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One Tomato puts down roots

Published on

Cathy Dobson 

Megan O’Neil-Renaud is excited as she tours the expansive downtown building soon to become the permanent home of the One Tomato project.

“This is where we’re going to do preparation for the Food Works program,” she says.

“Over here is where we’re going to have office space. And on that side, we’re hoping to get some kitchen appliances donated so we can store food and have cooking classes,” says One Tomato’s volunteer executive director.

O’Neil-Renaud and fellow Sarnian Darren Hakker co-founded the project in 2009 as a way to provide more people with fresh, local and healthy food.

One Tomato encourages gardeners to share their harvest and to plant community gardens. Four years ago, it expanded to offer a healthy eating program called Food Works in area elementary schools.

At no charge, Food Works teaches 1,000 elementary school kids a year to cook and appreciate healthy eating, said Hakker.

“We pioneered Food Works and were the largest program of its kind in Canada in 2013,” said O’Neil-Renaud.  “We’re still one of the largest but there are others that have started up, many of them based on what we do.”

Food Works is about to get a boost with the biggest funding infusion since its inception.

The Ontario Trillium Foundation has approved a grant of $213,000 over three years.

The money will pay for two part-time instructors to teach kitchen skills and the value of eating local food to Sarnia-Lambton students. It will also pay the rent at 100 Christina St. where the offices and community kitchen will open in April.

One Tomato is subletting from Shawn McKnight, owner of Return the Landscape, who is occupying the other half of the storefront. It’s a large building that will accommodate other programs, including Lambton Wildlife, Sarnia Artwalk and artists’ studios.

Sarnia Cabinets has already agreed to install free cabinetry for One Tomato, and a drive is on to collect appliances and kitchen equipment.

Numerous community groups support to organization, including Goodwill Industries, Enbridge and the Lambton Cattlemen’s Association, which frequently donates beef.

O’Neil-Renaud and Hakker said they know they need a sustainability plan if the project is to survive long-term.

That’s another reason their permanent location is so important, they said. One Tomato hopes to rent the new kitchen out to commercial chefs and hold adult cooking classes for a fee.

For more, visit www.onetomato.org or contact O’Neil-Renaud at 519-381-8491.

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