Celebrating The Dale’s Own ‘Force of Nature’

It was almost six years ago that I was introduced to the one who I now affectionately describe as a “force of nature”- Souad Sharabani. At the time we needed someone to help direct the kitchen at our Monday Drop-In and Souad was willing. Since then she has transformed the way we cook, convinced our community to “eat their vegetables” and become a very good friend.

Souad was born in the Middle East, has lived and travelled all over the world and now speaks five languages. When Souad is not at The Dale she is an independent radio-documentary producer who explores politics and social/cultural trends, a blogger and more recently a published cook book author (check out Scents of Memory). Souad adores her family and shares pictures and stories of them whenever she can. Her cooking is largely influenced by her travels, rich in flavour and extremely healthy. In fact, her food is so full of herbs and spices that we have dramatically cut down on everyone’s salt intake in the drop-in because the food just doesn’t need it.

When things got bleak at PNC (now The Dale) Souad remained present. I remember dreaming together about how to make things work beyond our impending homelessness. We found an alternate location for the Monday meal and Souad adjusted to cooking in a much smaller space, one where we learned to use glorified hot plates to prepare food for more people than we ever had to in our former industrial kitchen. The group of community volunteers has become a real team under Souad’s leadership. She quietly and consistently works to show them her appreciation, constantly recognizing that it is collectively their kitchen.

Souad has always been straight up with me, something I appreciate. I know when she is mad, concerned or pleased. She has endlessly listened to me. We have enjoyed homemade bread and tea at her kitchen table, walks with her beloved dogs and many a coffee with LOTS of milk.

When Souad isn’t in the kitchen, we all miss hearing her call us either ‘Angels’ or ‘Munchkins’, her colourful language and the way she dances to Motown blaring on the stereo. When Souad is in a room you can’t help but notice her dynamic presence. Six years in, we are incredibly grateful for that presence. Souad, thank you for everything: your fierce loyalty to The Dale, your friendship, your food and all the love that you show through it. Here’s to many more years.

Community Gardening

Spring is finally here and I’ve got gardening on the brain. I love getting my hands dirty. I love the way soil, fresh air and plants smell. I really love that there is a community garden in Parkdale that The Dale gets to be a part of. The garden is nestled beside a Community Centre and feels like a little oasis: when I am inside the gate I suddenly feel very far from the hustle and bustle of Queen Street.

Over the years we’ve endeavoured to grow an assortment of things to various degrees of success: tomatoes, carrots, swiss chard, lettuce, etc. We always plant a serious amount of herbs. During one of our more prolific harvests we were able to regularly send people home with packages of fresh food. I dream about being able to do that again.

I believe there is a lot that is important about community gardening. First, it reconnects people to the land: as city dwellers it can be easy to forget where our food actually comes from and gardening allows us to be in closer touch with it. Second, too often people forget the taste of fresh food because the cost can seem prohibitive or they simply have no place to store or cook it. Sharing smaller amounts of food from our own plot helps to combat this. Finally, gardening can help break down the kind of alienation that occurs when people are isolated. Gardening gets people outside where they must work cooperatively toward a common goal. There’s truly something satisfying about seeing a garden come to life.

I think we should each experience the wonderment of seeing a tiny seed buried in the ground, sprout, grow and produce fruit. Have you ever seen a child pull a carrot out of the ground for the first time? I remember the astonishment on my daughter Cate’s face when she yanked out a beautiful, long, bright orange root. I look forward to being similarly amazed this season.