Indigenous Food Forests

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Indigenous Communities

in Canada
Focused on community-led, self-defined food security and food sovereignty initiatives
Food Forests: Growing Food, Gaining Food Sovereignty

Building on the success of the innovative food forest in Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, three more food forests have been established in Beardy’s & Okemasis’ Cree Nation, Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation and Whitefish Lake First Nation (Atikameg).

Communities are working together to grow food, reconnect to traditional food practices, share learnings, and gain food sovereignty, which includes self-determined land and water stewardship.

Food forests are already helping provide more food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, and creating economic opportunity for communities that, even before the pandemic, experienced the highest rates of food insecurity in Canada.

In 2023, in the 4 communities that have food forests:

4 food forests cover 27.75 acres

849 community members have participated in planting

500 environmental stewards (many are students) are involved

2,440 trees have been added

1,645 shrubs have been added

More than 5,000 pounds of fruits & veggies have been harvested

5 people are employed

28 acres are established and growing

What's a Food Forest?

Based on the science of permaculture, a food forest is a nature-inspired multifunctional agricultural system that provides fruits, vegetables, other edibles, medicines and more.

Unlike a traditional farm, a food forest is self-sustaining once established. This means it can feed families for generations while helping Indigenous communities re-establish food sovereignty. Learn more.

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In the past, First Nations people were people of the land. Over time, some of those connections have been lost. We’re really taking all of that traditional knowledge and bringing it back so that we can go back to being producers and not consumers … so we're not having to go to town and purchase food or we're not getting food brought in at higher expense. With poverty issues, social issues, transportation issues, we're trying to remove those barriers by bringing those teachings back.
SHALEAN MORIN, LAND & AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, AHTAHKAKOOP CREE NATION

The Challenges

FOOD INSECURITY

Healthy food is priced out of reach for many Indigenous families and food available locally is often of low quality. The cost of supplies and transportation plus the loss of traditional knowledge about food gathering, growing and hunting limits Indigenous peoples’ abilities to live off the land and waters that have sustained them for millennia.

POORER HEALTH & WELLBEING

Indigenous children and adults experience inequities in the social determinants of health – equal access to food, housing, education, income, social and cultural belonging, etc. – that result in incidence of disease and illness far in excess of the general population, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, addictions and mental health issues, among others.

Poverty

Indigenous people experience the highest levels of poverty in Canada, with 1 in 4 First Nations, Métis and Inuit people living in poverty. Approximately 4 in 10 Indigenous children live in poverty, with significant effects on their mental and physical health, and life outcomes.

LOSS OF TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE

The impact of colonization, land dispossession, and ongoing racism plus the legacy of residential schools have led to the loss of Indigenous ways of knowing and being and have resulted in lasting, intergenerational harm to Indigenous peoples’ social, economic, spiritual and cultural wellbeing.

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We’re trying to bring more access back to traditional and medicinal ways. We’re trying to give members that access again and bring them closer to the land, bringing back that community engagement that we once had back in the day. Being in charge of our own food systems and being able to provide for ourselves, provide for others. Hunting, fishing, gardening, snaring, all of that stuff – just not being so dependent on superstores and grocery stores but being able to grow our own foods and enjoy them with the community.
JAKE AKENAHEW, FOOD SOVEREIGNTY COORDINATOR, AHTAHKAKOOP CREE NATION

Hearing from Indigenous People

About the importance of food forests
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Climate change is probably the biggest issue everywhere. The less we can rely on our global food system, the more reliant we need to be on our local food system. That's one of the biggest climate-change related benefits of what we're doing here. We're going to be reforesting a lot of the reserve, creating habitat for all kinds of traditional food sources. All these little changes we're making to improve the land will make the land more resilient and therefore the people more resilient.
STEVEN WIIG, FOOD SECURITY & CLIMATE CHANGE MANAGER, MUSKEG LAKE CREE NATION
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The food forest is dynamic. It changes not only by the season, but sometimes week by week. It depends on the temperature, on the weather, on the moisture. The more we understand, the more we become knowledgeable about the weather, about climate change, about the ability to create a business based on the food that we're growing here, the better it’s going to be.
ED LUCIER, ELDER & KNOWLEDGE KEEPER, MUSKEG LAKE CREE NATION
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To me this [the food forest] is important to our future, to our kids and to the next generation. We’re in tough times, things are tough. Food is not available that much. One day this is going to be one big garden. It's important, as people, as Nehiyawok [Cree people], to work together. We're on our way to break this cycle of intergenerational trauma. And it's a good place to do this, in this kind of environment and out in nature.
AUDREY EYAHPAISE, ELDER & KNOWLEDGE KEEPER, BEARDY’S & OKEMASIS’ CREE NATION
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It's important for everybody to be involved because we do consume the food so what’s better [than] to plant it yourself. You can see all the life cycles that it goes through and what it actually takes to produce food that is healthy for you. It's important for people to be part of that food chain, be able to grow it themselves and harvest it themselves so they can eat it and put all that good inside of them.
CHERYL MOYAH, TWO BILLION TREES COORDINATOR, MUSKEG LAKE CREE NATION
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The food forest provides the opportunity to get fresh air and the exercise that everyone needs every day. If people can take a walk for 20 minutes then that helps your physical energy, your psychological health. You eat healthier, you live better, and it works hand in hand. Teaching people how the food system really works is the main goal right now and teaching them food preservation, food cooking, food skills.
JENNIFER CAMERON, FOOD SECURITY COORDINATOR, BEARDY’S & OKEMASIS’ CREE NATION
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We have lost many things but we still have our teachings and we are grateful for what is still here. We have pretty well everything that's needed out there but then people have to know what to identify and purpose for each plant and each tree and what the stories that go with it. We have to work on our little ones to get that grasp back of the purpose of Creation, why everything was created, for what purpose. We have to teach our younger people about the value of that. All of these things will help us.
TIM PEEKEEKOOT, ELDER AND KNOWLEDGE KEEPER, AHTAHKAKOOP
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    Where your support is needed

    TOWARDS FOOD SOVEREIGNTY IN MORE INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES

    Based on the successful pilot programs running in four communities (shown), we intend to partner with more Indigenous communities across Canada to establish 10 FOOD FORESTS by 2030.

    The Indigenous Food Forest Initiative was selected as a winner of the 2020 TD Ready Challenge, which called for applicants to provide innovative solutions that will help create accelerated, sustained and equitable recovery in the face of COVID-19. We are so grateful for their generous commitment to support this initiative.

    This is a community-led initiative, implemented with the support Canadian Feed The Children, the TD Ready Challenge, and Canadian donors like you. When you support the Indigenous Food Forest Fund, you can help create sustainable change for generations of Indigenous children.

    Boy plants a plant in the food forest

    The Future

    We envision a future where food forests are established and thriving in Indigenous communities across Canada where they:
    • foster deep connections to Indigenous culture and traditions by involving Elders, youth and all community members in land-based activities centred on food gathering, growing, preparing and preserving
    • are teaching tools that help educate children and youth by connecting schools, students, teachers and parents to the lessons that the food forest teaches
    • help improve Indigenous food security in tandem with community gardens, greenhouses and school food programs, making more food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, available year-round
    • promote good nutrition and health by acting as a focal point for community hunts, harvests, and food-related events, which diversify diets and encourage the consumption of traditional food
    • provide opportunities for income generation by creating jobs and developing local economies
    • are safe spaces for healing for Indigenous people where people can meet, share, and reconnect with the land and each other
    • are helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change by creating self-sustaining natural environments that protect soil, land, water, and wildlife – and all who rely on them
    • support Indigenous-led food systems transformation, increasing resilience and leading to Indigenous food sovereignty over the lands and waters that have sustained them for millennia

    Get in touch

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    Thank you for sharing our commitment to help children thrive!

    For more information, please reach out to Fawad Iqbal at [email protected]
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    Thank you for sharing our commitment to help children thrive!

    For more information, please reach
    out to Fawad Iqbal at
    [email protected]