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Happy Positivity Issue! Here at the Spoon, things seem pretty positive—there is a group of happy students laughing over their Spanish homework at one table, loyal volunteer Carolyn (on her third year at the Spoon!) is smiling despite the onions she is cutting, and Robert, our international staff member from England, is pleased because I have agreed to take his spot on cash so he can have his lunch break. Overall, a good day.

And overall, a great year for the Spoon as we enter our second decade of operations! As Trent’s beloved cooperatively owned not-for-profit café we feel that we fill an essential and unique role on campus. Not only do we serve delectable, locally sourced and ethical fare, we also offer a fantastic social and study space, and help create vibrant community among our staff, volunteers, and members.

Our educational mandate is also an important aspect of our organization. Through it we have helped our members, volunteers, and staff develop kitchen and leadership skills, as well as learn about local food and agriculture through hands-on workshops and course credits.

This year has been pretty superbly positive for us—one of our best yet! Not only has 2012/13 seen the return of our (fairly) regular SpoonFed column, we have also seen some awesome workshops and partnered with various organizations. We hosted an event for Self Love Week with the Centre for Gender and Social Justice, co-sponsored a dinner with the New Canadians Centre, and a food sovereignty event with Champlain College, and finally kicked off a Come Cook with Us! workshop with Gzowski College.

This year has also been pretty amazing for us in terms of staff and volunteers. We were able to hire a third coordinator position (that’s me, folks!) to do Education & Outreach, and two staff through the Community Opportunity & Innovation Network (COIN) and the Job Creation Partnership Program.

Our 12 student staff work incredibly hard and put in countless volunteer hours—we are so lucky to have them! I am happy to report that we have had over forty volunteers this year—Martine, Sarah, and Jaden even put in two shifts a week, and Mike pulls a remarkable three (and shaved his beard for us!)

Volunteers cite new friendships, awesome music, work experience to put on a resume, and a fun working environment as the reasons they keep coming back. I chatted with Ryan, a first-year volunteer in the History program, as to why he volunteers in the Spoon, a café with a definite alternative vibe that has sometimes been mistaken as an elitist post-hippie/leftist stronghold.

Ryan has since left the Spoon to focus on volunteering with First Response and is the last person to self-identify as a hippie. He explained that he started volunteering because the Spoon made a big impact on him with a very visible presence during ISW, and he wanted to get some experience working in a different kind of kitchen. We spoke about his take on the Spoon’s identity.

He told me that he “is definitely not a hippie: I’ve been in the military, I keep my hair very short, and I eat far too much chicken than is good for me. As far as the Spoon comes down, there is a bias because it is vegetarian. Then you come in and it’s a student-run, open environment—however, there is still a perception of the students being a whole new generation of hippies.”

When asked if that perception is correct, he said he was pleasantly surprised when he started volunteering in the kitchen.

“People were really nice, and there was quite a variety of individuals. There are certainly a lot of left-wing, activist types but there are also tons of people who come not because it is anti-meat but because it is accessible, close by, and cheaper prices for better food.” He described our food’s quality as superior and said he likes that there is a laid back atmosphere here, with chatty cashiers and no one feeling pressured to rush out the door or even buy anything.

When asked if there was a lack of professionalism in the Spoon, Ryan (a veteran of the food service industry) said no. He thought it was nice that we didn’t wear uniforms, and assured me that health and safety guidelines were properly followed (and the Health Inspector, who visited last week, agreed).

When asked about his favourite memory of the Spoon, Ryan told me that it was when he made mayonnaise… and people liked it! “[The Spoon] definitely has a nice dynamic,” he concluded, “and is definitely something different.”

Connecting with people of all walks of life is undoubtedly my favourite part of the job. Among our volunteers alone we’ve had nursing students, grad students, international students, and non-students. We have people who have never been in a commercial kitchen before, and we also have a professional chef who hires a babysitter so he can volunteer on Wednesday mornings. All of them agree with our members and other customers: the Spoon rocks!

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You too can support the Spoon. Join us in the café, online, and at our Ten-Year Anniversary Party on April 6. You can also support us by voting in the TCSA elections March 25 to 28—we are seeking a $3.00 levy increase, which will give us a total of $5.98 and allow us to continue doing the great work we do, including expanding our educational programming, increasing paid student staff hours. And, you can start thinking about next year: will you be volunteering, leading a workshop, or buying a membership? ($10.00 gets you a 10-25% on all food items and a voice in café decision making!)

This year has been positive for us, but it has also been financially difficult. Since we don’t operate on a profit-based model like most restaurants, we don’t enjoy the same revenue increases. As our membership increases, so do our needs for capital, and a levy increase that would put us on par with other groups on campus (including KWIC, OPIRG, the Ceilie, and the Centre for Gender and Social Justice) will ensure that students can keep Spooning well into our 20th Anniversary! Without a levy increase, our future will very likely continue to be bleak, with a much changed Spoon: Shorter hours? Fewer menu items? Less staff hours?

So, help us end this article on a positive note and come on out and VOTE this Monday and Tuesday outside Wenjack, or Wednesday and Thursday outside Bata. Vote for fair food prices, student positions, awesome educational programming, and food with roots in the community!

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Robyn Smith, dedicated Education & Outreach Coordinator for the Seasoned Spoon.