Ayal Dinner can pick up any product in the West End Food Co-op’s Food Hub and tell you what’s in it, how it’s made, where it’s from, and why it’s special. Over the span of 20 minutes on a Sunday afternoon, Dinner—a founding member and coordinator of Food Hub—shares the stories behind a bag of chips, three local farms, two coffee companies, and a bag of wheat.
Wandering through the space, he stops in front of the Hub’s shelf (they make and sell their own preserves and sauces). “All of the tomato sauce that we made last year sold off the shelves in five minutes,” he says. “So, this year we want to have big a section of our own sauce and get people thinking about what’s in it and where the ingredients come from.”
Dinner is the coordinator of the Food Hub, which opened this past October on Queen just west of Dufferin. It’s a project that evolved out of the farmers’ market at Sorauren Park, which Dinner and a half-dozen other organizers (not to mention volunteers) have been running for five years. The group always wanted to have a permanent space like the co-op—a grocery store that brings locally, organically, and ethically grown products to Toronto’s core.
While it’s not the first local food co-op in town (there’s also Karma Co-op and The Big Carrot), the West End is a multi-stakeholder co-op, meaning that customers can become members (for just $5) and have a say in how it’s run—and that’s rare.
Dinner helps run the Food Hub’s day-to-day flow, greeting customers, stocking products, connecting with the suppliers, and making sure the café and store are running smoothly. The co-op hosts preserving workshops and stocks all manner of sustainable-food literature, and there’s a huge bulletin board with the co-op’s by-laws on it. And all of the produce is paired with a photo and write-up about the farm, so that customers know where (and from whom) exactly their food is coming from.
As Dinner finishes his tour of the Hub’s products, his two young sons are busy playing cards with their mother at the co-op’s adjoining café. They’ve already bought groceries to take home with them. “We’re working to get kids to come in and learn about healthy cooking and eating,” says Dinner, noting that the co-op recently received a $10,000 grant from the National Co-operators Challenge, which will go, in part, towards building kid-friendly educational workshops. They also want to teach a class on making baby food.
“Opening has been a practice of patience just to get the basics running smoothly,” says Dinner. “But I think we’re figuring it out. It’s nice to see that we’re running the basic operations while the bigger discussions are happening.”
The stories behind three of West End Food Co-op’s products
ChocoSol Traders: Their product is made in Toronto, using Mexican cacao.
FarmStart: This initiative helps new farmers break into agriculture. Each farmer gets a piece of land (usually in Brampton) and a three-year trial.
City Feed Farm: A co-op board member grows vegetables in people’s backyards in the city, and delivers them by bike.
West End Food Co-op, 1229 Queen St. W., 416-533-6363