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Pam Farrell started Grow Community Food Literacy Centre, a charity that provides nutritional food to low-income families and information on food literacy.CARLOS MARQUEZ/Handout

The organizer: Pam Farrell

The pitch: Founding Grow

The reason: To help address food literacy.

Pam Farrell was in the midst of a postgraduate degree in education a couple of years ago when she began exploring the concept of food literacy.

“It kind of intrigued me,” Ms. Farrell, 45, recalled from Calgary. “Because I’ve heard of it before, but I never really knew what it meant.”

She started researching ways to improve the understanding of how sociocultural factors affect and influence food literacy. And soon her topic became much more than an academic pursuit.

In 2019, Ms. Farrell launched Grow Community Food Literacy Centre in her hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont., where she has been an elementary-school teacher. “I witnessed some of the inequities in the food system,” she said. “What students brought to school in one area of the city versus another area of the city.”

The centre is based in a small building in one of the city’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Grow’s team of volunteers run a market every Saturday that offers fresh fruits and vegetables as well as meat, meat alternatives, dairy products and baked goods all at low prices. “You can buy a carrot for five cents, a potato for five cents. We have fresh baked bread for one dollar,” said Ms. Farrell.

Unlike at a food bank where people have to prove that they are in need at each visit, participants in Grow’s market only have to meet a means test once a year to get a free annual membership. The charity has 600 members and 20,000 people have accessed its services since it started.

Grow also has a community garden and a kitchen for making preserves and holding cooking classes. The charity has also partnered with some seniors’ homes to provide cooking programs and it’s involved in public awareness campaigns about food security. Ms. Farrell said the entire operation costs about $100,000 a year to run and all of the money comes from grants and donations.

Ms. Farrell is finishing her doctorate in education at the University of Calgary and she plans to expand Grow and continue her work on food literacy. “It’s nice to see how people really bought into our mission and vision,” she said. “What’s more important, though, is hearing from people how it has made a difference in their lives.”

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