Kids Just Wanna Have Fun: Apple Pick with Harmony Community Food Centre’s Youth Cooking Program

Harmony Community Food Centre (CFC), a program of South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC), is a welcoming place for people to come together to grow, cook, share, and advocate for good food for all. Launched in 2020, this centre offers food-focused social programs such as drop-in meals, community kitchens, and civic engagement that increase food access, build skills and connection, and advance social change for South Riverdale community members.

With more than 40 years of service in the neighbourhood, SRCHC identified a need for better access to healthy, affordable food for vulnerable community members, especially seniors living alone, youth, and people living with physical disabilities. Staff and volunteers at Harmony CFC and SRCHC work tirelessly to ensure their community members can access nutritious, affordable, safe, culturally relevant, and delicious food!

“We support approximately 150 participants per week at our community meal, 80+ at our weekly market, and more in our registered educational programs,” says Kathleen, Health Promoter for Harmony Community Food Centre Development.

Some of Harmony CFC’s educational cooking workshops include youth programs ‘Mind Your Food‘ and ‘Kids Can Cook’. Throughout the summer, youth meet weekly to explore food traditions, gain hands-on cooking skills, learn about different food pathways and careers, and discuss food’s connections to mental and physical health. While most of their course has been online due to the pandemic, we arranged for this summer’s youth cohort to attend an in-person fruit picking excursion!

Our youth apple pick took place in East York, just a few hundred metres from the Don Valley River on a hot and sunny afternoon. The pick was led by one of our superstar Pick Leaders, Melissa Coiffe, who also happens to be the Garden Facilitator at Harmony Hall Centre for Seniors.

According to the home owner, this particular green apple tree is about 15 years old and over 3 storeys tall! Fortunately the tree was large enough to access from multiple locations, which meant all participants were able to social distance. We anticipated a yield of over 100 lbs of slightly under-ripe apples (no biggie, as they will ripen more off the tree after being picked). Boy, were we in for a treat…

This efficient and enthusiastic team, which included six ‘Mind Your Food’ youth, two parent/guardians, two Harmony CFC staff, and one pick leader, picked 152 lbs of green apples in under two hours! Pre-pick, all participants were trained on important fruit picking safety tips like using the ladder properly and always having a buddy to spot you, keeping an eye out for falling fruit, and being careful not to damage the tree. You’d think some of these kids were pros by how confidently they handled our picking equipment!

One participant Daniel asked for more ways to get involved with NFFTT beyond this pick. After learning of his passion for photography, I encouraged him to enter our 2021 Photo Contest by submitting photos he took from this pick with Harmony CFC! I also learned that Daniel’s passion for food is encouraged by his family. When he lived Pakistan, he and his relatives would pick mangoes off the tree in their yard and eat them fresh. Picking fruit with your loved ones is a great bonding activity!

Another heartwarming story comes to us from Zarin, a participant in Harmony CFC’s online youth cooking program, who is currently in Bangladesh visiting family. Zarin held an across-the-world fruit pick parallel to our Toronto apple pick! We were in awe when she shared photos of the delicately crafted mango tiramisu she made with her harvest (see below).

We hope you found it inspiring to hear about the behind-the-scenes stories of this dedicated youth fruit pick. We certainly enjoyed meeting these clever and compassionate teens! Let’s give them a big round of apple-ause!

Harmony CFC youth participant’s mango tiramisu dessert. Check out that attention to detail!

How the Harvest was Distributed:

Each youth participant and their parent/guardian took home a bag of green apples. Following the pick, Kathleen handed out an apple-oriented recipe card to all the participants. I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be plenty of freshly-baked apple crumbles hitting countertops this week!

One participant’s parent/guardian expressed an interest in attending more fruit picks just like this one. We happily signed them up and were able to waive their $10 fruit picker membership fee, thanks to the support of our monthly donors!

Pick Leader Melissa took some apples in order to run them through her food dehydrator, specifically to make apple chips and fruit leather! If all goes well, these products will be sold at the Centre’s weekly Good Food Market as a unique and tasty way of fundraising!

Harmony CFC Facilitators Kathleen and Marli took a large portion of the apples to give out to participants of their community meal and set some aside to be processed by the Centre’s cooking programs. They also had the brilliant idea of creating do-it-yourself apple pie kits, and handed them out at the Good Food Market!

How to Support SRCHC:

South Riverdale Community Health Centre is a non-profit charity providing primary health services, health promotion, harm reduction, environmental health and population-based community programs for marginalized peoples. If you are able, please consider supporting SRCHC with a donation, so health program facilitators like Kathleen and Marli can continue offering activities and healthy meals that foster community! Donate here.

To learn more about Harmony CFC’s Good Food Market, watch this short video. The Good Food Market happens each Tuesday from 3pm to 5pm at 2 Gower Street, Toronto. If you stop by, you’ll be warmly welcomed by staff and volunteers, connect with neighbours, sign up for free programs and services, and purchase affordable fresh produce and locally-source products. You won’t want to miss out!

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