Opinion Column

Do you know a Food Charter champion?

Brittany Doner-Gilroy, Special to the Examiner

Every day across Simcoe County, hardworking individuals, families, businesses, and organizations are doing their part to ensure a healthy and sustainable food system for all County residents.

Now in its third year, the Charter Champion Awards continues to acknowledge and celebrate a diverse range of food- and agriculture-related work occurring across the County. "These awards celebrate the toiling, dedication, and innovation of the men, women, and youth who invest time to make Simcoe County a healthier and more food secure community," said John Hemstead, head of the Food Partners Alliance of Simcoe County. "Each year we learn about new and interesting ways food and agriculture is enhancing our community; sometimes it's in unique ways."

One such example is last year's recipient of the 2014 Charter Champion Award for Best Community-Based Food-Skills Development Program. Autism Ontario--Simcoe County Chapter received the award for its Teen Cuisine series.

"Winning a Charter Champion Award meant a lot to our Chapter," said Erin Nightingale, chapter and programming manager. "Our mission is to ensure each individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is provided the means to achieve quality of life as a respected member of society. The Charter Champion Award we received in 2014 validated the work we do to help individuals on the spectrum see their potential."

Autism is a neurological disorder that impacts one's ability to engage in social activities. The Teen Cuisine program not only teaches kitchen safety, food preparation and storage, cooking skills and clean up, but allows the teens to socialize in an inclusive environment.  

"The topic of food is a great source for socialization," said Nightingale. "Often teens on the autism spectrum feel isolated, so it means a lot for our Chapter to be able to offer this program and have positive feedback from the participants."

Teen Cuisine was selected not only for its comprehensive food-skills development programming, but for its innovative use of community-partnerships.

"We are fortunate to have the support of Liaison College, who loans us their fantastic facility and two of their graduate chefs who have facilitated the program for the past two years," said Nightingale.

With the help of volunteers, the Teen Cuisine program is able to support up to eight students at a time. There are hours of preparation that go into the program to devise a menu plan that offers variety, teaches the importance of making foods from scratch, and provides recipes the class is able to confidently replicate at home.

"It is humbling to hear from the community and families about how their child has become enriched and engaged with others as a result of a program we've offered," said Nightingale. "Being recognized amongst a number of amazing food-based programs offered in Simcoe County was a real honour."

The 2015 Charter Champion Awards has nominations for 14 different award categories, including:

  • Best Community Garden
  • Community Appreciation Award for Work Improving Equal Access
  • Buy Local Champion
  • Best Event Celebrating Culture and Local Food
  • Best Local Food Retailer
  • Best Local Food Restaurant/Caterer
  • Community Appreciation Award to Thank a Friendly Local Farmer
  • Best Agricultural Club or Association
  • Young Farmer's Award
  • Youth Farmer's Award
  • Best Environmental Champion--Individual
  • Best Environmental Champion--Organization
  • Best School Program
  • Best Community-Based Food-Skills Development Program

Individuals, businesses, and organizations are encouraged to nominate their work and/or the work of others for a 2015 Charter Champion Award. Additionally, consumers, neighbours, co-workers, and friends are also encouraged to submit nominations in support of Charter Champions.

Food Matters is a monthly column addressing a variety of relevant topics concerning the food system in Simcoe County, as identified by the Simcoe County Food and Agriculture Charter. Topics may include: healthy eating, food access, and hunger; food and skills development; farming, the environment, and farmland protection; food and economic development; education and employment; and food and culture. For more information, visit www.fpa.simcoe.ca



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