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Sustainable Nourishment Program bridges art and social justice to tackle food insecurity

By Vama Saini, September 27 2023—

Anita Chowdhury’s journey, from community gardening to academic and community engagement, eventually led her to become the Calgary Branch Coordinator at Mamas for Mamas. Through this role, she launched the Sustainable Nourishment Program, using her non-profit experience and art history degree to bridge art, education and sustainability for food justice progress.

Growing up in British Columbia, Chowdhury was immersed in a vibrant community garden culture, which laid the foundation for her passion for food justice and activism. This background eventually merged with her academic pursuits and community involvement.

“My Bangladeshi heritage exposed me to community gardening, which influenced my master’s research where I participated in a 30-acre urban regenerative farming project,” said Chowdhury.

After earning a degree in art history at Carleton University, Chowdhury explored the connections between the arts and food justice. This influenced her shift toward education to help drive tangible change in food justice. 

“My high school International Baccalaureate art teacher always encouraged us to explore social justice through art. This inspired me to combine my passion for food justice with my master’s research,” she said. 

Chowdhury’s participation in SoilCamp was pivotal in her decision to pursue graduate studies at the University of Calgary. This regenerative farming initiative offered her hands-on experience in sustainable agriculture and Indigenous knowledge. 

“I take on the role of the educator, but I also learn alongside the refugee youth, gaining insights into their growth in critical awareness as they engage with the land and learn from Indigenous knowledge keepers,” explained Chowdhury. “The land itself becomes their teacher, sharing  lessons on sustainability and regenerative agriculture.”

Chowdhury’s involvement with Mamas for Mamas led to the establishment of the Sustainable Nourishment Program. She started as a volunteer, working to redistribute resources among mothers and caregivers in need.

“When I began as a volunteer, I envisioned Calgary establishing its own karma market, similar to those in other Mamas for Mamas branches across Canada,” said Chowdhury.

Through dedication and networking, Chowdhury’s team secured office space in Calgary and launched the Sustainable Nourishment Program. With significant support from partners, they now provide fresh produce and essential food items to vulnerable populations in the community. 

“After two years of effort and coordination, we established a karma market, which greatly expanded our impact and reach,” she said. 

With her extensive experience working with families in need, Chowdhury witnessed the challenges of accessing fresh produce and essential food items in Calgary. She explained that while many families can access non-perishable goods and pantry items through food banks, obtaining fresh produce remains a significant limitation. 

“Our goal is to provide balanced food hampers, including fresh produce and protein sources, to ensure families have access to healthy meals,” said Chowdhury.

Chowdhury is committed to catering to diverse family needs with cultural sensitivity. Her vision includes offering halal, kosher and vegetarian choices to help align food hampers with the community’s varied dietary preferences and religious observances. 

“We want to help reduce the feeling of isolation caused by unfamiliar or mismatched food,” said Chowdhury. 

With a recent $25,000 donation from the Calgary Flames Foundation, the Sustainable Nourishment Program is set to make an even greater impact in addressing food insecurity in Calgary. Chowdhury envisions forging more partnerships to expand the program’s reach. 

“Going beyond borders is crucial when local organizations face increasing strain and limited capacity to assist those in need,” said Chowdhury.

Looking ahead, Chowdhury is dedicated to expanding her advocacy for vulnerable populations in Calgary.  

“We firmly believe in the power of interdisciplinary collaboration and hope to see more organizations unite in the fight against food insecurity and the promotion of community well-being,” said Chowdhury.

To learn more about the Sustainable Nourishment Program, visit the Mamas for Mamas website.

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