Dear City of Ottawa: Community Kitchens Help Build Communities

Dear Councillor Taylor,

I hope you are well.

My name is Ania Bula. I am one of your constituents living at the A_____ neighbourhood near Bayshore Park. This summer, the city has been working on updating the local Community Fieldhouse to better accommodate the needs of the neighbourhood. In consultation with local community organizations, the city was notified that our community would greatly benefit from having a full working kitchen, which in particular would include a separate handwashing station.  

It has recently come to our attention that the plans were modified by the city and that instead of the discussed kitchen, they are putting in a warming-kitchen only, which does not even include  the separate handwashing station.

I am writing to you to request that you help us in securing the addition of this station at least, and if at all possible, the necessary set-up required to have the fieldhouse kitchen certified as a commercial kitchen.

While I will discuss the many reasons why having a commercial kitchen would be extremely beneficial to this specific neighbourhood, I would like to begin with the more pressing concern: the handwashing station.

Our park is the home to a community owned wood oven. Many of our events and community projects involve the preparation of food. In order to guarantee safety, a handwashing station must be present to make sure that all the volunteers involved in food preparation can conform to sanitary requirements. This is particularly essential since many of our community volunteers belong to at risk populations health wise, including the elderly, and in my own case: being on immunosuppressant medication. Just recently I finished a stay in the hospital where it was discovered that I had been infected with C. Difficile: a bacterial infection the most common source of which is eating food prepared by someone who has not washed their hands. Making sure that access to handwashing is readily available to anyone who might handle food that I could come into contact with is an accessibility issue. From my own community involvement, it has come to my attention that I am not the only person living and participating in the neighbourhood with similar health concerns.  Still many others may not feel comfortable participating in community events because of the potential risk involved.

In addition to having a high number of disabled individuals, our community is also home to several people from racial, and religious minorities. In the past, the fieldhouse has been used as a local mosque, specifically to help cater to the large population of Syrian refugees in the area. Many different cultural and religious practices involve hand washing as part of both religious services, and as part of food preparation, and having access to such a station would make participation in community events more accessible. It would be a big step in helping welcome and integrate these newcomers to Canada into their new home.

Access to a handwashing station would make it possible for the Bayshore Park Community Oven to host more community building events, including more bake days for the wood oven, expanding beyond pizza making and create not only more community kitchen events, but also feature an assortment of classes.

The hand washing station is also one of the steps necessary to have the field kitchen approved and certified as a commercial kitchen. This is just one of the steps that those of us involved in community building projects in the area are taking to help empower this community. To this end, we are also looking into qualifying for some community building grants that would give us the possibility of improving and upgrading the kitchen at the fieldhouse. We would appreciate any support you could give us to this end, such as a letter of support for our goals.

As I previously mentioned, this neighbourhood is home to a very diverse group of people, many of whom belong to marginalized and at risk communities. Included among them are many Syrian refugees making a new start in Canada, as well as other newly arrived immigrant families from across the globe. Food is an essential part of community building and sharing culture. To this end, the Bayshore Community Garden and Oven has been involved in creating a start up called the Street Foods Collective: a group of 13 women and some men, who make street food from various cultures together and sell them at the Market. The aim of the start-up is to empower women in such a way as to give them the skills and tools to run a business, while also fostering intercultural exchange. It is just one of the many ways that community building can help generate industry among communities that traditionally may experience difficulty with employment due to prejudice.  Most recently a group of our members sold an incredible assortment of Indian street food at the Main Street Market, and are looking at eventually having a stand at the Bayshore location of the mobile market.

In order to be able to legally sell their products, everything has to be produced in a commercial kitchen. Currently the SFC has to rent space at a kitchen relatively far from the neighbourhood. This makes it difficult to arrange for the SFC to go to the market more frequently than once a month, and limits how much they are able to produce. It also makes it more difficult for some women to participate in such an amazing opportunity, including single moms who might have a hard time scheduling the pre-arranged cooking times with childcare, or who for one reason or another, feel uncomfortable travelling far outside our local area. Additionally, because our neighbourhood is relatively low income and includes subsidized housing, not all of our members have ready access to fast transportation and would also have to schedule around the bus, limiting their ability to participate.  Having a commercial kitchen available within our own neighbourhood would make it possible for the SFC to expand operations and include selling food more frequently and possibly creating a line of products that could be stocked on shelves. It would allow the SFC to expand operations in such a way as to help create new groups every years, and perhaps even help youth set up their own food projects and collectives and help local people start businesses that would help them get established in the Ottawa community, while also bringing in a larger tax revenue and base.

Additionally, having a full commercial kitchen would be beneficial for people like me, who benefit from the use of a wheelchair but cannot do so in their own apartments. Most of the apartments in this area are not set up to be accessible to constant use devices, but a newly built community based commercial kitchen could be set up to have a wheelchair accessible space that would be available to those who need it. Additionally, with much of the community not having air-conditioning, a proper kitchen would give people the opportunity to make home cooked healthy meals without having to risk being exposed to dangerous levels of heat.

The use of a proper kitchen would allow the community to develop additional community projects around food. Members of the community have discussed interest in running programs helping people eat locally and more sustainably as part of an environmental initiative. Additionally, several of us are interested in starting cooking clubs, which would allow several people in the community to share food resources to make meals together to take home and freeze. This would be extremely helpful for people like me, who struggle with disability induced energy problems that can make it hard to cook healthy meals when my symptoms are acting up. Additionally, by sharing the cost of groceries, we could save money. It would allow us to from community pantries made from healthy food and taking into account the dietary restrictions of people in the neighbourhood.

A commercial kitchen, and in particular a handwashing station, at the Bayshore Park Community Field House would be a positive investment in the development of this ward and I urge you as someone who stands to benefit from it and who represents a member of various intersecting marginalized communities to please actively support the project. This new field house with it’s community building kitchen would stand as a great and lasting legacy for any councillor who supports it, whose influence would ripple throughout Ottawa for years to come.

I thank you for your consideration and hope to hear of your active support in favour of this project.

Sincerely,

Ania Bula
Author of Young, Sick, and Invisible

Please Note: A mailed copy of this letter has been sent to you as well as been CC’d to Mayor Watson, as well as the accessibility department at the City of Ottawa, and has been publicly posted on Social Media.

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Dear City of Ottawa: Community Kitchens Help Build Communities

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