Garden Hill’s journey to food sovereignty

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Garden Hill’s journey to food sovereignty

In the heart of Garden Hill First Nation, a fly-in Oji-Cree community 475 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg in Treaty 5 territory, a food sovereignty initiative has sparked transformative change for its members.

a man rides a tractor in a fieldThe change started to take root thanks to a collaboration between Aki Foods – an innovative, Indigenous led social enterprise – and Garden Hill First Nation. The collaboration sought to address a variety of social and economic problems plaguing Garden Hill, which included extremely high rates of poverty, severe food insecurity, and rates of Type 2 diabetes that were 400 to 500 times the national average.

These issues stemmed from the complex multi-generational trauma and loss of traditional ways of knowing and being brought about by colonization and the residential school system.

Meechim (which means “food” in the Oji-Cree language) initiated a healthy food market, a healthy food canteen, and a thirteen-acre farm, which has grown into “a flourishing small-scale farm producing hundreds of pounds of organic food annually. This self-sufficiency empowers residents and fosters a deep sense of accomplishment, says Rodney Contois, Director of Aki Foods Inc.

three men stand in a garden, proudly showing off their workIn 2023, the community established the Meechim Farm Crew, a group selected from local community members to learn about agriculture and livestock management in the challenging northern environment. Guided by Manitoba’s organic farmers, the crew has learned about horticultural and agricultural best practices – not just cultivating food but also cultivating knowledge.

During a tour of the garden, children were surprised when the farmer leading the tour picked and ate a pea pod off one of the plants. They were delighted to learn that what they ate came from plants that sprang from the ground. Soon, these children had spread across the fields and were picking and eating pea pods.

The farm site … is a place for shared labour, agricultural knowledge exchange, and intergenerational connection. This pride isn’t just sentimental; it fuels positive change. Volunteers [are] inspired by the project’s impact, young people see a future rooted in food security and environmental stewardship, and the broader community rallies for the project, ensuring its continued success.
RODNEY CONTOIS, Director, Aki Foods Inc. (partner with Garden Hill First Nation)

a man waters an indoor gardenStories like these demonstrate how the farm is more than just a food producer. It’s a way to teach children about where food comes from, spark a love of fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy eating, inspire their interest in learning new skills, and create connections between youth and Elders. Through the Meechim farm, community members are drawing on traditional knowledge to learn what it is possible to grow in northern Manitoba.

By supporting initiatives like the Meechim farm, the CFTC donor community is walking alongside the people of Garden Hill as they make real progress towards food sovereignty.

Thank you to our donors, and to the community of Garden Hill, for cultivating not just crops but a sustainable, self-determined future for generations to come.