Natoageneg’s new greenhouse will help reinvigorate its school meal program

|  Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Natoageneg’s new greenhouse will help reinvigorate its school meal program



March 10 Update:
The new greenhouse is here!

Heavy snowfall is no longer an obstacle to growing fresh produce for this school meal program.

Read on to learn how donor support is helping 125 children access fresh food all year long thanks to this brand new geothermal greenhouse at a local school in Natoaganeg.


The new greenhouse has been installed. Dome covered in snow



Since the mid-2000s, Natoageneg (Eel Ground First Nation) has grown its school food, nutrition education, and food security initiatives from the seeds of an idea to what is now a thriving local food system. Starting with a school breakfast and lunch program in the local school, the community’s approach to food security has flourished over the years to become a comprehensive school- and community-based set of health and wellness initiatives called Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, Healthy Spirits, which has received regional and national attention.

Within this food-focused culture, school principal Terri-Anne was eager to share the latest plans for an indoor growing program located near the garden beds just outside the school, funded by donations from Canadian Feed The Children's donors over the past year.


Exciting new greenhouse plans

“We’re really excited,” she said, standing at the centre of a concrete pad that will become the base for a 30- by 40-foot heated structure housing raised beds and mini-greenhouses that will grow fruits, herbs and vegetables all year long.

“We want children and their parents to use it all year round,” said Terri-Anne, “as if you’re at your own house and you go back into the garden to grab what you want and eat it a few minutes later. [We want to] instill that kind of value system.”

The vision is for the produce grown in the greenhouse to supplement the school meal program, which feeds 125 students plus staff two meals a day during the school year.

“It’ll be more sustainable and we’ll have more access to fresh fruits and vegetables daily,” said Terri-Anne, especially important to keep the school cafeteria’s salad bar well-stocked. Since its installation, the salad bar has been a focal point for healthy eating and a big hit among students and staff.



“It’ll be more sustainable and we’ll have more access to fresh fruits and vegetables daily."
Terri-Anne, School Principal
Terri-Anne smiles in front of a brightly painted mural of a river at sunset inside of the school. The greenhouse will provide fresh produce for the school meal program.

The greenhouse will provide more nutrition education for the school meal program

The school garden and planned greenhouse will link to the school’s well-established nutrition education program, which involves students in hands-on learning around growing, planting, tending, and harvesting food. These curriculum connections teach students (and often, through them, their parents) about good nutrition:

“We want them to know how many nutrients there are [in garden produce]; we really want to build that knowledge. Like, this is good for your eyes, this is good for your skin, this is good for your whole system,” said Terri-Anne.



About the greenhouse

The greenhouse will be a 30- by 40- foot heated structure housing raised beds and mini-greenhouses that will grow fruits, herbs and vegetables all year long.

The vision is for the produce grown in the greenhouse to supplement the school meal program, which feeds 125 students plus staff two meals a day during the school year.


A community food system

The school’s nutrition education efforts are part of a broader food security ecosystem at Natoageneg, which includes a large community garden and the Natoageneg Food Centre – a hub for food sharing programs, cooking classes, an Elder drop-in centre, events, and more. Along with the school meal program, these initiatives are proving vital to help contend with the rising costs of food and, with that, the increasing levels of food insecurity in Natoaganeg.

Even before the pandemic, the New Brunswick community of 1,000 experienced a much higher-than-average rate of food insecurity at 40% compared to just under 9% for the average household elsewhere in Canada. 

Responding to new challenges

The pandemic set the resumption and expansion of the school’s food and nutrition education program back many months.

“COVID affected so many things. [Students] weren’t allowed to go on field trips. Usually we’d invite chefs to come in and do some healthy food preparation, but that couldn’t happen.

We had a youth champion group who would help prepare smoothies or serve food at events [which was discontinued when older students graduated and was not restarted during lockdown]. The food safety course also got cancelled. It’s been very disappointing.

For a lot of the younger kids, our programs are becoming a faded memory. It really stopped our momentum,” Terri-Anne said.

Good things will continue to grow at Natoaganeg

Plans are now starting to get back on track, and for Terri-Anne and her students it can’t happen quickly enough.

“These programs are very important to us. It’s been in this timespan [during COVID] that we realized let’s go big, let’s go real big,” Terri-Anne said, explaining how they decided to increase the size and scope of the greenhouse.

The gardens and greenhouse will be another important way to achieve the promise of healthy bodies, healthy minds, and healthy spirits:

“There’s so many perks, really. You know, even just getting in the soil and getting away from the fast-food culture,” Terri-Anne said. “We want children to learn skills to grow their own food, gain confidence, and build the desire for kids to get back to their land,” she added, alluding to the knowledge-sharing between generations that reconnects children and youth to traditional food practices.

Amidst all the uncertainty of a post-pandemic world, one thing seems a safe bet: good things will continue to grow at Natoageneg.


Thank you for supporting community food security through your gifts

Donor support like yours has been essential to helping accelerate holistic school meal programs and community food security efforts in Indigenous communities across Canada.

Thank you for feeding and nourishing children who need it most through your gifts!

TOUR THE SCHOOL GARDEN WITH SAGE AND GRAYCE:




Listen to our podcast First Comes Food, where we go on a journey through Indigenous food forests in Saskatchewan, farming communities in African countries and early childhood community programs in Bolivia to meet the people who are growing food security for everyone. Their stories may surprise you.

First Comes Food is now streaming on our website and wherever you listen to your favourite podcasts. 

First Comes Food Podcast