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Haida Gwaii’s Local Food to School program a model for other communities

The program has had a ‘big positive impact’ on students in school district 50
Myka Mulvany, a student from Chief Matthews School, holds a plant at the greenhouse at the Old Massett Elders building next to the school as part of the Local Food to School program. (Photo: supplied)

The Haida Gwaii Local Food to School program has been a noted success and is being used as a model for other rural and remote communities to follow, researchers from the University of Waterloo said.

Researchers from Waterloo studied the program, which was implemented in 2013 to bring more local fare into schools. They found the inclusion of transition to Haida leadership and the program’s emphasis on fostering relationships, were points of success, stated a peer-reviewed article published in April.

Shelly Crack, community dietitian with Northern Health and co-lead for the Local Food to School program, said cooks at school do not have enough time to source local food, so this program fills the gaps and sources for them.

A key component of the program is learning circles. They bring interested community members together to decide the mission and vision for the initiative.

Researchers were interested because of the program’s promising start, and they completed a case study between 2016 and 2018 to look at its sustainability.

It has had a “big positive impact” on students at all schools in the district, said Joanne Yovanovich, principal of Indigenous Education at school district 50 and a member of the Haida Foods Committee.

Crack said when the program started, there was a lot of funding available from the province to connect farmers to schools. However, through discussions in the learning circle, they decided it was important to look at other food sources like local game, fish or seafood, which are culturally significant and precious on Haida Gwaii.

Involving the Haida Foods Committee was crucial to getting oversight and direction around these foods. In this way, the transition to Haida leadership was a very natural progression for the program.

“I’ve really learned when you’re working so hard to source and distribute local food to organizations, and when the end-users are eating this food, that you have to also put time and energy into the learning and skill-building,” Crack said. “Maybe you have a lot of fish and deer and locally-harvested food in your hot lunch, but you’re also going out and harvesting food or growing food or working on and processing food. And so it’s not just lost in the meal programs, but that learning is in the classroom and beyond as well.”

To illustrate her point, Crack tells a story from one of the schools in the program. Students learned how to hunt and process deer. They harvested produce from their school garden. Then they brought together everything they had collected and cooked a meal. One student in the class approached the teacher and said, “I could be feeding my whole family with this food.”

“It was such a precious learning moment because that’s true, and I think we value so much feeding our families and ourselves, and it feels like such an important life skill here,” Crack said.

Yovanovich said the program does more than bring food to schools. It has created space for knowledge sharing from different knowledge holders — those who are Haida and those who are non-Haida. She said it is important because not every home prepares traditional food.

“And that seed is there so that they can continue to share that knowledge and to be able to do that food harvest. From harvesting to gathering it and preparing it and serving it in the appropriate way is quite an accomplishment.”

While the case study about the paper emphasized the importance of the learning circles, Crack said the learning circles are important, but she can’t say enough about having funding for paid food positions in the community.

“I think if there’s something to take to other communities, it’s how do we find positions in our community that are real food coordination positions that look at food security for their whole community.”

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 Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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