Whitecaps FC Community Asset Review – Part 5

Editors’ note: Kurt and John are firm believers that Vancouver can and should be the Canadian epicenter for growing the sport and culture of soccer football soccer. This is a self-described healthy community. We can play outside year-round, as fields are rarely closed due to snow and/or freezing. And, most importantly, Vancouver is the place to expertly develop the sport of soccer because our city’s team, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, shares this goal and so demonstrates this vision through its Club Structure and the Whitecaps Foundation, which aims to create the fittest generation of BC Youth by 2020.

As Vancouver Whitecaps FC season ticket holders, Kurt and John are well-positioned to evaluate how the franchise showcases its commitment to “be a significant community asset” – so, following every match we will reflect on this commitment by answering two questions, which are below. Sometimes we bring friends and/or family-members to the game. And sometimes those awesome friends and/or family-members write awesome blog posts about the experience.

Yesterday’s match was a 3-1 victory for Vancouver Whitecaps FC.


Vancouver Whitecaps FC embraces the diversity of its community. The club fields players from 17 different countries, which is the most in the MLS (Seattle Sounders FC are second best, with players from 15 countries) – in fact, the ‘Caps might be the most culturally diverse team in professional sports in the world. The The Vancouver Sun’s Yvonne Zacharias wrote a great piece about the challenges of executing high level soccer performance when such a multicultural team is asked to communicate effectively with each other in the seven different languages that the players speak.

Diversity makes the club a significant community asset because it’s a rare thing for professional sports teams to reflect the community in which they play – sure, it’s not an exact reflection, but you get the idea. Our world is going to become more, not less, diverse in the years to come, and Vancouver Whitecaps FC is already showing how effectively diverse communities work to achieve goals.

Speaking of goals, yesterday the ‘Caps scored three goals and Houston Dynamo only scored one goal.

One of the many possible Whitecap Fusion dishes / vxla’s photostream on Flickr


With such a diverse team made up of players from so many countries and cultures I immediately thought of food – I’m also hungry, but this doesn’t make my idea any less awesome.

In order to be an even more significant community asset, Vancouver Whitecaps FC should serve – at games or via a superawesome Whitecaps Food Truck (©Copyright John Horn 2012) – dishes from players’ home countries. Not only would this idea celebrate the club’s diversity, but it would also be very, very tasty, especially if some of the city’s best culinary minds explore how to deliciously fuse some of the dishes (e.g. salt fish kimchi crepes?!) into amazingly unique Whitecaps creations.

moriza’s photostream on Flickr

Here are some of the potential menu items:

So there it is. My latest idea regarding how Vancouver Whitecaps FC can be an even more significant community asset. No need to thank me, Bob, John, Tom, et al – I share these gems because I’m a fan. And, for the record, I would absolutely eat a haggis empanada with some fufu poutine any day of the week…

Play Dates, Imaginary Friends, and Getting Lost in the Woods: The Diversity of Play

Glimpses of summer these past few weeks spawned a conversation with my husband (and Daily Gumboot Editor-in-Chief John Horn) recently about our childhoods – what did we do in the summers? How did we play? Which one of us was more likely to run away into the surrounding woods and get lost? (I’m sure you can guess the answer to that one!). We discovered that although there were some similarities to our play, the different environments that we grew up in very much influenced the type of play we engaged in. For instance, John grew up in a rural environment, and I grew up in a semi-urban (okay, fine, suburban) neighbourhood. Not surprisingly, John spent more time freely exploring the wooded areas around his house, while I spent more time in backyards and a (now that I think back to it) fairly sketchy vacant lot up the street. Another difference we discussed was who we played with – because there weren’t a lot of other kids around, John spend a lot of time playing with his sister, or with his imaginary friend named Sparky*, while I played with a larger group of kids from the neighbourhood and school.

An article recently published in the BC Council for Families magazine, Family Connections, explored this concept of play across environments and cultures, and found that environments and cultures do indeed have a very large influence on play. These findings touched on some of the key differences John and I had explored – for example, one large factor that can lead to differences in play include whether there are other play partners around (neighbours, cousins, siblings, friends), and how safe it is to run freely around the neighbourhood.

Some interesting cultural differences were also explored within the article. For example, in Western society, it is emphasized that parents should devote time to play with their children, while in other cultures, the extended family plays a much larger role in playing with children than the parents. The idea of having structured play (e.g. sitting down to finish an art activity, like making a bracelet or using toys with numbers/letters) vs. free play (e.g. children engaging in pretend play, like playing kitchen) is also something that varies across – and within – cultures.

With the even-diversifying cultural landscape we find ourselves living within, these different approaches to play can lead to some interesting learnings, creativity and flexibility – but hey, isn’t that what play should be all about anyway?

*John may or may not have had an imaginary friend named Sparky.

In Pursuit of Infinite Tomatoes, Part 2

On the previous episode of In Pursuit of Infinite Tomatoes the equation for infinite tomatoes was introduced [(Year Round Tomato Supply) + (Annual Replication of Favourite Tomatoes) = Infinite Tomatoes], strategies to have a year-round supply of local, BPA-free tomatoes were presented (including freezing, drying and canning), and a case was made how preserving your own food can help build community. Now for the exciting conclusion.

I love trying all kinds of tomatoes. Red, green, yellow, orange, pink, white, purple, black – large, medium, small, cherry, paste – etc. And I often find ones that I particularly like for their shape, colour, texture, and of course, flavour. And over the past few years I’ve started saving the seeds of some of my favourites to plant the following spring. It means that I don’t have to pay the high price for seeds, I get a wide diversity and the seedling I grow are shared with friends and colleagues.

Saving tomato seeds is actually quite easy. The hardest part is making sure that you’ve picked the right tomato. It is better to choose an heirloom variety of tomato. The tomatoes you find in the grocery store or the plants you get at garden centres are usually hybrids. They were specifically cross bred for one good year and won’t give you a good result in years that follow (which isn’t very good for the infinite tomato). Heirlooms however have had their seeds saved for generations and tomatoes usually self pollinate so you’ll often get what you expect.

  1. Get a jar and squeeze the seeds and tomato juice into it.
  2. Top the jar with a cloth/paper towel and secure it with an elastic band. This will help prevent fruit flies.
  3. Eat the remaining tomato.
  4. Let the jar sit for a day or two until it develops a scum on the top. Fresh tomatoes have a growth inhibitor so seeds won’t germinate too early so this fermentation process is needed so the seed can germinate.
  5. Rinse the seeds by topping the jar up with fresh water and slowly pouring most of it out. The scum will float to the top and the seeds will sink to the bottom. Repeat until the seeds are clean in the bottom of the jar.
  6. Spread the seeds out to dry on a cloth, paper towel or paper for a couple of days, spreading them out so they aren’t touching each other.
  7. Store the seeds in an envelope in a cool and dry place until February, when it is time to start planting!

Starting to save and plant seeds is up there with the most important things that have happened in human history. For about 99% percent of the 2 million years or so that we’ve been around we were hunters and gatherers living in small mobile groups. Agriculture, both in sowing seeds and animal husbandry, marked one of our biggest transitions, between 12,000 and 5000 BC. We started to settle in one place and cities emerged, we started specializing and diversifying our skills, and powerful religious or political elites rose and fell (for more detail see the first few chapters of Clive Ponting’s “A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations.”) It marked an important beginning for communities as we now know them.

Fast forward 7000 years and our population has grown from between 2 and 20 million people in 8,000 BC to over 6 billion now. Up until quite recently, farmers and gardeners saving their own seeds was still common practice. But now, mega corporations like Monsanto are changing this by requiring farmers to buy new seed from them every year and making saving their seeds illegal. Through breeding and genetic modifications, seeds are becoming intellectual property – like Roundup Ready corn – that are patented and sold. The diversity that varried across regions and cultures is disappearing. The simple act of growers saving their own seeds, which has sustained us for millenniums, is no longer practiced in most conventional agriculture.

In Canada we have an amazing organization called Seeds of Diversity. Their mission is to conserve, document and use “public-domain non-hybrid plants of Canadian significance.” They grow, propagate and distribute 1900 varieties of vegetables, fruit, grains, flowers and herbs. Basically they are a gene bank. A few years ago I gave them seeds that my family has been growing for generations – the Prince Albert potato and “Burns Beans” (one of the secret ingredients I used in the Weddingmania rehearsal dinner chilli cook-off). They even have the Canadian Tomato Project. By late winter and early spring they host a series of over 75 events all over the country called “Seedy Saturday” (or “Seedy Sunday”), where heirloom seeds are sold and exchanged. (The one in Toronto also has lots to do for non-gardeners like hands on workshops, great networking with food security groups, and delicious food.)

Grassroots communities like Seeds of Diverity and events like Seedy Saturdays not only make my ongoing pursuit of infinite tomatoes significantly more exiciting, but they are making sure that an important part of our heritage is preserved and our food system will continue to have genetic diversity available to help us adapt to future changes in our climate.

Bring Food Home: Connecting Ontario Farm and Food Networks

So by writing this post I am breaking my (self imposed) rule of not writing two food related posts in a row. But late last week I attended an inspiring conference, “Bring Food Home“, organized by Sustain Ontario: the alliance for healthy food and farming.  I discovered so much community building going on that I couldn’t resist sharing the highlights and I promise my next post will reinstate the balance.

Sustain Ontario is a province-wide, cross-sectoral alliance that promotes healthy food and farming.  The organization is only a year old and was inspired by the UK’s Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming and the Metcalf Foundation‘s work on exploring opportunities for collaborative, cross-sectoral work related to food and agriculture  (see Food Connects Us All). 

Sustain Ontario is an umbrella organization that aims to bringing together all of the players in the food system from farm to fork and beyond.  They are working to build a community between the players in the food system to encourage collaboration and idea sharing with the end goal of a food system that is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.  They spent their first year talking to many of the players in the food system one-on-one.  The conference Bring Food Home was the first time that Sustain Ontario tried to bring these players together.

As I already said, the event was inspiring.  There are so many people and organizations passionate about food and there is so much going on in Ontario that wasn’t going on just a few years ago.  Here are a few of my highlights from the conference of the food system/community building activities.

Planting Urban Ontario: An Urban Agriculture Network

There are so many types of urban agriculture, including back/front yard gardens, community gardens, rooftop gardens, urban hens, yard-sharing programs, SPIN farming and urban farms.  Sustain Ontario initiated a network during the conference to help “urban aggies” learn from each other.  A half day session was held just for introductions since so much is going on all over Ontario.  The next steps for the new network is to use Sustain Ontario’s website to continue the conversation and to share ideas from across the province.

Food Policy Councils/Community-based Food System Planning:

There are groups springing up all over Ontario that are bringing together key sectors and interests from their food systems to examine the big picture of the food system and identify the changes that are needed.  The Toronto Food Policy Council has been around since the 1990s, but there are also a lot of new players on the scene that have shared their models including the Waterloo Region Foodsystem Roundtable, JustFood (Ottawa), Halton Food Council, Toronto Youth Food Policy Council, and Sudbury Food Connections Network.  These groups shared both how they went about building community within the food system and how they are using the food system to build community.

Community Food Centres:

The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto (see my favourite communities in my profile) is now working to spread the Community Food Centre model throughout Ontario (also with help from the Metcalf Foundation).  A Community Food Centre goes beyond the food bank model to deliver a range of food security programming in a manner that maintains dignity, builds health and community and challenges inequality.  They started as one of Canada’s first local food banks and now also have community kitchens, community gardens, cooking classes, drop-in meals, peri-natal support, outdoor bake ovens, food markets and community advocacy campaigns.  They also run the Green Barn, a sustainable food production and education centre.  I think their model has the potential to transform food banks across the province and can’t wait to see their pilot projects.

Diversity and the Food System:

One of the most immediate observations from the conference was the demographic of those of us that showed up.  We were primarily white and women. But there was an immediate recognition of the need to bring more players to the table and to find ways to be more representative of the residents of Ontario in both the next conference and in the programs that we are delivering in our own communities.  During the Action Planning session at the end of the conference a working group was formed, that I’m a part of, which will focus on diversity in the food system so that we can expand our new community to be more inclusive and representative.

Building Diverse Communities is a Two-Way Street

Canada is viewed by many as a land of opportunity, and British Columbia (BC) is a highly sought after destination for newcomers – they frequently cite the people, our climate, and the quality of life as being key reasons for choosing to live in BC (BC’s advantageous position as the ‘Asia-Pacific Gateway’ also plays a role here).  In an effort to welcome newcomers to our country (and province) and to promote the benefits of having a culturally diverse society, Canada has formally embraced a policy of multiculturalism, which essentially goes a little something like this: “Welcome immigrants. We value diversity. Our doors are open to individuals from all corners of the world and from all walks of life. Come experience the magic of tolerance and diversity with us.”  Well, maybe not exactly like that…but you get the picture.   Canadians are exceedingly proud of our multiculturalist values; we jump on every single change to publicly talk about how open and accepting we are to/of new people from a variety of backgrounds. We should give ourselves a pat on the back for being so good at this whole diversity/inclusion/welcoming communities thing! 

Or should we? Here in BC, recent evidence is indicating that a high proportion of newcomers are actually leaving within their first few years here, highlighting major difficulties with respect to their ability to integrate effectively into our communities. *Note, when I use the term “communities,” I’m thinking broadly – workplaces, neighbourhoods, social networks, etc.etc.).*  Hmmm…are we really doing such a good job after all? Do we, in fact, truly value diversity?  I have a theory; allow me to explain (it just might take me a few paragraphs…).

I read an article earlier this week entitled “Building Communities Through Language Learning,” which focused on the many roles that technology can play in helping newcomers learn language, networking, career search, and interpersonal skills, all of which are supposed to help them integrate effectively into our communities.  As I was reading, one statement, in particular, jumped out at me. The author was attempting to make a point about the benefits of online dictionaries for immigrants, specifically pronunication aides, highlighting that “online dictionaries help learners improve their vocabulary, pronunciation. and reduce their accent.” …Reduce their accent?

Tell me, why should the rest of us not learn to listen through accents, regardless of how unfamiliar they may seem? Does the presence of an accent present such difficulty in conversing with someone whose mother tongue is not English, that we must encourage that person (and other newcomers) to get rid of theirs? What about people with lisps – should we be encouraging them to get rid of their lisps so that they “fare better” in our communities? Why is having an unfamiliar accent so socially unacceptable? I mulled over this question for a moment, and then it struck me – the entire premise of the article was focused on immigrants needing to change…needing to adapt…needing to be different, in order to be accepted into our communities. I saw nothing about the rest of us, us non-newcomers, needing to change…needing to learn…needing to be open to the notion of “difference.” No wonder recent immigrants are leaving! We’re placing the burden of change and the onus of “integration” fully on their shoulders, while paying little attention to the question of what we need to do to be more welcoming and inclusive. If I were an immigrant, I would probably leave too!  Perhaps we don’t value diversity as much as we think we do…

Should we despair?  Is hope for a better outcome lost?  Negative!  Take heart folks, change starts with us.  Read on…
So what do we need to do? Well, for starters, we need to move beyond the “welcome-to-our-country-now-that-you’re-here-it’s-up-to-you-to-fit-in” mentality, and start thinking about more of an interculturalist approach to community integration. Interculturalism means generating a mutual understanding of where everyone is coming from, what we believe, and why we believe what we believe…both “us” and “them.” We learn about them. They learn about us. We understand and respect one another, and from this place (this honest place), we can begin to build a community. We can build it together, using the many wonderful and exciting things that we have learned from one another along the way. It really isn’t that hard, it just requires a different way of thinking about it.

Secondly, if we believe that diversity is a key element of community (and I think most of us do), we need to think about what we can learn from this example.  Truly diverse communities are not built by one person, or a group of like-minded individuals. Developing and sustaining vibrant and diverse communities means having the courage to learn about others and where they are coming from, even if the things you learn are so crazily different from what you already know that it is just a little bit scary. It also must involve a willingness to accept difference (in views, appearances, cultural traditions, accent, etc.etc.) and to welcome change. It is not about forcing one group to conform with a certain way of thinking, talking, dressing, or acting; rather, it is about leveraging individual uniqueness to generate new ways of thinking, talking, dressing, acting, etc.etc..  Community-building is a two way street, friends, we all have to be open to difference if, indeed, we care about generating “ideas from everywhere.”  It begins with us!