You don’t have to be big to do big things. Take Palgrave United Church in Caledon, Ontario. It’s a small, rural church of only seventy-two members (forty-five families). But together, they have built a community kitchen that is committed to the creation of a healthy, sustainable local food system. They are also generating clean energy and steady funds with the solar panels they have put on the roof of the church.
How did they do it?
It all began with a vision. In 2007, the environment committee at the church decided they wanted to not only reduce the ecological footprint of the church, but also to serve as a model for this rural community. Coming together around food was a natural fit. That year, the annual turkey dinner served only food grown within ten miles of the church.
Funds were raised for kitchen renovations. The turkey supper helped towards funds for church operations and roof repair; this fundraiser was a campaign to donate a shingle.
In Dec 2009, Palgrave United Community Kitchen (PUCK) became Caledon’s first Region of Peel Health-certified community kitchen, offering programs, events and community connections.
“Palgrave United Church Kitchen is the kitchen that keeps on growing. It’s a model that provides environmental education to the community,” says Lorraine Witty, founding committee member.
With funding from United Way Region of Peel, Town of Caledon Green fund, New Horizons Seniors fund, United Church of Canada Foundation and Palgrave Rotary, PUCK outreach programs included “Dirt to Delicious Camps”, “Food for Thought” workshops and Palgrave’s school “Fresh Lunch.”
Each Thursday 175 students are able to create their own delicious lunch from a variety of options at the student-friendly buffet packed with fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains and proteins, with a focus on local and seasonal food. These outreach programs are now financially self-sustaining, providing local part-time employment and paying the operational costs of running the community kitchen.
Lending a hand
PUCK is continuing to mentor other faith groups who want to start their own community kitchen. Because the kitchen is certified by the Region, it provides a local incubator for small food businesses to prepare goods for sale at commercial and farm market locations. After 2 years of participating at Bolton’s Farmers Market, Palgrave started to look for suitable community gardening sites and in 2010 was significant in helping establish Albion Hills Community Farm (AHCF) – Ontario’s first community farm on public land in Albion Hills Conservation Area. As well as supporting AHCF during its initial 5 year lease, PUCK continues to run the “Dirt to Delicious” summer camp. Campers spend time at the farm and create food in the PUCK kitchen.
Here comes the sun
The committee also dreamed of installing solar panels when funds could be raised and until then purchased Bullfrog Power for the church and the manse. The group learned – through the Greening Sacred Spaces Program – that the Toronto United Church Foundation supplied capital loans, with no interest for the first 5 years! This was one of the best things that happened; since church manse investments were only getting a 1% return, going solar was a better investment!
At the 2013 AGM, with the financial assistance of the United Church of Canada Foundation, Palgrave United Church congregation voted to install 10 kilowatts of solar panels on the church roof, fulfilling the committee’s long-held dream. These panels generate clean energy for the local power grid as well as providing income.
Thanks to the environment committee, caring for creation has become part of the day-to-day practices of the congregation.
“Our creed talks about “living with respect in creation’ but we need to learn what that means. As a congregation, Palgrave works at this together. We try to ‘practice what is preached’ which makes working here such a positive learning experience for me.” Cathy Hird – minister
This article was written by Barb Imrie, Green team member at Palgrave United Church, and adapted for the purpose of this website. Barb is an environmental educator who lives, eats, works and prays local.
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