Since 2011, the Child Poverty Task Force has been meeting round table to discuss Mnidoo Mnis (Manitoulin Island’s) food landscape and the challenges we face as individuals, families and communities in terms of healing, well-being, and our connections to food.
At first, our round table discussions were motivated by the shared feeling that there was an urgent need to improve fresh produce access at the family level, especially for growing children and youth. In response, we adopted Food Share’s Good Food Box model and with the help of Noojmowin Teg Health Centre, launched the program on Manitoulin. The program is now entirely community-driven and operates independent of any outside funding, with the partnerships of two of our local grocery stores and over 30 volunteers.
We reached a point in 2014 where we felt that we were meeting our goal of providing a fresh food option in the form of an accessible and reliable program to all areas across the district. It was time to re-prioritize and return to our discussions of acknowledging community needs in terms of food. This time the discussions headed towards supporting the development of sustainable and long-term solutions for improving access to local food systems. Sub-meetings were planned with representatives from the communities to get more in-depth perspective on each community’s set of strengths in terms of cultivated, forest, field, and freshwater food access and challenges in terms of re-building food systems. From these discussions, major themes presented themselves and we set to work immediately by coordinating home garden installation and developing the design of what is now, Harvest to Share.
Parallel to initiating these pilot projects, we began the long and tedious task of proposal writing for larger-scale grant opportunities in order to address all of the themes that were presented in those conversations with community representatives and shared ideas at the Child Poverty Task Force table. In spring of 2017, we were offered the opportunity of a lifetime. Our project designs were recognized by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Local Poverty Reduction Fund, offering the funding in full that we needed to carry out three years of intensive local food work across the large geographically and culturally diverse area of the Manitoulin District. Our funded projects would be better recognized as the "Manitoulin Community Fresh Food Initiative" and "Mshiikenh Mnis Wenjiing - Turtle Island Roots”.
As we near the end of funding (spring 2020), we have launched our biggest sustainability piece to date – Local Food Manitoulin and this is us moving forward: Food is life and the Local Food Manitoulin movement is supporting people to harvest food from the forest, fields, and freshwater and cultivate food sources at home and within the wider community.
Local Food Manitoulin brings people together from across Mnidoo Mnis and beyond to share knowledge, experience, skills and enthusiasm so we can all eat better and live better in a sustainable way. Our vision is unfolding now as elders and young people share knowledge that brings the freshest, most sustainable foods from Mother Earth to homes, tables and families, but there’s so much left to do.
We’ve created more than 150 family gardens in backyards across the Island, with 11 Kitigaan-naa (community gardens) that bring people together to grow and harvest food while also passing on a spirit of food sovereignty and self-reliance to the next generation. Working together and promoting a connection to the land in young people is so important. Local food is for everyone and everyone is welcome to be part of what’s happening here.
We’re here to bring people together. To make the Local Food Manitoulin vision a reality, we maintain a local food map and host teaching workshops with Island experts on topics such as seed saving, cooking with herbs, sprouting, mushroom production, beekeeping, traditional Anishinabek medicine, farm and permaculture tours, harvesting wild foods and more – all with an emphasis on learning from our elders and the wisdom of their stories.
The success of projects of this scope highlights the importance of capturing a multitude of perspectives at one meeting table, where community leaders and activists are engaging in discussion and making forward-motion decisions together. The Child Poverty Task Force partnerships formally include the following organizations. However, our partnership base extends much further.
Local Food Manitoulin is certainly about eating better and more sustainably, but more than that it’s really about hope – hope in the healing, life-giving power of fresh, locally harvested foods, produced with care and in harmony with the natural world. So come, join us, aambe, and be part of Local Food Manitoulin. Good local food is something we all should enjoy together.