When the Halifax Mobile Food Market launched in 2015, the goal was simple but powerful: to bring fresh, affordable foods to communities in Halifax with limited access to healthy food. But more than a place to buy fresh food, the markets evolved into vibrant community gathering spaces where neighbours connect, customers learn new food skills, children play while parents shop, and community residents come to access different programs and services. As markets sites slowly transform into community hubs that are alive with activity, I think back to the early days when this project was just an idea waiting to be seeded…

The Mobile Food Market in Fairview

In Fairview, we kept hearing the same story, that Fairview didn’t have a single place where residents could gather and connect – there was no community centre or library, no community market, or really anywhere that felt safe and welcoming for all community members. We also heard that for whatever reason, community initiatives just don’t seem to survive in Fairview. Fast forward 2.5 years and Fairview has become one of our most vibrant and successful market sites. Through a connection with local organizations, the Fairview market has been an entry point for new Canadians who are interested in connecting with community life, learning English, building friendships and gaining experience for employment. One such example is Mustafa and his family – his sons Omar, Muhammed, his two young daughters, Shahed and Ruha, and his older daughter, Majda.

Mustafa and Jessie

Mustafa was a business owner in Syria who travelled with his wife and 6 children to Canada.  The YMCA connected Mustafa and his youngest son Mohammed with the market over a year ago. Mustafa was incredibly shy and spoke zero English so all communication happened with the assistance of Mohammed, his youngest son. After a month or so, Mustafa started bringing his older son Omar to volunteer, then their daughter Shahed and soon, his entire family started coming weekly, winning over the hearts of customers and becoming a cornerstone of market activities.

Ruha greeting market goers

They all have their roles which they take very seriously; Mustafa has his role at the checkout, often bagging groceries and assisting customers with heavy bags. The boys are both personal shoppers, helping customers to record items as they shop and writing out receipts. Shahed is the “librarian” after she developed a fast affinity for the Keshen Goodman library crew and Ruha is our greeter, always smiling and waving at everyone as they arrive. It has been an amazing journey to witness the personal growth for each of the family members. For Mustafa, moving from zero English to laughing and joking with our market volunteers. For the boys it’s been witnessing the confidence that’s developed in these shy adolescents. Due to their commitment, they’ve recently stepped into new roles that earn them each an honorarium and will allow them to have their first local job reference.

Mustafa and family.

Whatever the story that emerges, it’s clear to me now that the MFM truly is about much more than food access. When we design welcoming spaces for people to meaningfully engage, we have the power to transform people’s experience of each other, and their community. In my view, this is how one small initiative is helping to transform community through food. Blog written by: Aimee Gasparetto, Senior Coordinator, Community Food, Ecology Action Centre

Adventures in Local Food is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from pickles to policy. It is a project organized by the Ecology Action Centre. Learn more about our program at https://www.ecologyaction.ca/ourfood

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