Growing in Garden Hill

Growing in Garden Hill

CFTC is proud to announce that we have formally signed an agreement with a new partner, Aki Energy, which is involved in some exciting agricultural and food security work in Garden Hill, Manitoba – a remote fly-in First Nation community located 650 km northeast of Winnipeg.

Garden Hill is the largest community out of the four First Nations in the Island Lake area with a total on-reserve population of over 4,000 members. It has two schools: a high school consisting of over 1,000 secondary students, and an elementary school comprising of over 400 primary students.

Four Arrows Regional Health Authority supports Garden Hill families who want to raise their own chickens for family consumption.

Four Arrows Regional Health Authority supports Garden Hill families who want to raise their own chickens for family consumption.

The Garden Hill community is unfortunately recognized as having a notoriously dire health situation. The rate of diabetes is staggeringly high and is compounded by bad dietary trends and unhealthy eating habits. According to research conducted by Dr. Jon McGavock and highlighted in Wave magazine in December of 2012, the community has a Type 2 diabetes rate that is 400 to 500 times higher than the general population. As recently as the 1970s, Garden Hill was devoid of such diseases, however that changed with the introduction of foods high in sodium, sugar, and oils.

The community currently has a small gardening program which is coordinated by the local community health program, however more effort is needed to reverse current dietary trends and reclaim traditional harvesting/gardening practices.

CFTC supported some of the costs to build this greenhouse and turkey run on Meechim Farm.

CFTC supported some of the costs to build this greenhouse and turkey run on Meechim Farm.

The new CFTC-funded School-to-Garden project will be integrated with existing work being conducted in the community by Meechim Inc., an innovative social enterprise incorporated in 2014 by Aki Energy and Garden Hill First Nation. Meechim (which means “food” in the Oji-Cree language) operates a healthy food market, a healthy food canteen, and a thirteen-acre farm in Garden Hill, and works to transform the local food economy within the Island Lake region.

The School-to-Garden project aims to build upon that work by incorporating a mentorship program that will immerse local youth in gardening and farming practices. High school class groups, referred to as Garden Teams, will be coordinated and overseen by a Gardening Mentorship Lead, as well as a Community Elder with previous gardening knowledge.
The will learn preparation, maintenance, and harvesting of class-owned garden plots, and will in turn mentor elementary school classes.

Garden Teams will be allotted five to eight garden plots with a diameter of 15’x 30’ feet minimum on which they will grow various fruits, plants, and vegetables. The project will also include small germination units to be placed in each elementary classroom. This will allow for more teaching opportunities in addition to class trips to Meechim Farms.

Staff working at the farm in Summer 2016. Staff are trained and supported by two off-site farm managers. (CFTC Director, Canada Programs Rhonda Taylor, second from right).

Staff working at the farm in Summer 2016. Staff are trained and supported by two off-site farm managers. (CFTC Director, Canada Programs Rhonda Taylor, second from right).

Discussions with the community and partners started in fall 2015, resulting in a commitment to fund the project in early 2016. The Garden Hill community is the first new First Nation community CFTC has engaged with as part of its Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds 2020 initiative, funded through a generous grant from The Slaight Family Foundation and CFTC’s private donors.

Gardens are now well underway and we look forward to reporting back the fruits of the students’ labour soon! Stay tuned!