i’m not sure when i first became aware of “the stop”. it may have been in a presentation on projects in toronto, report outs from friends visiting, or maybe it was from folks from “the stop” coming to visit. regardless, i have know about it for a number of year, and been wanting to visit and check it out.
there is a huge amount of similarity to the work i do at work and that of the stop. we both work in low-income communities, we both run kitchen’s, both have gardens, both are working to redevelop local food systems while preserving traditional food cultures.
the way that we execute them certainly has some difference, and i’ve long admired “the stop” for what they were doing right (as a side note – an apron from “the stop” is ma’s first choice apron to wear). a visit to visit “the stop” was prime on my list of place to visit in toronto.
the stop has two location – one the older location which has ben around for over 15 years, and a new one “the green barn” which they have been at for a little over three years.
the original davenport location is on the first floor of a government housing structure. despite its institutional location, folks have done a good job making the space feel as warm and homey as possible; murals are all over the place, and in the dinning room flags of all the countries residents of the neighborhood hail from.in the dinning room they serve a few hundred meals a day, do cooking classes, teach about neonatal health, do social justice discussions and organizing. they also have a food pantry program which allows folks to choose what sorts of foods they need based on dietary restrictions.
gardens are close by, though not directly on the grounds of the stop. food from the gardens is not used too much in the kitchen for meals, but does get used in some cooking classes. much of that food goes home with gardeners or gets sold at a farmers market they do.
all of this is great, but its the little things that really grab me. at least 50% of the folks that volunteer at “the stop” are people receiving services. they train folks coming to the stop to be paid “client advocates” to help those coming for services better connect with other organization, they bring in lawyers, even barbers to provide additional services.
some of the smallest details i think really helped me get a feel for where the values of the organization lie.a community phone is available to use, even with the rising availability of government issued cell phones – access to a phone is still a huge need where i work.board games are available to play – to me showing that folks are welcome to hang out, and that it’s a welcoming space.
the newer stop couldn’t feel much different. it’s located in a much more affluent location, and in a beautifully renovated trolley barn. call the wychwood barns, they were renovated by a local arts group, the space contained 4 old trolley bays, one rented out as work/live and studio space for artist, an area rented out to various nonprofits, a theater group for youth, and “the stop’s green barn”
when first approaching the green barn, you are led though the world gardens in which crops from all of the world of represented. the idea to show that the need to import foods from around the world is largely unnecessary – many can be grown in ontario.
the philippines, tibet, somalia, and many others are all represented. i expected greater diversity of crops, but looking at each of the garden plots, one starts seeing the same things, maybe different varieties, and growing methods, but the similarities were more than the differences.
entering into “the stop” green barn proper is a court-yard garden, complete with the ubiquitous toronto outdoor oven.outdoor ovens seem to be in every garden – if every detroit garden needs a hand painted sign to have arrived, toronto needs an oven. the oven is used for pizza bakes with the kids which attract plenty of parents too. the walled gardens remind me of traditional english gardens where the brick walls act as passive solar energy collectors. of course english garden’s walls are only about 6 feet tall, not the 20 feet that this garden featured. like other gardens i’ve seen planted in old buildings, this one seemed lacking in light.
the inside features a large gathering area with a library, offices, a kitchen and huge wooden tables that could be pulled together for giant communal meals. unlike the institutional feeling of the stop’s old location this one is open, and kind of modern feeling. but it also feels a little less personal, i like the murals and personal touches of the well used space. the new space reminds me of something that i would encounter in a scandinavian country with its clean lines and reused materials. i sort of felt like i was in an ikea catalog. saturday features a farms market, and the stop also provides meals for shoppers in an impromptu cafe.i wish that the cafe was serving while i was there, i was really hungry.
past the community gathering area is an enormous greenhouse.the greenhouse faced the same limitations as the walled garden; a serious lack of light. while the space was really neat, the sodium vapor light cast a yellow light on everything thing making everyone appear jaundiced.
i left the stop feeling a little confused, and little introspective. on the surface it would seem the stops new location would be the better location, after all, they were able to do a complete build out and make it what they needed. but i couldn’t help but feel like some of the charm and homeiness of the original location was missing. the new stop was nice, maybe a little too nice. at work we have been dealing with the fact that we are extremely cramped, and contemplating a move of at least part of us to a new space. i’m looking at the stop for lessons of how we could do better to connect to community and develop more community ownership, but also a cautionary tale, of how careful one needs to be as they move forward, of how much intent one needs to have in each of their moves.