Solar panels melt Saskatoon ice cream shop’s power bills

Renewable energy project donated by local business owner

These six solar panels will power more than half of the Scoop Ice Cream Shop’s energy needs, says manager Emma Banton. (Chris Randall)

A donation of solar power panels is cutting a Riversdale ice cream shack’s electricity bill in half.

Emma Ganton, the manager of Scoop Ice Cream Shop on 20th Street, said the idea came from a business owner across the street, Brian Johnston of Roots Rock Renewables. “He just saw our Scoop shop being built, and he decided that he wanted to put up solar panels for us because the roof is like the perfect slant,” she said. 

Emma Ganton says she’s not sure if she could have afforded to install solar power at the 20th Street ice cream hut if they weren’t provided free of charge. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

The ice cream stand is a project by the Street Force Youth Centre, and involves a group of young people who wanted to create a summer job Instead of struggling to find one.

Ganton said Johnston believes in what they are doing at the shop, and paid for the panels and the installation. Without the donation, she said it’s unlikely they would have been able to do it themselves. 

She would think about installing solar power if she becomes involved in a bigger business. 

“There’s an app that he’s going to give me that shows me how many trees we’re saving a day and all these exciting little facts,” said Ganton.

“I’m pumped about it. It’s really sunny this summer so I think this is a great summer to do this.”

10 of Canada’s most underrated destinations: From Wolfville to Winnipeg and B.C.’s Sunshine Coast

Author of the article: Postmedia News

Absolute Heaven is a wonderful B & B in Sechelt, B.C. with a fine beach and pretty gardens.
Jim Byers

I’ve been lucky enough to explore most corners of this vast country of ours. I’ve kicked around Quebec City, cycled around Calgary and even take a motorcycle sidecar tour of Halifax. I’ve also found more than a few places that I think deserve more attention than they get. Here’s a look at some of them.


With a tidy downtown that stretches only a couple blocks, this is a town you want to pick up and hug. There’s good local wine (try Luckett Vineyards on a nearby hillside with great views) and, of course, fresh seafood. I’ll probably get lots of arguments on this one, but I think Acadia University might be the most striking campus in Canada.

Located in Wolfville, Acadia is one of Canada's prettiest universities. The Blomidon Inn is an excellent place to stay in town.
Jim Byers


You’ll find great local shopping in the Osborne Village area. Downtown is slowly coming along, spurred in part by the new home for the Winnipeg JetsAssiniboine Park is one of the prettiest in North America, and the Canadian Museum For Human Rights features a stunning interior. Besides, you have to love a place where two of the best-known foods are called a “nip” (burgers at the famous Salisbury House) and a “goog,” a blueberry milkshake concoction at the famous Bridge Drive

Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg is a classic, urban park with wide open spaces, playing fields and gorgeous gardens.
Jim Byers


These islands east of PEI might be the most underrated place in the entire country. The light is magical, the beaches are endless and the people simply marvellous. You’ll find great food, nice galleries, wildly colourful homes and lovely B&Bs, including Havre-Sur-Mer and La Butte Ronde. The islands feel like PEI in parts, but with a few massive cliffs more closely resembling Cape Breton.

Les Iles de la Madeleine, or Magdalen Islands, are a simply magical part of Quebec and one of the most fascinating places in Canada.
Jim Byers


Lots of folks of a certain age know of this area as the home of the old TV show The Beachcombers. You’ll find plenty of memorabilia at the fun Molly’s Reach restaurant in the pretty seaside town of Gibsons, which has a gorgeous harbour. You’ll also find magnificent kayaking and canoeing spots on places like the Sechelt Inlet. Try a “Slo-Cat” tour of pretty Pender Harbour for a relaxing day on the water.


The province’s southwest has some of the country’s freshest food and features amazing restaurants, including Twisted Lemon in Cayuga and Six Thirty Nine in Woodstock. There are exceptional craft breweries in London (Toboggan Brewing) and Sarnia (Refined Fool) and surprisingly rich wines at Burning Kiln. Grand Bend on Lake Huron might be the country’s best beach town.

Grand Bend, Ontario is one of Canada's best beach towns, with everything from ice cream shops to lovely sushi. A great place to lay your blanket on a summer's day.
Jim Byers


The downtown is getting hipper by the day thanks to cool restaurants such as Bar Bricco and Tres Carnales (some of the finest Mexican food I’ve had on the planet) and funky bars such as the Mercer Tavern, located in a gorgeous old building near the Edmonton Oilers’ new arena. The Old Strathcona area has great little cafes and independent shops.


It’s a spectacular setting, with multi-coloured buildings cascading up the hillsides and funky homes in The Battery neighborhood. The Rooms is a world-class museum that highlights fascinating history and temporary art exhibits. Raymonds has been voted one of Canada’s top restaurants, and the pubs and bars in and around George St. are always a blast. On top of that, Newfoundlanders might be the nicest folks in Canada.

A uniformed guard at Signal Hill fires off a salute to the first cruise ship of the year that passes through the harbour in St. John's.
Jim Byers


There’s something about frontier-type towns I really love; a certain spirit that’s infused in the locals and a “no worries” attitude that helps them through difficult times – and difficult weather. Such is the case with Whitehorse, a small city with a surprising diversity and engaging people. You’ll find excellent coffee shops such as Baked Café and a variety of ethnic restaurants just a few minutes from some of Canada’s most striking wilderness. The MacBride Museum of Yukon History tells great stories.


There’s way more to this town than the little girl with pigtails. You can taste wonderful charcuterie at Terre Rouge. There also some fascinating shops, including a jewelry store called Overman where they’ve been known to fashion necklaces out of dead, black-and-blue beetles flown in from Thailand.

Charlottetown features lovely old buildings and cool new restaurants and shops.
Jim Byers


This prairie city has a lovely riverfront park system and an edgy shopping and restaurant district in Riversdale. Ayden Kitchen and Bar is one of my favourite restaurants in all of Canada with inventive food that’s not overly fussy and a cool interior. Likewise, the James Hotel is one of the country’s best places to lay your head with a sleek ambiance you might not expect.


Cabo San Lucas can get pretty pricey in winter, when Canadians are desperate for sun. But there are often great deals in the heat of summer. Palmilla Golf Club is offering 18 holes of play on the area’s first Jack Nicklaus-designed course for as low as US$95. You also can arrange a package with the magnificent One and Only Palmilla Resort, one of the top properties in Mexico.

The Palmilla Golf Club is a stunning layout in the Cabo San Lucas area, designed by Jack Nicklaus.
Palmilla Golf Club


Capitola, California: I like to call this community the best California seaside town never mentioned in a Beach Boys song. You’ll find gorgeous, pastel-coloured rental homes on the edge of the beach, with a nice pier and good surfing. The town is a charmer with great galleries and fun, slightly spacey shops selling everything from surf gear to New Age crystals. There are several restaurants on the water or on the beach, including Margaritaville and Zelda’s. Just 90 minutes or so south of San Francisco, and just east of Santa Cruz, where you’ll find a great boardwalk with fun, old-time rides.

Mirror, Mirror The new, hip Saskatoon is a home-away-from-home getaway



Standing in the heart of downtown, outside one of the great historic landmarks of the city — a majestic former railway hotel with a green-tinted copper roof — I stare out on an awe-inspiring view of the river valley. The lush green banks of the river are buzzing with activity as residents bike, jog, roller-blade or walk through the 80 kilometres of paths that line the great waterway that divides their city. I have to remind myself that I’m not standing on the grounds of the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton, peering out at the North Saskatchewan River; in fact, I am gazing at the South Saskatchewan River from the Delta Bessborough in Saskatoon.

It’s not the first time I’ve felt this strange sense of familiarity since I arrived in Saskatchewan’s most populated city. Visions of the trek from the airport into Edmonton were evoked as my drive down Saskatoon’s Airport Drive had me cruising past an industrial area, complete with a mannequin on a treadmill. A statue of Gandhi stares at me in Saskatoon’s downtown, much as he does when I visit the Stanley A. Milner Library. 

There are other parallels between the two cities. According to Statistics Canada, in 2013, Saskatoon, with a median age of 34.9 (as opposed to Edmonton’s 36), was ranked the youngest city in Canada. And the population, like Edmonton’s, is growing quickly. Oddly, leisure travel to Saskatoon from Alberta accounts for more than 41,000 visitors to the city each year. And I can’t help but wonder if Edmontonians engaged in city exploration account for some of those numbers. After all, isn’t it appealing to, in just a little over an hour by plane, be whisked away from one up-and-coming city to another for an experience where everything is the same, only different?

The youngest median age in its respective province? Check. A burgeoning culinary scene? Check. Hip neighbourhoods, complete with coffee shops and shared workspaces rising from the ashes of formally “shady” streetscapes? Check.

Even the “old guard” of trendy streetscapes in Saskatoon has a familiar story. Broadway Boulevard sits across the river from downtown and, like our Old Strathcona and Whyte Avenue, the street — filled with independent coffee shops, bakeries, grocers, theatres and venues — is changing. Heritage buildings are being torn down and chain stores are moving in. But across the river, downtown and Riversdale are on the rise, creating an atmosphere of dining and culture for a hipper, younger crowd. 


According to locals, Riversdale is where it’s happening, and it is only a 16-minute walk away from my downtown hotel, the four-star Delta Bessborough hotel (affectionately known as the “castle on the river”).

I visit one of the institutions that began Riversdale’s transformation from a neighbourhood best avoided to the vibrant district it is today: The Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. The market is a year-round affair based in the city’s former electrical garage. It boasts culinary delights from local producers and artisans, as well as a courtyard “market square” that opens in the summer months for an outdoor summer-shopping experience. But “local” is the key word. With a group of Saskatoon natives this concentrated, you’re sure to get the inside scoop on at least one hidden gem in town just by striking up a conversation. 

I’m told of Thrive Juice Co., a new business that actually got its start at the market. It’s on the 20th Street main drag in Riversdale. There, I get my hands on an organic cold-pressed juice for breakfast. The juice is green, healthy and tasty, giving me the nutrition I need to continue through my dining expedition relatively guilt-free.

Like a funhouse mirror of our 124th Street, 20th Street features art spaces, coffee shops, a French bakery, a bike shop, a vintage theatre and arts venues. One of the busiest storefronts is Collective Coffee, an artisanal coffee shop smack-dab in the centre of The Two Twenty, a co-working space for artists, creatives and community-minded business startups. If you’re looking for the hip, the cool, the urban professionals and one hell of a latte, this modern hipster haunt — complete with a garage door entranceway and a dark hardwood aesthetic — is where you’ll find it. The shop buzzes with conversation, creative meetings and, in my case, the helpful hints of the locals inside.

The restaurant on everyone’s lips? The Hollows. I just “have to go there,” two helpful patrons tell me enthusiastically.

When I do, I am not disappointed. The Hollows is located just off 20th Street in what was once a local Chinese restaurant known as the Golden Dragon. I know this because the signage is still there. The decor is a dead giveaway, too, because chefs and owners Christie Peters and Kyle Michael have kept every single trinket, vase and lantern of the old space, creating a kitschy and colourful aesthetic that is comforting and reminiscent of the days when Chinese food was a small-town delicacy. 

Owners and head chefs at The Hollows and Primal Pasta — Kyle Michael and Christie Peters

But the duo has a decidedly prairie-inspired menu. Peters, having worked at restaurants home and abroad — including Feenie’s, a casual dining establishment from renowned restaurateur Rob Feenie, and chef Daniel Patterson’s Coi in San Francisco — is no slouch when it comes to concept and cuisine. The menu at The Hollows features dishes made with local proteins, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the restaurant’s own permaculture garden. It happily plays into trendy concepts like heirloom seeds and seasonal dishes. Among the five-course tasting menu, the steelhead trout is a highlight. 


The excitement in the air of downtown Saskatoon is palpable and déjà vu-inducing, as is the construction. With the new Remai Modern Art Gallery of Saskatchewan being built on the river bank and set to open in 2016, the revitalization of the downtown core is set to hopefully change the perception of Saskatoon from a small prairie town to a major metropolitan city.

The rejuvenation is bringing top talent downtown as well. Saskatoon-raised Top Chef Canada Season 1 winner Dale MacKay recently opened his new brainchild, Ayden Kitchen and Bar, square in the middle of his hometown. 

I head there for some good meat-eats and a chance to gawk at a celebrity. The hamburger is ground in-house daily and Ayden cures its own bacon, so I opt for the burger. The patty is succulent and juicy and topped with a killer garlic aioli. And while we dined, customers had a front-row seat to the action in the kitchen, giving you the chance to see MacKay — in all his newly grown epic bearded glory — in his element.

Worth the Drive

Leaving downtown Saskatoon means getting into a vehicle or taking transit, but there are two hidden gems that are worth the drive. 

One is the Prairie Harvest Cafe, another local food-focused diner, where I am exposed to the first turducken burger I have ever encountered. How can I say no? The patty is made with turkey, duck and chicken, then topped with cheddar, bacon, onions, herb mayo and a relish made with local berries. It doesn’t disappoint. Despite being made with poultry, it’s juicy — not greasy — and it’s expertly paired with that sweet berry relish. 

Lucky Bastard Distillery President Cary Bowman 

Next, I head to Lucky Bastard Distillery where, I’m told, the only saskatoon berry-infused gin in the world is made. It’s good, clean and unique; I can only begin to imagine the cocktail possibilities of such a spirit. Taking the tour of the distillery is worth it, and I sample the whiskies that are still in the process of aging, though I’m told it will be about three years until a bottle of the stuff is for sale. As saskatoon berries and sea buckthorn berries are plentiful around the city, I pick up a two bottles of liqueurs made with them to shuffle back home. 

Because, from what I can tell, it might be the only piece of Saskatoon of which I won’t find a reflection at home.

(c) avenue Edmonton 

Gordon Tootoosis to be honoured by native theatre

SNTC will honour Gordon Tootoosis at a gala event on Oct 2. (Photo supplied to CP)

It’s been four years since Saskatchewan actor Gordon Tootoosis died. Now, his memory is about to be honoured by the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company (SNTC).

Artistic director Curtis Peeteetuce said Tootoosis helped SNTC find its place as an indigenous theatre.

“Gordon was a pioneer in the arts community,” said Peeteetuce.  “And he was one of the original founding members of the threatre.”

Peeteetuce said humility is a part of Tootoosis’s legacy.

“He’s this big international icon Hollywood actor, a celebrity, but yet he was so grounded,”  he sid.  “And I think it was because of culture, language and history, and that is part of what we want to honour.”

There will be a gala honouring Tootoosis on Oct. 2 at Dakota Dunes Casino.

Peeteetuce said at that time the theatre will announce its new name in honour of Tootoosis.

A place for all seasons: Drift’s food and vibe incomparable

Renee Kohlman  •  Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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Duck confit from Drift Sidewalk Cafe and Vista Lounge PHOTO BY RENEE KOHLMAN

Last year at this time I would walk by the building on the corner of Avenue A and 19th Street West wondering just what in the world was going on inside.

The owners were behind the scenes building something like nothing Saskatoon has seen before:­ Drift Sidewalk Café and Vista Lounge. The main level is the café. Bright and with a definite West-Coast feel, it’s got a relaxed vibe with varied levels of seating so you can either perch on high seats in front of the floor-to-ceiling garage­-door windows or at one of the cozy tables.

A place for all seasons: Drift’s food and vibe incomparable

Plants are prominent, as are pops of colour. It’s fun just to take in the atmosphere while you wait for your crépe or sandwich to arrive. You pass through a second level of seating to get to the third floor Vista Lounge. This is where the hammocks are, if you feel like getting even comfier. Climb the stairs to the lounge and the same relaxed atmosphere is up here, with even more pops of colour and attention to detail. The art, lighting and furniture are incredibly tasteful. The same glass garage doors roll up in the summer, and if you sit outside, it’s almost like you are in a tree house, as the leaves from the trees on Avenue A are right beside the tables. It’s a breezy, laid-back situation on all levels, that transfers well even in winter.

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A friend and I popped into Vista Lounge on a weeknight, and were seated at a small table for two. The menu is built for sharing, be it small plate tapas, or large platters ideally suited to share among two to ­four people. The small plates run between $8 and $11, and there’s everything here from antipasto, squid tacos and lamb skewers to bowls of mussels.

We loved the idea of made-­from­-scratch empanadas and stuffed peppers. The salad special that night was a Caesar, with duck confit. The server had us at “duck,” alas, that was our second course. We had to try one of the large platters, and while the smoked honey and herb steelhead trout ($41) seemed terribly appealing, I feared it may be too much for us. The sweet and sour chicken ($42) also sounded delicious, and I was intrigued by both the Hunters Greens ($23 ­duck breast, prosciutto, roasted mushrooms, greens) and the Gatherers Greens ($21 ­roasted pumpkin, radicchio, grilled haloumi, kale) but what won us over was the Saffron Vegetable Tagine ($29). I don’t know of anywhere else in the city with tagine on the menu, so this was what we looked forward to the most. There are also a few types of pizza, and we got our haloumi fix here on the Salty Balkan ($16). To drink, we both had Cave Springs Pinot Noir.

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The empanadas came out first. Puff pastry was stuffed with potato, applewood cheddar, bits of chorizo and egg. Dipped in the robust bravas sauce, these were quite lovely and gone in about three seconds. Stuffed peppers always make for an impressive presentation. These were nestled on a bed of bravas sauce, and while the spiced bison and wild rice was quite good, we both preferred the pepper with the squash purée and goat cheese. Nicely seasoned, the creamy filling was enhanced even more by candied nuts. Next came the Caesar salad. A large serving, with pops of colour from the cherry tomatoes, a creamy dressing graced it all and had a nice bite of fresh garlic.

There was plenty of duck confit, so we didn’t have to fight over it. The pizza was enjoyable, and the addition of tzatziki a smart move. But the saffron vegetable tagine was the smash hit. Notes of cinnamon and saffron mingled with briny olives and the most luscious fried artichokes. There was sweetness from dried fruit but it was balanced with heat from chili. Chunks of vegetables and lentils swam in the highly flavourful sauce and we scooped the whole thing up with the tastiest crackers. Kudos to the kitchen for a dish that warmed us from head to toe. My only quibble is that small bowls would have served the tagine better, as it slid out from the sides of the small side plates.

The next day, I ventured to Drift Sidewalk café for a crépe and coffee. You place your order at the counter, choosing from a list of various crépes, fancy toast and sandwiches as well as beverages. I found a seat at the window and in just under five minutes, a crépe the size of a dinner plate found its way to me. Stuffed with stewed strawberries and rhubarb, with bright notes of candied ginger, this was just how I wanted my morning to begin. It was just lovely. I sat for awhile, sipping my coffee as the sun shone through, lighting up this corner of Riversdale. This is a gem of a spot, and once they open the rooftop patio in the summer, well glory be, that’ll just be the icing on the cake.

Drift Sidewalk Café and Vista Lounge is located at 339 Ave. A. South. 306-653-­2256. Café is open Monday-­ Tuesday 8 a.m.-­ 4 p.m., Wednesday-­ Saturday 8 a.m.- 10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-­ 3 p.m. Vista Lounge is open Wednesday-­ Thursday 4 p.m. ­ 11 p.m., Friday- Saturday 4 p.m. to  12 a.m. Sunday 10 a.m. to­ 2 p.m.

Renée blogs at http://w​ ​and can be found on Twitter @sweetsugarbean_

Saskatoon food bank changing obstacles into opportunities

Like the food hampers that work their way onto the tables of those in need of a good meal, the food banks programs also expand outside of the its headquarters in Saskatoon’s Riversdale neighbourhood.

Author of the article: Morgan Modjeski  •  Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Amongst a warehouse full of donations, those behind the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre and those who have been helped by the organization share their story with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. PHOTO BY MORGAN MODJESKI /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

When Jasna Matlak arrived, she was a stranger in a new country.

Matlak came to Canada from Serbia last April, seeking a better life for herself and her daughter. She started that journey at the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre.

Speaking very little English, Matlak enrolled in the Creating Opportunities program, where staff quickly recognized her work ethic. After one month, she was offered an interview for a position at the food bank, a place she has learned to love.

“It was my first interview in Canada and my first job and it was my first experience in Canada,” she recalls.

Although she has been learning a lot about her new role, she’s also learning what it means to be part of the community.

“I met different people, I learned about Canada, Canadian culture and the history,” she said, noting she didn’t have much contact with Canadians before, but now, she works with them as they start their own journey to a better life.

Working in client services, she was taken aback at how many people in Saskatoon need assistance, she said.

“I was surprised when I see new clients every day. It is new for me, because I think before (that) in Saskatoon and Canada, we don’t have many poor people.”

It feels good to help others, she said, “Especially when I see older people or pregnant women — I want to help them.

Her life has changed drastically, Matlak said.

“Everything is different and everything is better.”

Jasna Matlak came to Canada from Serbia seeking a better like for her and her daughter. Starting out as a participant in the food bank's creating opportunities program, she's since become a staff member at the organization, helping others in her role as a client services worker. She credits the SFBLC for her strong start as a new Canadian.
Jasna Matlak came to Canada from Serbia seeking a better life for herself and her daughter. Starting out as a participant in the food bank’s Creating Opportunities program, she’s since become a staff member at the organization, helping others in her role as a client services worker. She credits the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre for her strong start as a new Canadian. PHOTO BY MORGAN MODJESKI/THE SASKATOON STARPHOENIX

According to the Food Bank and Learning Centre’s 2015 annual report, 70,678 food hampers were distributed to families in the city this year. 

 Although emergency food services are still a large part of how the centre supports the public, staff like Jayne Walters, the Creating Opportunities manager, say that service is only a one aspect of how the organization tries to give people a hand up.

“We want to recognize that when people are living in systemic poverty, they face multiple challenges, and those challenges are wide-ranging,” she said, noting they can range from affordable childcare and housing to substance abuse and domestic abuse.

“Those challenges create significant barriers when it comes to employment,” she said.

“If we can help people fix some of those challenges or detangle some of those issues while they’re here with us and also train them and give them the hard skills — like the resumes and the cover letters and all of that stuff — then hopefully they’re better able to go and find employment at the end of it.” 

Entering into its fourth year as it exists today, the Creating Opportunities program provides support that encompasses everything from connecting participants with potential job leads to one-on-one support throughout the six-month program.

“It’s amazing to see the change in people,” she said. “People come here because they’re overwhelmed, but they want to make a change and they’re ready to make that shift.”

While the program provides valuable skills for employment outside of the food bank, volunteer coordinator Laura Hopkins said those who have offered their time to the organization are getting experience and working to make Saskatoon a better city.

“They can see, right in the warehouse, that the work they do very much contributes to the services that we provide,” she said, noting the fact so many people are willing to give up their time for free is more than moving.

“It’s a really great feeling,” she said. “Part of our mandate and our philosophy here is around being not only a resource for the community but to be part of the fabric of the community.”

Hopkins said the number of volunteers that come through the Food Bank can be quite flexible, varying on a weekly and monthly basis, but she hopes the volunteer base grows as the needs of the organization change and mature. With more than 1,500 volunteer hours logged each month, she is confident it will continue.

One of the “diehard” volunteers who has been working at the food bank for more years than he can recall is Calvin Carr. 

“I just walked in and asked if they needed the help,” he said.

One of the first times Carr encountered the food bank was a time in his life when he was close to living on the street and needed help. 

“When I was down and out (and) I needed help, I knew I could come in the front door and get a hamper that would help me out, and I think that’s what really got me to start being a volunteer,” he said.

Working several volunteer positions in the city, he tries to spread the message that it’s all right to reach out for assistance. 

“Drop your pride. If you need help, come and get it; don’t make yourself go hungry,” he says.  

Working with many of types of people at the food bank has helped him control his anger, keep cool and help others learn the ropes. 

“To me, I noticed that a lot of them are learning a lot more than they would — not being rude — sitting in a classroom.” 

A long-time volunteer at the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre, Calvin Carr says the food bank helped him when he was down and out, noting if it was for the organization, he may have been forced onto the streets. Now, he volunteers and works to help others here in the city.
A longtime volunteer at the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre, Calvin Carr says the food bank helped him when he needed it, noting if not for the organization, he may have been forced onto the streets. Now, he volunteers and works to help others. PHOTO BY MORGAN MODJESKI/THE SASKATOON STARPHOENIX

Like the food hampers that work their way into the homes of people in need of a good meal, the food bank’s programs also expand outside its headquarters in Saskatoon’s Riversdale neighbourhood. Over the last six years, the organization’s urban agriculture project has turned an empty lot on Third Avenue North into a garden that produced 75,000 pounds of produce over the last four years. 

Brit MacDonald, the food bank’s urban agriculture manager, is one of the people leading the charge in local food production and sustainability for the centre. 

MacDonald calls the 1.5-acre lot known as the Garden Patch a “living classroom” that serves as a venue for educational programs and fresh food production. 

For MacDonald, it’s not just about the fresh food. It’s important for all members of the community to learn about where food comes from, she said. 

“What we’re looking for is a poverty-free community — that’s something we believe in — but also community food security,” she said, noting lack of access to healthy food has long-term ramifications.

“A really important part is immediate access to fresh, nutrient dense food,” she said. “It’s also allowing people to increase their food literacy and their healthy food choices and behaviours.”

MacDonald said while the garden has been producing roughly 20,000 pounds of food annually, the demand is increasing. There’s “no way” the urban garden could provide all of the fresh food the food bank needs to serve its patrons, she noted. 

In the future, the Garden Patch could experience a growth spurt. The food bank is currently examining the feasibility of a community greenhouse to serve as a Food Discovery Centre. 

According to a recent report, which was backed financially by the Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan, the centre would include a 6,000 square foot greenhouse, two classrooms, a kitchen, a social enterprise site and three offices, and would require about $3.3 million in capital funding.

According to the report, “the capital costs associated with the Food Discovery Centre may appear large, but the social benefits associated with such a facility are very significant.”

If it comes to fruition, the Food Discovery Centre would serve both as an education and revenue resource for the food bank. Parts of the facility could be leased out, but it would also produce an immense amount of food. 

Annual food production estimates for the three main crops in the “high production section” of the greenhouse is 12,000 tomatoes, 15,200 cucumbers and 10,900 pounds of lettuce on an annual basis, all of which would be sent back out in food hampers and baskets.

Food bank executive director Laurie O’Connor said in the end, the goal is not to supply people with just a hamper, or a skill-set, but a future. While the demand for its services is rising constantly, staff say the change they see in people makes a tough job a little easier. 

“I love it when I hear stories from the instructors, because they’re the people who participants come back to see … and (we hear from them) everything from, ‘Not only did I go back and finish high school, but I’ve now gone on an done a social work degree,’ ” she said. 

“Those are the reasons we all keep coming back to work.” 

Twitter: MorganM_SP