“I’ve been on the other side of a language barrier, and I’ve been in situations where you need to rely on others you don’t really know in order to survive.” Carrie Van Dorp ’08 talks about her past international development work with a calm poise. “I’m not crossing a cultural barrier with post-traumatic stress disorder,” she acknowledges. “My past brings a fair bit of empathy into the work I’m doing now.”
As program coordinator for the Urban Food-to-Table Program, Van Dorp works with refugees newly arrived to Hamilton, teaching them about food safety, nutrition and community gardening. The program is run by A Rocha Hamilton in partnership with World Vision and Hamilton Victory Gardens. Wesley Urban Ministries facilitates support and orientation for government-assisted refugees during their first year in Canada.
“Our heart for Hamilton is to care for all of God’s creation, and we are seeing more and more people take up the call to care for people and places in a very hands-on way.”
Van Dorp teaches cooking classes in the kitchen of Wesley Urban Ministries’ Reception House, where newcomers live until they find permanent accommodations. She introduces them to Canadian food staples and affordable ways of eating. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult and expensive to retain traditional diets. “In Canada,” she points out, “it doesn’t work to include fresh eggplant in every meal, particularly in February.”
But Sunday evenings are different. That’s when Van Dorp welcomes people who have just arrived in Hamilton by providing foods they are used to cooking with. She often ends up scouring the city to find obscure ingredients, but for Van Dorp, it’s worth it. These meals are about building trust with people whose experiences have often conditioned them to be wary.
After sharing these Sunday meals, Van Dorp invites newcomers to attend other cooking classes and to participate in A Rocha’s urban garden. Van Dorp oversees 22 beds at a downtown Hamilton Victory Gardens site. The refugees choose the vegetables to plant.
The garden is tended by volunteers throughout the growing season, but on Thursday evenings, you will find participants of the Food-to-Table Program gardening together. At the end of the night, they harvest what’s available and divvy up the spoils.
The work is rewarding and challenging at the same time. “We have a great time in the garden, and I send them home with vegetables for a couple meals,” Van Dorp reflects. “But I’m not always able to communicate all of the things that I hope they will learn quickly.” Most of the time, Van Dorp works without translators, relying on translation apps or body language to communicate.
The program is about more than cooking and gardening, though. Van Dorp explains, “The objective is to connect socially isolated newcomer Canadians to each other, to more established Canadians, to Canadian food systems and to Canadian landscapes.” That last goal is especially important. “There are lots of folk who live in the city who don’t have many opportunities or access or interest to get beyond their urban environment,” she says.
Van Dorp believes in the power of engaging people to place. A Rocha hosts trips for refugees to visit Cedar Haven Farm, in northwest Hamilton. The actively farmed, 95-acre property has both cultivated and wild areas, including upland forest, swamp and meadows. A Rocha has begun conservation and restoration projects that enable visitors to witness the farm’s incredible ecological diversity firsthand.
“The objective is to connect socially isolated newcomer Canadians to each other, to more established Canadians, to Canadian food systems and to Canadian landscapes.”
Luke Wilson, Ontario Director for A Rocha, links the Urban Food-to-Table Program and Cedar Haven Farm to A Rocha’s larger organizational vision. Through them, the Hamilton branch is building and running programs that offer wonder-filled outreach events, hospitality for transformation and experiential education through conservation.
“Our heart for Hamilton,” Wilson says, “is to care for all of God’s creation, and we are seeing more and more people take up the call to care for people and places in a very hands-on way.” A number of the people who have been involved in A Rocha are Redeemer students, alumni or faculty. “We would literally not have seen so much success without the help of the Redeemer community,” Wilson affirms.
The effects are rippling outward. Van Dorp points to neighbouring ministries and organizations like 541 Eatery, TrueCity Hamilton and EduDeo, which are also populated by members of the Redeemer community. “We all have different mandates and missions and people groups that we try to work with,” Van Dorp comments, “but our vision of God’s Kingdom connects us.”