Immigrant Integration Farming Community Co-op (IIFCC)
What is a co-operative?
A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprise. (The International Co-operative Alliance Statement on the Co-operative Identity, Manchester 1995)
Who we are?
The Immigrant Integration & Farming Community Co-operative (IIFCC) is a relatively new cooperative based in Central Park, which is one of the most diverse and high-needs neighbourhoods in Winnipeg. Created by a group of immigrants and refugees, mostly from Africa and Asia with backgrounds in agriculture and other professions, the IIFCC strives to make fresh, local and tropical produce more available for newcomer immigrants and refugees to Winnipeg. We do have a particular focus on single mothers and their children. What makes the Rainbow Community Gardens project so unique is the strong focus on creating opportunities that can facilitate the integration of our participants into Canadian society. We do encourage and promote families’ interaction and enable new immigrants and refugees’ membership in community which leads to their active involvement in local social and economic development activities.
Our purpose is to respond to our members’ basic but essential needs by providing them with opportunities to access space, tools, materials, skills, techniques, and create networks they needed to succeed the social transition from their home countries to the Canadian society –Those small basic services are usually not offered by the public and private settlement organizations and agencies in charge of welcoming the newcomers. We do believe that many newcomer families’ social integration within the Manitoban society has failed because they have had unsuccessful social transition and adjustment to the local realities upon their arrival to Winnipeg. As consequences, many of those family members have become Social Assistance dependents or ended up in prison. We do serve our members in accordance with co-operative values and principles.
Our vision is to live in a city of Winnipeg where:
- All new immigrant and refugee families contribute effectively to the socio-economic development and environment protection, and
- All community members can produce and have access to healthy food and enjoy food security and wellness.
- To fill some cultural and socio-economic gaps and challenges faced by newcomer and refugee families, that other private agencies and public organizations do ignore or cannot address — which can compromise newcomers families’ effective integration and social participation into Canadian society in a long run
- To fulfill the needs of our member owners, member participants, and communities we serve, in terms of family interaction and access to healthy food and community networks
- To promote urban empty space beautification, environment protection and urban farming — with focus on ornamental plants plantation, local and tropical organic vegetables production in balconies, roof top, backyards, and community gardens
- To enable newcomer families develop and maximize their capacity to succeed their transition into Canadian society – to become Welfare ‘non-dependant’ and a happy ‘tax payer’ citizen who can have a voice, and who can also participate in the public decision making processes within their communities.
Evolution and IIFCC Projects
The IIFCC’s main project is the Rainbow Community Gardens which began in the spring of 2008 at the University of Manitoba student garden, and the St. Norbert community garden sites. Led by Raymond Ngarboui and his friend Clement Kokolo when the IIFC pilot project first began, 16 families shared one acre of garden space. Currently, there are 148 new immigrants and refugee families from 23 different nationalities actively involved in the Rainbow community gardens. There are 72 families on a waiting list for the 2014 growing season, due to the lack of gardening space available.
Member owned model
The IIFCC promotes open and voluntary membership and democracy. We believe that democratic control which emphasizes member economic participation, is crucial for equality, trust and self-esteem between our member participants, who mostly come to Canada from war-affected countries and refugee camps. The IIFCC is democratically controlled and owned by its member owners. However, we are open to every individual and family who is willing to join our projects as a simple member-user, volunteer, or observer.
- IIFCC collaborates and participates in any effort towards food security in Manitoba and Canada.
- We do promote families interaction through local and tropical organic vegetable production within and outside the city of Winnipeg. IIFCC not only provides newcomer families with space where they can grow their own food to consume and sell the extra to make additional incomes, but also allows participants to take part in social-development activities, thereby assisting them with integrating into Canadian society. The gardens enable newcomers to have healthier diets and eat fresh, healthy foods from their home countries. This increases access to healthy foods for our gardeners who often have low incomes and are otherwise unable to afford fresh, healthy vegetables. Recent evaluations conducted by Food Matters Manitoba showed that Rainbow Community Gardens demonstrated to have mental health and social benefits for gardeners. The gardens enable member participants to use skills from their home countries, and to learn and share new food skills in a multicultural community. In short, it gives newcomer immigrants and refugees a place to belong and feel at home in Canada.
Although the Co-operative is owned and governed by its members, and we do rely on our members’ contributions and effort to achieve our goals, only our contributions cannot allow us to achieve our dear goals. To help make our goals a reality, we have developed partnerships and networking with various local Co-ops, national agencies, institutions, organizations, and individuals whose material and technical contributions have been instrumental in carrying out our projects. Thanks to our partners’ support, we continually provide education, training, skills and other support that our members needed, not only to contribute effectively to the development of our co-operative, but also for their employability in the Canadian employment market. Indeed, the ultimate goal at IIFCC is to maximize our members (new immigrants and refugees) integration within their new home country and become self-reliance workers or small business owners in Canada.