Food Connects and the Power of Belonging

February 13, 2024


At the heart of Scarborough West, the Birchmount Community Action Council (BCAC) has been sowing the seeds of change through their innovative project Food Connects by transforming unused land next to 1021 Birchmount Ave into a garden where residents can grow fresh food and have access to healthy living workshops. 

BCAC is a tenant-led organisation committed to promoting the healthy development of residents in West Scarborough, ensuring safe and uplifting interactions within the community. 

“Food Connects” is a food justice project that seeks to enhance access to nourishment through artistic expression and community engagement. In our recent conversation with Laura Hammond, the driving force behind BCAC, she illuminated the profound impact of this project on fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion within the community. Belonging and inclusion are not just abstract concepts for BCAC; they are woven into the very fabric of “Food Connects.” Hammond emphasised the importance of involving community members in every step of the project. 

“The sense of belonging also comes from meeting new people. There’s an influx of new people that come in, within social housing, (…) now this is a  space where they can meet people in a healthy way, engaging around food, right? And everyone loves food.”

Whether it’s partnering with local schools or collaborating with senior leaders, BCAC ensures that the entire community has a voice in shaping their food landscape. “Food Connects” has partnered with FoodShare Toronto and the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, who have  generously donated  the quarter acre space where the initiative takes place. 

BCAC uses artistic expression not only to beautify spaces but also to convey essential messages about sustainability and community interconnectedness. For instance, their vibrant mural of bee hives showcases the social and environmental  benefits derived from caring for our pollinators. It’s a visual representation of how, when we nurture our environment, it nurtures us in return.

At the heart of “Food Connects” is the practice of placemaking—the art of collectively shaping and revitalising public spaces to reflect the community’s identity and needs. “Food Connects” is about more than just providing access to food; it’s about creating spaces where everyone feels they belong.

By engaging community members in the cultivation of culturally appropriate food, “Food Connects” transforms public spaces into communal kitchens where stories are shared, relationships are built, and a shared sense of purpose emerges. In doing so, BCAC not only addresses immediate food needs but also nurtures a lasting sense of community pride and ownership.

“We’re hearing from Resident leaders who know how to grow these foods that come from other countries and are culturally relevant. They’re also sharing recipes. So like we’re really anticipating the harvest, because we’re planning to do more as we harvest…We’re going to be trading recipes.”

BCAC’s “Food Connects” is more than just a food distribution project—it’s a testament to the transformative power of growing and sharing food as catalyst for social change. Through placemaking and artistic expression, BCAC has created a model that nourishes both bodies and spirits, sowing the seeds of a healthier, more connected community. 

Together we can continue to support projects that cultivate a sense of belonging and inclusion, ensuring that no one is left hungry or unnoticed in the diverse fabric of our communities. 

If the theme of belonging, inclusion, and the vital role of placemaking resonates with you, we invite you to delve deeper into our insights with our recently released Placemaking research snapshots. This comprehensive document covers a range of HCI-funded projects,  providing a pragmatic look at how placemaking can create meaningful change in communities. If you’re interested in the real-world outcomes of initiatives focused on building belonging and fostering inclusion, this report offers valuable insights grounded in diverse projects from across Canada.