A message from James Moch, Southern Stl'atl'imx Health Society, and Maery Kaplan-Hallam, First Nations Health Authority.
"We learn new skills like building things with our hands and using tools." – Roxanne Peters, 12
"We have fun when we work in the garden, it good to be working together with friends in community and be doing something positive." – Sabby Charlie, 13
A new First Nations food sovereignty project is putting youth at the forefront of enhancing food harvesting and providing them with opportunities to share traditional knowledge with Elders, their families and other youth. The project receives the bulk of its funding from FNHA's Indigenous Climate Health Action Program (ICHAP) with an additional contribution from the First Nations Food Systems (FNFS) project.
The wellness initiative, which is led by staff from the by the Southern Stl'atl'imx Health Society, involves activities in the communities of N'Quatqua First Nation, Samahquam, Skatin Nations, and Xa'xtsa (Douglas) First Nation.
These communities are located in remote areas where access to certain foods, including protein and fresh produce, can be a challenge. The direct and indirect impacts of climate change, such as increasing drought, wildfire events, mudslides, flooding, and heat waves, are expected to add to those challenges in the years ahead.
The project aims to contribute to enhancing food security under a changing climate by building skills, increasing agricultural production, and encouraging healthy foods.
Over the summer and fall of 2021, the main activities included the construction of food storage buildings, a demonstration greenhouse in each community, and the general planting, growing and harvesting of vegetables in existing school and community gardens.
Harvesting time is celebrated with community cooking demonstrations and events. The weekly group projects allow youth to come together to develop their skills, share their thoughts, enjoy healthy snacks, and get hands-on experience in cultivating food in their community.
"I like how the food from the garden is used for the community." Kylie Thomas, 18
By engaging youth in these various agricultural activities, they're able to view themselves as important stewards of their land, bringing an increased sense of strength, resilience, and self-esteem. This engagement supports personal health and wellbeing by enabling healthy physical activity and providing skill development, ranging from building garden structures or greenhouses to planting and harvesting crops. By being seen as positive contributors within their communities and one another, youth learn what they can accomplish through teamwork.
This initiative also directly connects youth to their land and teaches them what is possible to cultivate and grow in their communities. Following a technique known as Hugelkultur, youth spent time gathering decaying logs and wood from the forest to use as compost to support plants in the garden boxes they built.
Through discussions about the environment and climate concerns, youth were able to further reflect on how important it is to think of their land as a resource to nurture and protect.
Over winter and spring, the focus of the project has shifted to integrative workshops that tie in themes related to climate health and wellness. Community and school-based events include healthy cooking and storage of vegetables while learning about climate health and community sharing.
Through various workshops, such as “Hugelkultur – Bulk and Personal Composting Strategies", it is hoped that participants will come away with deeper connections and interests to either enhance their own family gardens, participate in community or school gardens or at least support them.
Each year, some youth will move on to other community projects and work experience, and their younger siblings are eager to start participating in the garden program. Having access to funding and resources to offer youth this initiative is also fundamentally important. In order for these food security projects to continue, it's vital to have community and health leaders continue to support and collaborate on this important project.