The rain finally let off just long enough for us to plant our new indigenous plants with the Britannia Secondary School Outreach class. The kids did well and are starting to warm up to the garden that they will continue to take care of as it grows. Funded through the Neighbourhood Matching Fund and working with herbalist Lori Snyder, the garden at the Britannia Community Services Centre Carving Pavilion will feature all indigenous plants and serve as an educational garden teaching us about traditional and contemporary Indigenous food, medicinal and other uses.
The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and the Living Wage for Families Campaign are hosting a 2-day workshop on Nov. 15-16 in Richmond for folks in poverty or those that work with them to develop skills and leadership in raising awareness and advocacy for systemic change. They are reaching out to 20-30 people from across the province with priority given to folks from indigenous organizations, newcomer organizations and directly impacted grassroots organizations. They are covering travel, accommodation, food and other expenses to make this event fully accessible.
Many local groups are over-burdened with dealing with the symptoms of poverty and need support in taking action at the systemic level to tackle the root causes of poverty. This workshop will bring together key provincial stakeholders for an intensive 2-day workshop in order to identify existing assets and work collaboratively on developing an effective provincial network. There has not been a provincial gathering of this nature in recent history so this has the potential to have a powerful impact.
During the workshop, asset mapping will demonstrate the strength of existing local initiatives and provide opportunities for learning across communities. The gathering will also include an evaluation of supports needed to work on systemic change and what is the most effective way to nurture that support within the local, regional and provincial context without adding too much to over-stretched groups.
#810 – 815 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC V6C 1B4
Coast Salish Territories
Out behind the Britannia Elementary School is our Potato Farm, as we like call it. Four large potato boxes provide our grade 3 and 4’s the full food cycle experience of planting the spuds in the spring, watering, mounding, watching the plants grow, digging up the spuds in the fall, then preparing and eating what they grew. For the kids, the entire process is akin to a boisterous party as the children scream with pleasure, especially when digging up the potatoes, as if they are seeking lost treasure.
Planting the potatoes starts with the grade 3’s, usually in May. By October the spuds are ready for harvesting and for those students who are now in grade 4, its time to dig them all up. This year we dug up about 100 potatoes or a milk crate full. The students will then clean, chop, and roast the potatoes along with beets, parsnips, and turnips that they collected from another garden area. Each year a new group of Grade 3’s get to learn all about potatoes. The potato planting is extremely popular for the children and provides a very practical and fun learning experience that sticks in the kid’s minds.
Most students are very knowledgeable about food growing and healthy eating. To our surprise, many describe liking veggies such as kale and brussel sprouts. However, many of our students live in apartments and don’t have gardens at home, so are super keen to work in our gardens and grow their own food.
The Britannia School Gardens are quite extensive with four large garden areas that provide food growing learning for several classes in both the secondary and elementary schools on site. Our garden programs run year round and engage about 100 students each year. The Potato Farm is our most enjoyable project, simply because the younger students are so enthusiastic and excited to learn. As an organizer, to witness this level of engagement is very satisfying.
Working with the younger students is strategic. The younger students are very inquisitive and more open to gardening than older students. The Potato Farm and other garden activities familiarize these students with the garden earlier so they are comfortable working in the gardens as they graduate into secondary school. They are also more knowledgeable and less shy and have established a good relationship with the school garden organizers.
We are very proud of our garden programs here at Britannia, which connect students directly to the land and source of food along with issues of environmental sustainability. Students are gaining important skills and knowledge that best come through such hands-on learning. For many students, their time spent in the gardens, digging up potatoes and other veggies, are some of their most memorable school activities.
I ended my Challenge this past Sat evening, a few hours before the end of the week, at a Witness event where a feast was served. It seemed contradictory, but somewhat fitting to end my Challenge where delicious healthy food was offered and shared amongst a group of research participants and their family and friends (witnesses) who were involved in a place-based learning project exploring traditional environmental knowledge and sustainability. The dinner was amazing – salmon, wild rice, and roasted vegetables and all the more amazing when eating with a group of interesting people. Had I still been on the Challenge I would not have been able to attend the event. I would have missed this wonderful social and educational event.
Attending the feast highlights the very important social aspect of food along with my privilege. Food brings people together and I am fortunate to have ben invited, to be a part of an interesting, intelectual, and stimulating community. Food in this case signals class privilege.
I also now see how much I take food for granted. …that it will always be there for me, without fully realizing the central role it plays in my life. Ending this challenge, with its severe limitations, with a life affirming feast, reminded me that food provides us more than mere physical sustenance. Food feeds my social experience, nourishes my emotional well being, connects me to culture and identity, invokes memory and story, and so on. Food nourishes my whole being.
My partner’s diet was also compromised this week. While she was not on the Challenge, she was also affected. Since food is social we were not preparing food together. She had plenty of good food around, but the familial patterns of preparing food together disrupted her daily healthy food practice.
We need to take social responsibility for changing this system so everyone has good food to eat. Expecting an individual to live on $18 a week for food is cruel. It reduces a person to basic survival and illness at worst. Ideally, the basis of a dignified food system nourishes the whole person.
Now that I have ended my Welfare Food Challenge, I feel an increased conviction to take a hard look at the work I am doing to support groups like Raise the Rates and food justice in my community. I am very interested in the many discussions and efforts within the context of our work as community food developers with the Neighborhood Food Networks to better understand this term food justice. I am also encouraged by recent discussions globally that are now pointing the way towards a new food justice understanding defined by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshias in their book Food Justice as “representing a transformation of the current food system, including but not limited to eliminating disparities and inequities”. This focus creates new opportunities for a deeper analysis of structural inequality in the food system. It also requires connecting food inequality to broader social policy and movements.
Being on the Welfare Food Challenge has helped me to better understand the challenges that those on income assistance face. For one week, I embodied the struggle which made it a bit more real for me, though fully grateful that I have stability in my life. And with this stability and privilege, I will continue to work for a more just world as an ally to my friends and fellow community members who themselves are struggling.
Am relieved to have gotten through the day given that this was my most physically demanding day. On top of work, I found the energy to cycle over to the Vancouver School Board rally in protest of the provincial government’s firing of that Board. Funny how the issues are connected – a provincial government that has little regard for poverty reduction nor public education.
Anyway, back to the Challenge. My co-worker Kathy Whittam, who is also on the Challenge, again shared me some of her food, which again, helped me through the day. I guess this is what people in this situation do….they help each other. Kathy, her husband and daughter are all on the Challenge and she says it is a bit easier for them having $54 for the week and being able to stretch that money further…for example, finding a large bag of potatoes for a few bucks, like bulk buying. Kathy also took more time to source out the cheapest food she could find. I have actually been under budget for a few days, so was also able to splurge a bit tonight and roasted up 2 full potatoes with ketchup. Wow, what a treat….two potatoes.
My understanding from today is the importance of sharing. I alluded to this in my previous post where I mentioned the need to better redistribute food surplus, to work towards creating a sharing economy in which we take care of others based on free access to food. This is a notion that has become more clear to me recently when challenged by First Nation leaders who I work with, that food security is not simply a right, as defined by some legal principal, but rather a responsibility, and one of four core values in the Aboriginal world view – the three others being respect, wisdom, and relationships. We have the responsibility to ourselves, our families, our communities, and the land. It also entails mutual accountability, reciprocity, maintaining a healthy, balanced life as well as showing leadership through modelling wellness and healthy behaviors (First Nations Health Authority). When I see First Nations standing up for the environment for example, I better understand that this commitment comes from an awareness of one’s responsibility.