I was fortunate to take part in a planning studio class during the 2018 summer semester, applying tactical urbanism to food culture and place making in Downtown Historic Abbotsford. Initially, I was a bit skeptical and kept on pondering over what ‘food culture’ is really about and how food could play a role in place making especially as an outsider as this was a new term for me.
As the class began, Bonnie a passionate Chef and Josh, Founder of Field House Brewing took us through what food culture is all about and I immediately knew I was in for a thrilling and exciting adventure over the next few weeks. The idea was to come up with a pop up Food market, which would rally together the Abbotsford Community and start a conversation around food cultures and the concept of farm to table experience.
So what is this food culture, you may ask; it simply refers to the practices, attitudes, and beliefs as well as the networks and institutions surrounding the production, distribution, and consumption of food. It combines the concepts of food ways, cuisine, and food system and includes the fundamental understandings a group has about food, historical and current conditions shaping that group’s relationship to food and the ways in which the group uses food to express identity, community, values, status, power, artistry and creativity.
When you think about it, our comfort foods map who we are, where we come from, and what happened to us along the way. There is a saying that goes ‘what you want to cook and eat is an accumulation, a function of your experiences, the people you’ve dated, what you’ve learned and even where you’ve visited’ and, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There may be inbound elements from other cultures, but you’ll always eat things that mean something to you.
Back to our adventure, so it started out with an old blue building, three coordinators (Prof. Cherie Enns included) and around forty students from different backgrounds (Graphic Design, Political Science, Maths, Geography and Global Development Studies). This came in handy when the different tasks were distributed, as there were some in charge of space planning and way finding, event planning, marketing and branding amongst other stuff. The different mix of students too created a conducive and holistic environment for a hub of innovative ideas. The team had just little over a month, to start up a market from scratch no pressure guys, okay maybe a little bit of pressure but we were confident that we would pull it off, I mean we had the best coordinators.
Each team had their goals and objectives that they were working towards, for instance the vendors team was trying to link up with various producers, vendors and farmers from Chilliwack and Abbotsford meanwhile the marketing and branding team was busy reaching out to people mostly through social media, advertising the event. It was really quite interesting to see the different strengths of each individual and groups come together, and work together cohesively. Friendships were made, wisdom was shared and knowledge acquired over the few weeks from this experience.
Guess what guys, we did it!!!! The Rail District Pop up Market was a success, over 25 vendors showed up with almost all of them selling their produce and products within the first two hours. Over 400 people showed up to the event, which surpassed our expectations mainly because it took such a short time to organize and set up. Looking back, it is now clear to me that when you create quick low cost changes to the built environment, it sure does inspire and improve neighbourhoods and gathering spaces and the most exciting part was me being involved in such an exciting and interactive experience.
And as a plus, we had a mini-reunion of some the QES Scholars who I had the chance to meet in person. Woohooo!!! Truly, food is the single greatest unifier across cultures.