Our current food system needs a revamp, according to the Kitchener locals behind non-profit Littlefoot Community Projects.
“The grocery store system is just extraordinarily wasteful,” said Dan Radoslav, co-founder of Littlefoot Community Projects. “It doesn't pride itself in quality food, it prides itself in quantity of food. They always want their shelves stocked. But they don't care what it tastes like or how nutritious it is. That's the biggest thing: the food waste is just astonishing and saddening.”
Radoslav and fellow co-founder Vanessa Ong believe that poverty, housing, unemployment, and food security are all intertwined, and that access to nutritious and affordable food, as well as cultural food, should be non-negotiable.
To address these issues, they created Littlefoot Community Projects, a non-profit organization dedicated to tackling food insecurity through a food justice lens in Waterloo Region.
Currently, they grow produce in their near quarter acre garden, which they either donate or sell at their pay-what-you-choose market.
In the winter they focus on their Common Goods project, collecting things like clothing and household items to donate to those in need.
“We wanted to get essential items out to the community,” Ong said. “I just found that there was so much out there that could be redirected to communities in need.”
The organization started with just the garden.
Radoslav used to work as a community garden coordinator, and when he made the switch to corporate work, he felt that part was missing from his life.
Around that time, he met Vanessa, and the two of them started gardening together and donating the produce to the food bank. But that has since grown into the multi-faceted organization that Littlefoot is today.
“Our goal is to address food security in Kitchener-Waterloo in a way that's really socially and environmentally conscious. Our kind of main activity in the season is a pay what you choose market,” Ong said.
Their market was born out of suggestions and advice from people Ong interviewed while doing research for her Masters degree, speaking with a number of low-income and longtime residents in the area to get an idea of how they wanted to see change, the things that would help them most.
She said research highlighted how complex food security really is.
“Getting food out there is just one small piece of food security as a problem. That’s why we try to partner with diverse groups,” she said. “So I think it just really solidified for us the importance of always kind of looking at food security in a really intersectional complex layered way.”
“That can even just be seen in things like placement of grocery stores [and] availability of food for people; you get low income people that just have a harder time getting to stores. And then they're probably working longer hours already. They don't have a car. And, then you wonder why they have issues,” Radoslav said.
“The food justice lens helps to bring a number of social and environmental issues into the subject of food security,” Ong said.
They are “constantly trying to cater to the foods that are sought out by our community,” said Ong. “And especially as we move forward, I would love to continue to grow crops that are not readily available in grocery stores,” or not as accessible in stores because of high costs attached to them.”
While Ong says food insecurity in the region is not necessarily as prominent as in some other major cities, there is a distinct and growing population of those experiencing food insecurity. She said the cause of growing food insecurity in the region is likely tied to the growing wealth gap.
“You have people who are marginalized in various ways, and there are growing struggles with affordable housing and employment. And I think we only see that gap growing,” she said. “My specific research was focused on gentrification of the downtown, which would be described as the inflow of a more affluent, often white population to the downtown core, [which] has had a really grand impact on people who were middle to low income already to begin with.
“I am really attentive to the range of ethical problems with our food system and especially that it’s highly corporate and capitalist in nature. So we often explore different modes of exchange in our work and just really want to focus on a sort of relationship based way of getting food to the community. It's done in a way that's highly compassionate and it was designed really intentionally in order to meet the needs of the community really respectfully and in a dignified sort of way,” she said.
You can connect with Littlefoot Community Projects on Instagram.