000 admin How much of St Vital is dedicated to community garden space?  According to the City of Winnipeg, there are 26,309 square metres of community garden land.  This figure includes four community gardens and three allotment gardens – but does not include several gardens that fall outside this category (some of the one’s I have featured on this site for example – such as the St Vital Knights Villa garden and the Peaceful Village Garden).  The St Amant garden, operated by the South Winnipeg Garden Club is the biggest at over 13,000 square metres.  Conversely, the allotment garden at Ashbury Estates is the smallest, at 148 sq metres.

While the City doesn’t keep track of waiting lists for four of the community gardens, it does for the allotment gardens – where the number of people on waiting lists outnumbers the number of people who actually have plots.  At Avalon Gardens, for example, 34 people are on the waiting list while 24 have plots.

The largest garden, as I mentioned is operated by the South Winnipeg Garden plots.  They have 110 plots and 80 gardeners – although some of these gardeners have multiple plots.  There was once a time when community gardening was less popular so some gardeners were given more plots.  Now there is a waiting list of 20 gardeners, and gardeners are limited to one plot – although those with multiple plots have been allowed to keep the ones that they have.  Fascinatingly, this garden has existed since 1922 which must make it one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in the city.

]]> 0
A Food Assessment Update Fri, 04 Nov 2011 18:29:54 +0000 admin So what’s new with the St Vital Community Food Assessment?  As we head into another month, I wanted to share a little bit about what I have been hearing in conversations with people across St Vital.

Let me start with the cool visual to the right.  This word cloud is a visual depiction of the conversations that I’ve had.  If a word is mentioned more often, it appears larger in the cloud.  Not surprisingly, food has been prominent.  Then we have words like kids, garden, people, school, and community – all of which have been important in the food assessment so far.

I have had the opportunity to talk with approximately 20 groups over the last couple of months.  Some of these meetings have been with individuals – others with small groups.  These groups represent a wide range of organizations – people who work with low income communities, newcomers, seniors or youth, healthcare workers, government officials, ordinary citizens and others.  There are more interviews to come yet – I’m mostly focusing on getting individuals and families involved now as well as hearing from some of the local business community.

The thoughts I will share here are interim and based on the conversations I’ve had so far.  Some are specific, and some need to be worked out a little more.  But if you have any thoughts with what I’m saying, please let me know.

1.  Many people in St Vital and throughout Winnipeg are not aware that poverty and hunger exists in St Vital.  Some of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods are only blocks from one of Winnipeg’s most lucrative shopping malls.  There are neighbourhoods in St Vital that face the same challenges as low-income neighbourhoods in other parts of the city.  But while there is significant awareness about poverty in the inner city, funders and the public at large have only recently awakened to poverty in the suburbs.  Several people I have spoken with say that it is important for people to be aware of the realities of poverty in St Vital.

2.  People are looking for opportunities to grow food.  I have heard a lot of interest in the idea of community gardening or other ways of growing food in the city.  It’s not for everyone – and there are definitely people who are more interested than others – but several organizations identified gardening as something they were interested in.  There are barriers to this, however.  Land can be a challenge to find.  There is a need to connect with groups that have experience with community gardening with those that have less experience.  Some of these groups might be in St Vital – but there is also a lot of community gardening experience in other parts of the city.

3.  The need for more cooking skills has been identified in many of my conversations.  People who cannot cook come from all kinds of families, both high and low income.  But cooking skills have frequently been identified in relation to people who are new to Canada and unaware of the foods that are available here, or for people with low-incomes trying to make ends meet.  But everyone has agreed that it is important to support the development of food skills.

4.  In a conversation at the Marlene Street Resource Centre, I was told that on cheque day there is a “parade of cabs” as people return from their grocery shopping trips.  Why should those with lower incomes, however, use their food money for transportation?  One idea that has come up is the idea of a shuttle service to grocery stores that would run on cheque days and allow people to stretch their income a little further.

Those are some initial thoughts.  Other ideas have come up as well, but I want to keep things relatively brief for now.  I should say in conclusion that there is a lot happening around food in St Vital.  I believe my community inventory is up over 60 programs and my business inventory is pushing the 170s.  That is a lot of food activity for one fraction of the city.

Keep it up St Vital – and keep your thoughts and suggestions coming in.




]]> 0
Food and Seniors Tue, 25 Oct 2011 16:25:40 +0000 admin Compared to other parts of the city, St Vital is a relatively young neighbourhood.  That being said, there are an increasing number of seniors living in St Vital – over 8,000 at last count – and some neighbourhoods in St Vital North are home to a high proportion of seniors.

A nutritious diet is particularly important for seniors.  Eating healthy foods helps seniors maintain and improve their health and reduces the risk of many diseases.   Food programs have also been shown to have multiple benefits for seniors, including reduced social isolation and improved mental and physical health.  Nevertheless, seniors do face some particular challenges in regards to food and food access.

One challenge that seniors face in regards to food access is transportation.  Mobility is an issue, particularly for people dealing with physical challenges or for people who are no longer able to drive.  Even after they have arrived at their destination, walking through large supermarkets can be difficult.  For some, it is also difficult to then carry heavy bags of groceries from the store to their residence.  To assist their residences, some seniors residences offer shuttle services to nearby grocery stores and some grocery stores deliver groceries.

A second challenge faced by some seniors is limited income. In Manitoba, 15% of food bank users are 65 years of age or older, the highest of any province in Canada.  While there is no evidence for St Vital in particular, some of the neighbourhoods with the highest rates of seniors also have high rates of low income.  For example, in Alpine Place approximately 25% of people over the age of 65 are under the after tax low income cutoff.  As with any population group, low incomes affect the ability to access food – whether through grocery stores or fee-based meal programs.

Many seniors have a wealth of food knowledge and skills.  A third challenge, however, is that many do not.  Widowers, in particular, face difficulties as their wife was often the primary (or only) cook in the family.  When their spouse passes away, widowers are left to feed themselves without any cooking skills.  Many rely on family members or purchase most of their food at restaurants.  As a result, their quality of diet often deteriorates.

Seniors, however, have a lot to contribute to the food community.  They have the knowledge and experience of cooking for their whole lives.  Their generation often is better able to use fresh, non-processed ingredients than the generations that followed.  This knowledge also often extends to gardening, one of the most common recreational activities for seniors.  Many came from a farm – or at least had more connections to farms or gardening – when they were younger and know how to grow things.

An exciting opportunity in St Vital is the development of intergenerational food programs.  Some have already begun.  St Vital Knights Villa, for example, hosts a garden space that is shared with children from the neighbouring daycare.  When I went to visit, some residents from the residence had brought down popsicles for the kids, and they often come to water or weed together.  The Nutrition on the Go program is another example of intergenerational sharing.  In this program, local seniors volunteer to prepare healthy lunches for school kids.  This year some kids will be invited into the kitchen with the seniors to learn while they cook.  Some of the seniors themselves were learning how to cook – simultaneously improving their own cooking skills, contributing to their community, and providing healthy meals for low income children.

Another opportunity that was identified was to make gardening opportunities more accessible for seniors.  While some seniors garden in their own yards – and others have no interest in gardening – many who are now living in apartments or seniors residences may not have an opportunity to garden.  For some, this is a significant loss.  I know of some seniors for whom giving up the garden they have worked hard on for many years was one of the most difficult parts of leaving their house for an assisted living facility.  Providing space – particularly through raised beds that are easy for seniors to access – would not only provide healthy food but also a valued recreation space.  A space that would contribute not only to recreation but to healthy lifestyles and develop community.

Every demographic group has its own challenges and opportunities.  Seniors are no exception, providing our communities with invaluable knowledge and skills.

]]> 0
St Vital’s Food Balance Mon, 03 Oct 2011 16:27:06 +0000 admin Awhile ago, I wrote a post about the distance that the average person in St Vital lives from a grocery store.  Since then I came across a metric called ‘food balance.’  This ratio, developed by the Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group in the United States, compares the distance to a grocery store to the distance to ‘fringe food’ such as fast food restaurants and convenience stores.  Grocery stores are not always good, but they make it possible to purchase the food necessary for a healthy diet.  Conversely, fringe food locations are not inherently bad, but if it were the primary food source, health would likely suffer.

The idea behind the measure is that people are more likely to purchase from a business if they live closer to it.  If fast food is just down the block, you are more likely to purchase it than if it is a few miles away.

When a community is in balance, a grocery store will be equally far away as a fringe food establishment.  Theoretically, this makes it as easy to access as a fringe food restaurant.  When this happens the ratio is 1.0.  A number smaller than one is the best outcome.  It means that grocery stores are closer than fringe food.  Conversely, a larger number indicates that grocery stores are harder to access than fringe food.  The Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group then linked this to health data to indicate that there are likely negative health repercussions for communities with high food balance scores.

So how does St Vital fare?

The news is both good and bad.  Some neighbourhoods fare quite well.  Dakota Crossing does the best, with a food balance of 0.7.  This means that fast food restaurants are further away than grocery stores.  Interestingly, the distance to a grocery store is further in Dakota Crossing than many other neighbourhoods, but it is even further to a fast food outlet.

A few other neighbourhoods scored quite well.  Vista and Victoria Crescent were both narrowly below 1.0 while River Park South, St Vital Perimeter South, and Minnetonka were all under 1.1.  All of these neighbourhoods are essentially in ‘food balance.’

On the other end of the scale, Varennes fares worst with a food balance of 2.75.  It is not that far from grocery stores (0.99 km) but is even closer to fast food (0.36 km).  Norberry, Lavalee, St George, and Elm Park all have food balance scores above 2.0.

Interestingly, four of the five neighbourhoods with the best food balance are south of Bishop Grandin while all five of the worst – and nine of the worst ten – are in St Vital North.  Overall, St Vital North has a rather poor food balance score of 1.56, compared with St Vital South’s excellent score of 0.97.  In other words, St Vital South is in food balance while the North is not.   On the other hand, groceries are actually closer in the north (1.10 km) than in the south (1.41 km).  The difference is that in the north, fast food is 0.71 km away as opposed to 1.45 km in the north.

The research of Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group indicates the potential for negative public health consequences from a high food balance.  As we plan our neighbourhoods and communities, it should be an issue of concern that one region of St Vital has a very poor food balance.

]]> 0
Poverty in St Vital Mon, 03 Oct 2011 15:08:54 +0000 admin St Vital is known for being one of Winnipeg’s wealthier suburbs.  This is not without reason,  a couple of neighbourhoods in St Vital have median household incomes in the six figures (going as high as $124,000 in Victoria Crescent).  But what is often missed is that there are many people with low incomes as well in St Vital.  Indeed, there are neighbourhoods with comparable income levels to inner city neighbourhoods.

It was pointed out to me that only a stone’s throw away from one of Manitoba’s most lucrative malls are some of the poorer neighbourhoods in the city.  Here are an array of challenges including security, drugs, and gangs as well as social isolation, lack of employment, disabilities, and mental health issues.

There are significant food challenges for people with low incomes in St Vital.  In one focus group I did at a Manitoba Housing community we talked about how the cheapest grocery stores are not located near many of the housing complexes.  Consequently, many people end up taking cabs back from the grocery store.  On cheque day, I was told, there is a “parade of cabs” coming down the street.  At around $10 each, this uses up much needed money.

Other challenges have also been talked about.  Some nutrition workers indicated that there is a lack of awareness that food security is a challenge for St Vital.  Awareness was a significant concern for them as they try to build on their nutrition-related programs.

Food skills is another challenge that I have heard mentioned several times.  Several interviews have discussed the lack of food skills in their community.  People know what to do with Kraft Dinner or hot dogs or pudding in a cup – but are often not familiar on how to prepare healthier options.  For many, I was told, this was a multigenerational problem.  Their parents hadn’t prepared healthy foods, and so now they are also unaware or unable to.

Finally, fast food has been indicated as a challenge.  There are lots of fast food options in the community.  The neighbourhood of Lavelee, which has the second lowest income in St Vital, has the worst food access ratio (comparing the distance to fast food and the distance to grocery stores).  Interestingly, I was told that it was one way that parents reward their kids and feel good about their parenting – “if you’re really good, I’ll buy you a slurpee.”  But this is also a problem as it is an easy option for people who are not aware or unable to prepare healthier options.

There are many people in St Vital who are, and will always be, food secure.  But it is important to not forget that there are a significant number of people in St Vital for whom accessing food is an ongoing challenge.

]]> 0
St Vital’s Public Orchard Fri, 30 Sep 2011 14:35:18 +0000 admin

Planting the orchard (originally from FMM Winter 2009 newsletter)

Winnipeg’s first public orchard, along the Bishop Grandin Greenway in St Vital came about as a result of a unique and innovative partnership between the City of Winnipeg, Manitoba Hydro, the Friends of Bishop Grandin Greenway Initiative (BGGI), and the Province of Manitoba.  The orchard is beneath a Manitoba Hydro right of way and the money for fruit trees came from their Forest Enhancement Fund.

Students at nearby Victor Mager School initially had the idea to plant apple trees along the greenway, and the idea was enhanced when BGGI members started to explore the history of the area and found that a family that had built a home there in 1931 planted apple, plum and cherry trees which still grow there.  The day of the planting more than fifty volunteers, including students from Victor Mager School and community members young and old, helped plant Norland apples, Nanking cherries, cranberries, and buffalo berries.

City of Winnipeg Naturalist Services Branch staff worked with volunteers in separate areas to re-establish native fruit trees.  In 2008, the City planted pincherry and nannyberry and in 2009 planted basswood, green ash, highbush cranberry, buffalo berry, and other native species.  City staff noted that native species are most appropriate since they are better adapted to the soil and weather conditions and provide food and shelter for native wildlife species too.

The orchard in 2011

The BGGI Public Orchard is a significant step towards increased food security and healthy, vital communities.  It incorporates an ecologically sound plan that educates about native plant species, preserves wildlife habitat and our natural heritage, and empowers community members.  The collaboration between regular citizens, private and public sectors, and the municipal government is something to celebrate alone.  As more people learn about the fruits that we can grow here in Winnipeg, the more food secure we will become as a city.  Indeed everyone is looking forward to harvesting fruit at annual community harvests in coming years.

]]> 0
Schools, Healthy Choices and the Built Environment Wed, 28 Sep 2011 19:05:31 +0000 admin Over the last several years schools have been paying increasing attention to the types of food that they offer.  Schools are now required to have a healthy food policy, are no longer allowed to serve trans fats in school, and many schools are also offering healthy options, starting gardens in their schoolyards, or offering snacks or breakfast programs.

Recently I was talking to a group of educators who had an impressive list of things their school was doing.  In recent years they have started a breakfast program, a healthy fruit and vegetable snack program, soup lunch days, composting, and hope to get a garden space dug as well.   They have definitely noted the difference, they said, in kids behaviour and their ability to learn.  I have heard similar things from other educators.  If kids are fed well, they pay attention and learn better.

Just down the street from the school, however, were a couple of convenience stores.  The school can offer all the healthy options it wants, but the temptation of a slurpee or fifty cent hot dog is only a hundred metres away.  So, while it is possible for the school to model and teach healthy choices, unhealthy options are still a popular option – and are easily accessible for the school’s students.

Convenience stores and fast food restaurants close to schools go well beyond school education policy – but also can affect the health outcomes of students in the school.  The built geography has ramifications for the health outcomes of the students.  The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in the United States has indicated a correlation between the proximity of fast food restaurants to schools and the obesity rates in those schools.  The closer the restaurant, the higher the obesity rate.  They found that the obesity rate rose 5% if there were fast food restaurants within a quarter mile (400 metres) of the school.  The gain was greater if the restaurant was within a tenth of a mile (160 metres).

So how does Winnipeg fare?  Based on 2010 enrollment numbers, 28% of Winnipeg high school students go to a school within 160 metres of a fast food restaurant or convenience store.  If you extend the radius a little bit, 56% of Winnipeg students go to a high school within 400 metres of a fast food restaurant or convenience store.  Several schools have many fast food options within the 400 metre radius.  I should add that I just looked at high schools, assuming that these students were more likely to leave school grounds during lunches or other breaks than younger students.  I also looked at an 800 metre radius – 82% of students are within 800 metres of fast food – but according to the NBER study, restaurants further than 400 metres had no effect on weight.

What we don’t know from this data is if there is a similar effect in Winnipeg to the one described in the National Bureau of Economic Research’s study.  Not to mention, it is difficult to know how to address these challenges.  Some American municipalities have based zoning legislation limiting the kinds of businesses that can open near schools, but this has been, not surprisingly, very controversial.  Schools are often placed near neighbourhood hub points which happens to also be prime commercial land.  Perhaps the best we can do is hope that knowledge about healthy foods learned in schools sticks even when the students step off the school yard.

Perhaps what is clear from this data is that even if schools become oases of healthy food choices, there will be unhealthy choices right around the corner.  The built environment does impact our health and diet.  This is something that we need to be aware of as we think about how we want to promote healthy foods in today’s high schools.

]]> 0
St Vital’s Grocery Bill: $200 Million Mon, 19 Sep 2011 17:24:43 +0000 admin Food is a major part of the St Vital economy – and the economy of other cities and provinces for that matter.  In previous research that I have done, food and agriculture is directly related to 1 in 7 jobs in Winnipeg.  Likely the figures are similar for food as well.

I had known that food was a major source of job, but it was not till last week that I got a good look at how much people spend on food in St Vital.  To do so, I looked at Stats Can data from 2001 and 2009.  The 2001 data is a little more dated, but also more detailed breakdown of food expenditures.  The 2009 data is more recent, and provides a Winnipeg specific household food expenditure average.  Since the data is a decade old, consider the numbers throughout this report as approximate.   Also, this data includes only household expenditures and not commercial or institutional food purchases.

So how much do people spend on food each year in St Vital?  Well, depending on how you crunch the numbers, the food bill in St Vital is somewhere between $166 million and $210 million annually.  That is a lot of money – and how it is spent can make a big difference in our food economy.

How is this money spent?  Nearly a third of food expenditure is at restaurants – about $67 million.  Most of this is spent at table service restaurants, while nearly $17 million is spent at fast food restaurants.  The largest share of food expenses is spent at supermarkets – approximately $113 million.  People purchase $13 million at food specialty stores (bakers, butchers, farmers’ markets, etc), $2.5 million at convenience stores, and $8.5 million at other stores.

Meat is the largest category of food purchases – $28.5 million per year, followed by dairy and baked goods (both approximately $20 million), fruits ($16 million), and vegetables ($14 million).

What do these number mean?  Beyond the specific numbers, I think that this does show that food is a significant contributor to our local economies.  It is little wonder that so many jobs are related to food when such a large percentage of household expenditures is spent on food.

This also shows the potential for local food economies.  If one neighbourhood of Winnipeg alone spends $200 million on food, it would only take a small shift to purchasing local products to make a big difference.  Shifting 10% of St Vital’s food expenditures, for example, to local products would infuse $20 million into the local food economy.  Definitely something to think of as people look to grow markets for Manitoba products.

]]> 0