Thunder Bay

Roots to Harvest: Using Food as a Tool to Empower and Educate

“We have a vision for the future where youth are leaders, connecting a diverse community, and cultivating food that is healthy and accessible”

Roots to Harvest is an organization based in Thunder Bay Ontario, which focuses on growing food and a sense of community in the North. Their mandate is to use food as a tool to help provide transformative educational and employment opportunities for youth.


Their slogan, “Punks Growing Food” aims to challenge the often-negative perception of young people and the role that they play in society. Erin Beagle, the executive director, hopes that by working with youth, who are marginalized and face barriers to employment, they can come together to reclaim the word “punk” and use it as a source of strength. Roots to Harvest helps to do this by providing a place for kids to go and feel valued and a sense of belonging. They do good work in the community, which is well received and offers genuine interactions with a diverse group of people. The term “punk” can also be used to describe a movement which is radical, progressive, and outspoken in its desire for change. That is exactly what Roots to Harvest is able to be.

Their multifaceted approach to healthy community development provides employment opportunities, outreach, and education programs to residents of Thunder Bay. Their employment program focuses on skills training for young people who are interested in community development and willing to work hard. They offer an Academic Year Program, a Youth Garden Program, and a Seasonal Horticultural Outdoor Worker program. Each is aimed at breaking down barriers to employment and instilling broader based employment skills and agricultural training.

Alia Johanna on Roots to Harvest

On the outreach front, Roots to Harvest uses food as a common denominator to engage with various communities across the city. Through cooking programs, grocery store tours, and gardening and tool libraries they focus on increasing access to food security.

In terms of education, Roots to Harvest offers cooking programs, helps cultivate school gardens, and provides regionally sourced meals to the school system. The Get Fresh Café and Forest Meets Farm program are currently helping provide healthy local food and tackling important questions around food security in the North.

Roots to Harvest currently has three growing spaces in production across the city. An Urban Farm in Port Arthur, which is used for vegetable and fruit production and also includes an apiary. The Court Street Edible Food Forest, which is home to fruit trees, wild berries, and other wild forage-ables. This space is used to educate visitors on the diversity of plants that can be grown in Northern climates. And the Lillie Street Urban Garden, which is a larger production farm with community garden plots, year round greenhouse space, and a walk in cooler and unit for harvest storage. This hub, which also hosts community events and employment programs, is quickly becoming a vibrant gathering place in the city’s South end.

The food, which is produced on these landscapes, is distributed through farmers markets, to local food security agencies, and is used in schools for food programming and in their cafeterias. In the summer the Roots to Harvest market’s showcase local seasonal produce and also give customers a chance to learn more about the important work that the organization is doing.

Jan Hamilton, a long time supporter of the project, summarizes its impact as such, “This is not a handout program, but a chance for everyone to grow together sorting out problems, finding out what talents they may have hidden away, and a chance to get some help up and on their way. An opportunity doesn’t come along in a regular classroom very often.”

Roots to Harvest uses food as a tool for people to come together. It builds community by allowing people to work in partnership, to grow, to eat, and to create space together. It manages to tackle important questions on employment, social development, and food security in the North. The impact it is having on Thunder Bay is tangible, measurable, and it should not be overlooked.

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