541 Eatery understands the power good food can have in strengthening communities, and has been harnessing that power now for a couple of years.
It’s all about building and inspiring resilient communities through the power of nutritious food, particularly in a Hamilton neighbourhood that Sue Carr, 541 Executive Director, says is a food desert.
An eatery and exchange, 541 purposely planted itself in an area on Barton Street where food security is an issue. The socially-conscious cafe transformed an old building in 2014, bringing a quality space to the neighbourhood for residents to eat good food, to meet others, and to “exchange” if they’d like to get further involved.
Since its inception, 541 has included the value of local in their aim to connect people with healthy food, sourcing some of their fresh produce through generous donations from Hamilton farms and gardens. And this spring, they brought the term ‘local’ even closer to home, with the planting of new community garden beds in a nearby parking lot.
A successful crowd-funding campaign allowed 541 to hire a part-time community garden coordinator for the parking lot garden, which is now in full swing growing food for the eatery. The beds are growing various herbs and vegetables — onions, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers – with the help of dedicated volunteers.
It is with hopes that the gardens and healthy eatery will inspire the neighbourhood. “We want to show people what’s possible in an urban environment, around growing vegetables and herbs in small spaces,” said Sue Carr in this video.
The parking lot space, the plants, the seedlings, and of course the time from the volunteers, are all generous donations that have allowed an influential idea to grow into a reality. Carr is quick to acknowledge that these donations have allowed them to not only offer fresh, nutritious food, but also to keep costs down for residents.
“It’s a way to supply people with quality produce that we otherwise couldn’t afford,” Carr tells us.
This year, in addition to their own garden plots, two community gardens and one small farm will donate to 541: A Rocha Farm, Dundas Community Garden, and Flamborough Community Garden.
Michael Bowyer and James Peters first had the idea for a restaurant on Barton Street a number of years ago, when fast food chains were the closest food options for many residents. An economically-challenged area that fell under hard times, 541 wanted to play a part in revitalizing the area, helping to foster further support, and came to fruition in June 2014.
Also a pay-it-forward “button cafe”, $1 purchased buttons go in a jar for future patrons in need to help pay for their meals (up to 5 per person). The buttons become currency for anybody who wants to buy the same quality food that doesn’t have enough to do it, Carr explains.
541 have 13 staff members and about 150 volunteers that have made the eatery and exchange what it is today: a vibrant, animated community space, grown from the power of good food — which is sure to flourish even more with the newly-added gardens. If you want to learn more, visit 541 Eatery here (they are always looking for more volunteers)!