For years I have lamented that as a society we tend to offer people hand outs rather than hand ups. I am also intimately aware of the challenges children of addicts face. I have helped raise three such children.
In Vancouver's infamous Downtown Eastside there are now about 1000 charities and non-profits. It is a growing industry and one that is not sustainable. Rather than finding more ways to "feed the poor" we need to find more ways to help the poor feed themselves. And in doing that we should ultimately reduce the actual number of "poor" people.
When you create dependancy you also take away self worth. Giving someone a bowl of soup may drive the hunger away for a few hours but if you offer them the opportunity to actually work, they gain self worth as well as the opportunity to make their own choices about what they eat, where they live etc. There are numerous food programs in the inner city, especially for kids. But the majority do not engage kids in preparing or distributing the food. Adult volunteers do it all. Don't get me wrong, I think there is a need for programs to nourish kids, however I also see a danger in kids learning life skills based on getting hand outs. I believe this can create a cycle of dependancy that is hard to break. Kids in this kind of environment learn from an early age that it is not the responsibility of parents to feed and clothe their children. As well this furthers the void between the haves and have nots - in a way the people on the receiving end feel that they are being demeaned. Not many people take pride in standing in a line up to get a free meal.
When we give people money, often we do not think about how it is being used or whether it actually helps. In our mind, we have done a good and generous thing and are now off the hook. I once lent a friend who was a drug addict $80. I then spent an entire night worrying. What if she used it for drugs? (I was pretty sure she would.) What if she overdosed? What if she got a bad batch and died?
These personal concerns lead me to found the Urban Seed Project. I was looking for a way for kids to develop a sense of independence, self-confidence and pride in their abilities. This would go a long way in their future abilities to succeed as adults as well as parents.
A few years ago I was introduced to Warren Te Brugg who founded the Charity May Arms Wide Open. He asked if I would be a part of his project to build a food wall at RayCam Community Centre. It was to be the sister wall to a project he had completed in South Africa. Of course what works in one place does not always work in another so we have had to make adjustments along the way. The freestanding wall, which has a footprint of approximately 40 square feet, was launched in early June of 2013 and it is already feeding greens to 150 inner city kids each day.
But that is just the beginning, last year the Urban Seed Project partnered with the Strathcona Youth Council to build a Teaching Garden at Lord Strathcona Elementary School. We ran into a few hurdles, like VSB guidelines that precluded building anything vertical. So we redefined it as a visiting, mobile teaching garden. We built a series of vertical growing solutions. Some traditional and others experimental. Not only were they available for the kids to grow on and learn from we moved the garden and put it on display at the larges agricultural fair in Western Canada, the Pacific National Exhibition with close to a million visitors over a three week period. By doing this I am hoping that we inspired more people to grow a little of their own food, because that is the key to true sustainability.
It is said that a good farmer leaves the soil better than the way he found it. I want to leave the world a little better than when I came into it.