Local group provides hearty meals for everyone

Backyard Friends community supper promotes healthy eating and food security.

With a mission to ensure individuals have access to healthy food, Backyard Friends, a local volunteer group, continues to serve up a hot and ready meal each month in Lacombe.

It all began a decade ago.

“Our first meal was in September 2006 and our vision statement is healthy food for everyone,” said Donnie Tafts, Lacombe and District Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) Family Service Coordinator.

Lacombe FCSS is one of the partnering organizations involved in Backyard Friends including Lacombe Neighbourhood Place, the Lacombe Food Bank, Growing Food Security Alberta, Central Alberta Co-op, ME Global, local churches and other community members.

“At the beginning we imagined an inclusive gathering of the community to share healthy food together and we have pretty much stuck to that all of these years,” said Tafts.

The group hosts a community supper once a month, on the third Wednesday, at the Lacombe Memorial Centre (LMC). Everyone is invited to the supper, with the mission to not only build community but promote food security.

“You don’t have to buy a ticket or RSVP,” explained Tafts. “You just show up.”

The meal is open to people of all walks of life and people can attend for a number of reasons.

“Whether it’s to meet friends, there are all sorts of people older ladies, senior people there’s families, couples, singles, doubles and in between,” said Tafts. “Everyone wants to enjoy good food together. It really is the food that brings people together.”

The community supper is put on by a group of dedicated volunteers who prepare the food, serve and then clean up. It takes up to 35 volunteers and around 60 or 70 volunteer hours to make each supper a success. Each meal is handcrafted by a chef with locally sourced ingredients, and also includes a vegetarian option.

“We feed up to 130 people every month, so that’s quite a lot of food,” said Tafts.

The community supper is not only a place to eat, but also a place to find out what’s happening in the community.

“So not only is fellowship happening, but if there is some interesting things happening in the community, sometimes people can find out about that here,” said Tafts. “Whether they are FCSS programs, such as our income tax program at this time of year, or if people want to find out more about the Good Food Box program, Backyard Friends is a good way to kind of find out about those other programs that might benefit them.”

In connection with Backyard Friends is FCSS’s food security program suite, which includes the Good Food Box program (which offers individuals a bin of fresh veggies and fruit twice a month), a community garden and a collective kitchen that works on building skills in cooking and preserving healthy food.

“Right now we are working on some cooking sessions to help people learn to cook with whole, fresh ingredients,” explained Tafts. “We discovered from the Good Food Box program, that sometimes there are vegetables in there that people are not exactly sure what to do with. Maybe there is a zucchini or a squash in there, and they think how do I cook that? We do have a cooking program called All About Cooking (ABC) that tries to increase individuals skills in learning how to deal with fresh food.”

FCSS also manages a community garden along 58th St. in Lacombe.

“We’ve expanded the garden this year, so that there will be even more plots for people to work in,” said Tafts. “If people are interested in gardening and having a little plot of land, they can contact FCSS to rent a plot.”

The FCSS garden is the only community garden in the City and does assist with promoting food security using locally grown produce and developing much needed growing skills.

“It’s about helping people make some choices to make it a little easier to meet their food needs,” said Tafts of the FCSS food security programs.

According to Alberta Food Matters and Growing Food Security in Alberta, the term food security is the, “Condition where all people at all times can acquire safe, nutritionally adequate and personally acceptable foods in a manner that maintains human dignity.”

The organization views ‘food security’ as everyone’s business, which includes planting, growing, harvesting, transporting, shopping, preparing, eating and preserving the environment.

To Tafts, being food secure means individuals have a reliable source of healthy food at all times.

“That’s what it means to be food secure when you have a freezer or a fridge that has something put away for another day, that you have fresh food in the fridge, that you have all different food groups,” she said. “We are aware that some people are food insecure. They have difficulty meeting their food needs. Food is key to health and if we don’t have our health, we are not reaching our full potential. We will experience a lower health status, so that’s why we care about food security.”

The next Backyard Friends community supper will be held on April 20th, starting at 5:30 p.m. at the LMC. For more information about the initiative, contact FCSS at 403-782-6637.