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Minimum wage is not enough, food insecurity often hits working residents, says new leader of York Region Food Network

March 12, 2020   ·   0 Comments

As a child growing up in Aurora, Kate Greavette remembers her parents bringing in veggies from their backyard garden. At the time, she didn’t think too much of their efforts and sometimes found herself asking, “Why can’t we just go to a grocery store?”

Now, as Executive Director of the Aurora-based York Region Food Network, she is answering that question herself on a daily basis.

Ms. Greavette recently took the helm of the York Region Food Network (YRFN) upon the retirement of long-time head Joan Stonehocker earlier this year.

She comes to the table after studying International Development and Globalization at the University of Ottawa, an academic path which took her all around the world, exposing her to the role food plays all around the world, from acting as medicine to fostering healthy communities.

“I just love everything about food,” she says. “I feel like food is the perfect medium for bringing people together, people of all ages, all backgrounds, all languages – everyone has a connection to food. Even if we have a room full of people who don’t speak the same language, food connects them in a way. To me, that is such a powerful tool for community development.”

It is a scene she has witnessed play out many times since she first joined the YRFN in the Spring of 2012.

After graduating from the University of Ottawa, Ms. Greavette says she didn’t yet know what she wanted to do with her life and career. She always had an interest in agriculture and health, but didn’t know what that meant for her. After a year spent travelling, she took a post-graduate course at Ryerson University in food security where she undertook projects on urban agriculture in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Upon her return to Aurora to visit family, she first stumbled upon the work of the YRFN and a perfect fit was found.

“It has just been a beautiful journey,” she says.

She began work with the YRFN focused on the development of the York Region Food Charter, work which allowed her to develop an expertise in food policy, not just within York Region but across the country. She was given autonomy to find her feet, spearhead the projects she felt were important, and look for ways to address local food security challenges.

“As an organization, we have changed quite a lot over the years,” she says. “We started as an organization to coordinate food bank efforts throughout the Region and over that time we started to look at more sustainable solutions to food insecurity and food insecurity as a systemic issue, knowing that people need immediate access to food, but we need to change the systems we operate in order to have lasting sustainable change.”

As Executive Director of the York Region Food Network, Ms. Greavette says one of her primary focuses will be continued work to address inequities within the system. Food insecurity, she says, is a result of “inadequate incomes” and most people experiencing food insecurity are those who are holding down a job.

“Minimum wage is not enough,” she says, adding Ontario Works and ODSP are also missing the mark. “On the one side, it is education, making sure we’re talking to companies, making sure we talk to our partners, making sure we talk to our governments and letting them know employment practices need to change. People need adequate incomes and less precarious employment. From an advocacy perspective, it is about having those conversations, letting people know the realities of food insecurity and letting people know that food insecurity is a growing issue in this Region.”

From a programming perspective, the York Region Food Network is putting an increased emphasis on regenerative agriculture and environmental sustainability.

To this end, the YRFN is in the early stages of developing a compost education centre which would be a demonstration project for people to come and learn not only how to compost their waste but make a positive impact on the environment. Such a space, she says, will also provide opportunities for participants to explore Indigenous growing techniques, how different cultures understand food, and have meaningful discussions on how food impacts changing climates.

“A lot of people think of food insecurity and they think, ‘This person doesn’t have food because they are lazy and not working, it’s their own fault, they’re not managing their budgets well,’ but, for us, we’re lucky to have the research to say, ‘No, the people who are food insecure are people who are working.’ It tends to be the unattached, the people who are the best budgeters and are cooking food at home, for the most part. To be able to better communicate that to the public is huge so people understand what the issue is.

“We often get people thinking that we at the YRFN are a food bank and we often get people who think we’re part of the Regional Municipality of York. We are a charity and our focus is on connecting and building food skills in the community. Food insecurity will be solved by increasing people’s incomes, but we also know that a lot of people who are experiencing food insecurity, who are constantly worrying about food, who aren’t able to purchase food regularly, who run out of food and aren’t able to purchase more, we do know that they often forego social events because of that.

“We often hear people won’t go out for coffee or they won’t go out for dinners with friends because they are constantly worried about money, food and food access. We know that a lot of people who are struggling with food are socially isolated. The purpose of our programs is really to connect people, to reduce that social isolation, build that social inclusion, build those friendships, and we want to build resiliency within that so if people have those community connections, they are more resilient and they have more people to turn to in times of crisis.”

For more information on the York Region Food Network, visit or call 905-841-3101.

By Brock Weir



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