One of my favorite parts of harvest is taking off the corn for the Belgrave Community Growing Project. My parents became a part of this 16 years ago and we have been doing it ever since. As farmers, the goal of the organization – “a world without hunger”– is very appealing. After all, isn’t reducing hunger a big part of what we do?
On our farm, I also like the community aspect of it – usually members of my parents’ church come and help and I love to see the variety of people pitching in to bring that final bit of corn in from the field. It reminds me of the sense of community that was a big part of survival when our ancestors first came to Huron County.
This year, the Belgrave Community Growing Project was able to forward a cheque of $20,000 to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and their contribution over the last 16 years totals over $281,000. For every dollar donated by the project, the Canadian government donates $4 – making that contribution grow to $1.4 million.
The Canadian Foodgrains Bank is composed of a partnership of 15 Canadian churches and church-based agencies whose mission is to work together to end global hunger. They do this by:
• Supporting international programs to meet immediate food needs, reduce malnutrition, and achieve sustainable food security;
• Influencing improvements in national and international policies that contribute to ending global hunger, and
• Increasing and deepening the engagement of Canadians in efforts to end global hunger (https://foodgrainsbank.ca/about-us/mission/).
I think it is important to look beyond our own doorstep and help those in need around the world – with all the natural disasters and political upheaval, there is never a shortage of people who desperately need help. However, when I get thinking about this, it always brings me back to our own community.
While we may think that poverty is a big city problem, something that doesn’t really affect us here, poverty in Huron County is a real problem. I was shocked when a friend of mine told me the number of people who came out to his church’s Christmas dinner – people who had nowhere else to go on Christmas day. It was a good reminder for me, in the midst of all my Christmas busyness, that this issue isn’t going away on its own.
It isn’t always easy to get up to date numbers, but as of 2015, there were 10 food banks across the county. Those food banks distributed 207,316 kg of food in 2015, and recorded 16,440 visits. Thirty per cent of the visits were from children. In 2010, 6845 people in Huron County (12 per cent) were living in poverty, which is defined as living on less than $27,000 per year.
Ontario’s recent minimum wage increase has generated a lot of interest – from small business owners fearing they’ll have to close their doors to boycotts of Tim Hortons restaurants across the province. While we may become very opinionated on one side or the other, it may be helpful to think about it in a different way. Poverty affects all of us – directly or indirectly. So if we don’t want a minimum wage increase as part of the solution, what is a better way?
The United Way has produced a report that provides information about the Huron-Perth living wage that can be found at www.bit.ly/LW summary. The idea of a living wage is different from a minimum wage in several ways. For one thing, the living wage recognizes that not all places have similar costs of living.
“A living wage is the hourly wage a worker needs to earn to cover the family’s basic everyday expenses such as food, housing, utilities, transportation, and childcare. The calculation is based on the living expenses of a family of four with both adults working full time for 37.5 hours per week, once government transfers and deductions (income taxes, and employment insurance premiums) have been taken into account. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), the living wage rate for Perth and Huron is $16.47 per hour in 2015 (livingwagecanada.ca).” Roughly half the households in Huron County make less than that (Perth-Huron Social Research & Planning Council, 2015).
This report also found that the sectors most likely to pay wages below the living wage were agriculture, retail trade, and accommodation and food services (livingwagecanada.ca). Other sectors reported what I have noticed myself, that it is hard enough to find workers that the living wage rate would be considered a “low bar” and the current labour market dictates that higher wages be paid.
Poverty to Prosperity (P2P) is another initiative that is a “collaborative and action-based group that brings people together from across sectors to improve the lives of individuals who live in poverty (www.huroncounty healthunit.ca).” This group grew from a committee formed in 2012 called “Bridges in Huron”, which changed to “Huron Anti-poverty Initiative”, and then became the P2P in 2014 with support from the Perth Huron United Way, County of Huron, and the Huron County Health Unit.
We may not know what the best solutions are, and we can get caught up in arguments over the long-term effect of many government initiatives – but if we start the conversation with the idea that no one wants to see their neighbours or their neighbours’ children going hungry, we can move toward a better future for everyone.◊