Empowering Community Through Food Uniting Neighbours (f.u.n.)

What is f.u.n.?

Food Uniting Neighbours (f.u.n.) is a community of people who live, work, study, and play in the Onward Willow neighbourhood in Guelph, Ontario. f.u.n. is a partnership project funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) Healthy Canadians and Communities Fund (HCCF) and led by 13 Community Advisors (CAs), faculty and graduate students from the University of Guelph’s Applied Human Nutrition program, and staff from 10C Shared Space. The project started in May 2022 with the hopes of developing actions that improve food access and reduce food insecurity in Onward Willow. 

Why is it important?

With a population of 8,481, Onward Willow is the most food insecure community in the Guelph and Wellington County. The neighbourhood is home to many newcomers, single parent families, and low income residents who experience financial and physical barriers to accessing nutritious food. The most common barriers to accessing healthy food in this neighbourhood include high food costs, inadequate transportation options, and a little choice and familiarity with available foods. 

Co-designing a plan for real change 

While many food security initiatives already exist in the neighbourhood, f.u.n.’s programming is unique because it’s centered on initiatives that are designed by the community, for the community. f.u.n. hosted 13 Community Idea Discussions, or focus groups, to learn from the neighbourhood what food programs they participate in, what the gaps and issues are, what their ideas are on addressing these gaps and issues, and how to improve food security in general. In total, 87 community members from Onward Willow participated! The CAs, who have lived experiences related to food insecurity themselves, played an essential role in these sessions by asking important questions and leading discussions. Together, f.u.n. identified 5 focus areas for improving food access: transportation, food costs, food-based skills building, a community café, and a gardening program.  

The thing that I am most proud of was that we were able to come together with the community to decide on what we really want in the community.

– f.u.n. Community Advisor

f.u.n.’s work is rooted in real food, real people, and real change. Together, the community and project partners are initiating food-based activities that directly address the community’s needs. f.u.n. is also a resource for food access information, a liaison between the community and food-based organizations and retailers, and an advocate for action on food equity and security in Onward Willow and across Guelph. f.u.n. is a great example of how communities can take action on the SDGs at a local level to make real, long-lasting change!

Building and Bonding

f.u.n. has partnered with community groups such as Community FEWD to put on Community Cafés. Hosted at Shelldale Community Centre, the cafés provide an inclusive, child-friendly environment for people to get to know one another and learn about other food programs, all while sharing a meal. The cafés, which were suggested by the community, are a great way of improving access to safe, nutritious, and culturally diverse foods for all community members. In total, 300 people attended the Community Cafés!

Coming here today was a wonderful experience. Food was delicious and staff was so friendly. Made new friends plus old. Had conversations and shared the stories. Thank you so much for a lovely event. Lots of f.u.n.

– Onward Willow neighbour

f.u.n.’s gardening program is another opportunity to collaborate as a community and promote practical food growing skills. f.u.n. teamed up with Shelldale Farm Park (SFP) to provide more Onward Willow neighbours with access to growing space. With 45 raised beds, SFP has limited capacity to accommodate all the people who want to grow their own food. So f.u.n. helped take 10 people off the waitlist by signing them up for the pilot at-home garden program. Each participant received a small garden box, plus tools, soil, seeds, and seedlings to set up at home. 

f.u.n. operates one of the raised beds at SFP that’s set aside for community use and learning – they run gardening workshops where they provide instructors, tools, and resources for container gardening. The food grown is used for other f.u.n. learning opportunities and programs. Together, Onward Willow neighbours learn about and contribute to the local food system in Onward Willow. In total, 10 garden program participants, several drop-in community members, the CAs and kids participated in two gardening workshops! While this is a pilot, f.u.n. is looking to continue supporting gardening opportunities at home and in the community! 

Reducing Barriers 

Reducing barriers to food access is a priority for f.u.n.. Tackling financial barriers has been an important step in achieving food security. f.u.n. is working on a partnership with The SEED to offer grocery gift cards to community members. Not only do the grocery gift cards provide some financial relief, but they promote shopping freedom and allow community members to choose the food they want, which leads to less food waste. f.u.n. hopes to build new partnerships with grocery stores and other food-based agencies to address various food access barriers. 

Transportation solutions are another initiative that addresses a key challenge in Onward Willow – physical barriers to food access. f.u.n. has started by providing carts for community members to help carry groceries, and make fewer trips in a week. f.u.n. is working on different transportation solutions to account for each individual and family needs. Moving forward, f.u.n is looking to partner with different organizations to arrange different transportation options from van rides, community carpooling, and public transit. 

Learning Together 

f.u.n. is dedicated to ensuring that community members have the skills and confidence to prepare healthy and nutritious food. f.u.n. has partnered with local chefs like Yasi Zorlutuna from Community FEWD to facilitate cooking workshops. The workshops offer hands-on experience to improve food and kitchen skills while learning about useful kitchen tips, cultural foods, nutrition and seasonality. At these workshops, participants gain practical cooking skills and test new recipes. These tips can be passed on to family, friends and kids to help develop healthy habits. 

I talked to different friends and they were thrilled about the workshop… they learned a lot.

– f.u.n. Community Advisor 

Improving food literacy can happen anywhere. By sharing recipes at in-person activities and on social media, f.u.n. helps build skills and confidence in the kitchen. f.u.n. also promotes useful tips for reading food labels, meal preparation and budgeting. These posts support a larger initiative of helping the community become more informed on the food system by discussing important topics like food sourcing and food waste. f.u.n. has found that strengthening individual and community food literacy can improve overall health and well-being of the Onward Willow.

f.u.n. is dedicated to translating ideas into action! During the 2-year test phase, f.u.n. is piloting food access programs and building local partnerships and leadership capacity to see the work continue. Given the success of the program, project partners and the community are confident that these initiatives will continue to reach people and help permanently improve food access in Onward Willow.  

It is my dream that we will have a place called community café, that there will be food any time anyone enters the place. And the youth in the community will be part of this program and take over one day when we are not there.

– f.u.n. Community Advisor

Ideally f.u.n. will become a permanent initiative that continues to meet the needs of, not just this one neighbourhood, but many others experiencing similar issues. Many of the CAs want to see f.u.n. scale out across the region, the province, and the country. Food insecurity is an ongoing issue that has prevailed so far, and doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. So one of our main focuses is figuring out how we can continue to be funded to work alongside neighbourhoods to gain better access to nutritious and culturally relevant foods.

-Nayssam Shujauddin, f.u.n. Program Coordinator