Community gardens, cooking classes, bulk ordering, farmer’s markets, good food boxes, composting and vegetable gardening have brought greater food security to Fort Albany.
At a workshop in January led by Gigi Veeraraghavan, Healthy Babies Healthy Children coordinator, a group of community members drew out a pathway for a healthier community through healthier food. They are planting the seeds of change.
Food security – the assurance that all people at all times have adequate amounts of healthy, safe, and culturally appropriate food – is difficult to achieve in remote, northern communities.
About 75 per cent of the households in Fort Albany are not food secure.
Many people worry about being able to afford food for their families. Flying food in from the south is very expensive.
A local food system could make food more affordable and accessible, Veeraraghavan said.
When it comes to food, Fort Albany members have already shown they are a forward thinking community.
While the provincial government has only recently begun to start nutrition programs in schools, Fort Albany was well ahead of their time as it started a school nutrition program nearly two decades ago.
Today the program is thriving – a full breakfast for elementary and high school students and healthy snacks are offered twice a day to all students at Peetabeck Academy.
The success of the original program received attention from the ONEXONE Foundation and ONEXONE has provided additional funding and support since 2008 for the breakfast program.
This past summer, former chief and historian, Ed Metatawabin and other community volunteers worked hard to put up a greenhouse that was provided by the University of Waterloo through a research grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
The greenhouse is next to the school and the plan is to incorporate gardening into the classroom curriculum. Vegetables grown can be used in the snack program.
“Our community has wanted a greenhouse for a very long time,” said Joan Metatawabin, school nutrition and greenhouse coordinator. “While we were building the greenhouse, students were asking ‘Who is the greenhouse for?’ and we said ‘The greenhouse is for you!’ Everyone is excited to start planting seeds.”
Many people in Fort Albany remember there used to be a potato farm in their community. They know gardening can work here.
Upcoming plans for the spring include starting plants in the greenhouse and building raised garden beds.
Other innovative food security activities are the occasional farmer’s market that are held in Fort Albany.
The farmer’s market involves chartering a plane full of fresh food and then selling the food to community members at low prices to cover the cost of the food and the freight.
Many items end up costing only half of the price charged by the local grocery store.
Fresh meat, vegetables and fruit are the common items brought in.
At the most recent farmer’s market, organizers ordered in fresh milk – which can cost about $14 for four litres at the store – and they were able to sell it for $8 a bag. Events like the farmer’s market rely on dedicated volunteers to be successful.
The food security working group in Fort Albany believes that knowledge is power.
They are learning about successful local food programs from northern Manitoba and will be attending upcoming food security conferences.
And the excitement about growing local food sparks talks of other projects like composting and teaching community members how to can and preserve the food they grow.
The dirt produced from composting can be used in the greenhouse and garden beds. Along with growing produce, the Fort Albany food security group has another goal. They want to make sure that generational traditions – like hunting, berry picking, food preparation and cooking – are passed on to the children and youth in the community.
If the new greenhouse and gardening projects have the same success as the school nutrition program, then Fort Albany will be harvesting produce within the next few years.
The fight for food security in Fort Albany is on.
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