Nova Scotia

Halifax Public Libraries cooks up new approach to tackle food insecurity

After seeing so many people hungry at the branches of the Halifax Public Libraries, officials are focusing on providing snacks, food education and cooking workshops.

'Food security is a really big issue in our region,' says library official Karen Dahl

Karen Dahl, program development manager for Halifax Public Libraries, says food is something that resonates across all cultures. (Richard Woodbury/CBC)

After seeing so many people hungry at the branches of the Halifax Public Libraries, officials are focusing on providing snacks, food education and cooking workshops.

Karen Dahl, the program development manager at Halifax Public Libraries, said one in five Halifax residents doesn't have access to nutritious and affordable food.

"We know that food security is a really big issue in our region," she said. "We've got this awesome food culture in Nova Scotia, we have a lot of fabulous local producers."

Dahl said for a long time, many librarians kept a box of granola bars in their desks for children who were hungry.

"It's been interesting having kids say that their mom is less stressed because she knows they're getting a snack at the library," she said.

Library official Karen Dahl says there's been a lot of excitement and interest about local ingredients, cooking and nutrition. (Halifax Public Libraries)

The libraries now offer healthy snacks for kids after school and to adults through their "Snack Social" events.

"Providing healthy snacks aren't necessarily about teaching, but when you have healthy snacks in the library, interactions are positive, people tend to be more upbeat, and they're better able to focus and learn, so kids can suddenly sit and do some homework," Dahl said.

Building new spaces

Two kitchens are also going to open later this spring at the Halifax Central Library and the Sackville Public Library to better equip the facilities to offer food workshops.

Dahl said a number of library staff attended a professional development program to learn how to prepare affordable meals together and how to communicate messages around food.

Two kitchens are going to open at the Halifax Central Library and the Sackville Public Library. (Halifax Public Libraries)

Aimee Gasparetto, the senior food co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, said the approach by Halifax Public Libraries is a good first step.

"We have to do advocacy work and have to create policies that are going to support the system change that is required," she said.

Gasparetto said the work by Halifax Public Libraries staff is important because they are connecting with community members.

"That's the value we see more and more with food projects," she said. "These projects are tremendous at just creating immense social value and sense of belonging for people."

'Food is the most amazing topic'

Dahl said the libraries are responding to a lot of excitement and interest about local ingredients, cooking and nutrition.

"Food is the most amazing topic because it really does cross through culture and tradition and local growing and entrepreneurship and the joy of tasting and gathering together to celebrate," she said.

About the Author

Aya Al-Hakim

Reporter

Aya Al-Hakim is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. She can be reached at aya.al-hakim@cbc.ca.