Would a party feel just as celebratory without the colourful paper plates and napkins? Would a picnic feel just as summery without bags of chips and bottles of juice?
The sight of wrappers rolling across the park, like tumbleweed early one morning during the farmers market’s set-up inspired Chantal Stepa, Toronto’s Withrow Park Market Manager, to find a way to celebrate without waste.
Stepa shared her idea for a Zero Waste Picnic as part of her TD Park People Grant proposal and Withrow Farmers’ Market received funding for this, and two other events.
The Zero Waste Picnic took place during the regular Saturday market so that market-goers would have an opportunity to see zero waste in action, and people from the surrounding neighbourhood would experience the market while doing practical things like dropping off their electronic waste, getting their jewelry repaired and buying package-free body and home care products.
Stepa’s been adding a diverse roster of non-food focused programming to the market’s line up over the last two years and believes that diverse programming helps to introduce people to the farmers’ market and the local food movement. Events also allow the market to serve the community by helping them access services and events that they enjoy and need.
A dedicated team of volunteers played a critical role in the Zero Waste Picnic’s success. Stepa is the first to admit that distributing dishes, washing them according to public health standards and ensuring vendors felt confident using reusable dish ware, is a lot of work, and it takes a strong group of volunteers to pull it off.
“The people who came to the market really appreciated the experience of eating off real plates and using real reusable cutlery in an effort to reduce waste in our park. The positive feedback made the effort worth it.”
Stepa’s advice for hosting a Zero Waste event is to recruit a strong team of volunteers, and be sure to leave lots of lead time to communicate with vendors to reassure them and answer their questions.
Stepa used funds from the TD Park People grant to experiment with new outreach techniques including online ads and dropping off postcards door to door.
“The TD Park People Grant really allowed us to do more promotion than we normally would. We were able to experiment with going door-to-door for the first time, which attracted whole new groups of people. Also, the grant gave us a boost to get creative and think about new events we’d never tried.”
“This is truly a community market,” says Stepa, who has an astounding 80 community volunteers help out each season. The community’s resilience was threatened last Summer , when a mass shooting took place on Danforth Avenue in the Greektown neighbourhood of Toronto. As events unfolded on July 22nd, the tight-knit community was terrified, envisioning which of their neighbours were among the injured.
In the week immediately following the shooting, Stepa and the Market’s board considered cancelling the farmers’ market since a large public gathering might make people feel unsafe. However, the market proceeded and served to return a “sense of normalcy” and a place for the community to reconnect. Many people pitched in to give something back to the community through the farmers’ market. For example, a local flower farmer decided to give all of her flowers away for free or for a donation, to brighten people’s day in a dark time.
The farmer’s market is what Stepa calls “a community space where people connect.” The connections were visible at the Zero Waste Picnic as people swayed along to great music in a park animated with vendors who have a shared vision for nourishing the community and supporting the future of the planet.
The Zero Waste Picnic set against the backdrop of a lush park made it clear that we can do great things, when we do them together.
Learn more about the TD Park People Grant program and our latest round of grantees hosting 225 park events across Canada.