The West End Food Co-op: Riding on Real Food

The September 2011 issue of dandyhorse magazine will be our first Food Issue featuring guest editor Bob Blumer of the Food Network. In preparation for the Food Issue the dandyBLOG will be posting stories related to the important fuel all cyclists rely on, food.

James Partanen, a facilitator for the Community Cannery program delivers produce to a canning workshop with the West End Food Co-op's new bike trailer.

Story and photos by Emily Van Halem

Food and cycling are increasingly common bedfellows these days. Advocates for both camps are often one and the same – with proponents of a local, sustainable food system likely to be the same folks who believe in low-carbon transportation. As a big foodie and avid urban and long-distance cyclist myself, I was thrilled to hear that the Toronto-based West End Food Co-op was fusing my two favourite worlds together in really innovative ways.

The West End Food Co-op is a member-based co-op calling the Parkdale-High Park area home. Currently, the co-op is the force behind the weekly Sorauren Farmers' Market, a community canning program, and a lot of fundraising. By the end of 2011, they hope to settle into their new home in the Parkdale Community Health Centre located near Queen Street West and Dufferin. The site will boast a grocery store featuring local, organic, and fair trade products and a kitchen with a full slate of workshops and meal programs.

Committed to valuing food at its true cost (i.e. not cheap), the co-op has many plans in place to ensure equitable access to their programs and good, healthy food. The co-op hopes to achieve this goal through job skills training programs that will eventually employ people in their kitchen or retail store and with a bicycle delivery fleet that will be used to deliver grocery orders to folks with limited mobility. The co-op has also recently partnered with Urbane Cyclist (also a co-op) to help train at-risk youth and others on how to maintain the bike fleet and handle deliveries. The West End Food Co-op has recently purchased its first bike trailer putting it to use for delivering up to 100 kgs of produce from the Sorauren Farmers' Market to community canning workshops where the food is preserved for the winter (or until you just can't resist any longer).

Community canning workshop preserving cherries

For the West End Food Co-op, the kitchen is where their food and social justice missions ultimately intersect. While they have already secured a space, the co-op still needs to raise the necessary funds to renovate and install a full-fledged kitchen at their Queen and Dufferin location. Staying true to the co-op's values and with the goal of also having a fun fundraiser, the Ride for Real Food Bike-a-Thon, will be held on September 25, 2011.

In typical West End Food Co-op style, the fundraiser will feel more like a farmers' market and include local musicians, an outdoor pizza oven, and lots of delicious local food. The Bike-a-Thon will take riders on a 30 km tour through Toronto parks and neighbourhoods leading to The Living City Campus at Kortright, ultra-locally farmed by Matchbox Garden & Seed Co. who are also members of the food co-op.

Sally Miller, the coordinator of the West End Food Co-op, explains the idea behind the Bike-a-Thon, "It's a fun version of the work we want to do. It's also to one of our member farms, a farm that reflects many of the co-op's principles because it’s so local and is at the Kortright Centre – a centre for sustainability."

The West End Food Co-op is tackling some big issues. "We're trying to save farmers and address food security at the same time," explains Miller. "Not an easy solution. One co-op isn't enough but our vision is to catalyze more of this. Then it will really create a change."

If you ask me, this little co-op in west end is already en route to making big change. Why not join the Bike-a-Thon and help them really get rolling?

For more information about the West End Food Co-op and riding in the September 25th Bike-a-Thon, visit

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