Partnering for produce: New initiative brings fresh vegetables to remote Ontario First Nation
Eleven year old Mercedes Goodman and her friends in Sandy Lake First Nation, about 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont., have seen carrots before but never whole peppers, tomatoes or cucumbers.
However, this year, she and her family and the rest of the fly-in community are savouring the taste of a brand new Christmas tradition – fresh vegetables for every household.
Thousands of kilograms of fresh produce was donated by farmers in southern Ontario and flown into the First Nation by Wasaya Airways on Friday.
Her new favourite food is a carrot, says eight-year old Chloe Mcpherson,”because it tastes so good.”
Meanwhile, the shipment has given Madison Fiddler the chance to experience, for the first time, the surprisingly fresh juicy taste of a cucumber.
She bites into it horizontally, like corn on the cob as Goodman explains that if she had a bunch of carrots, she’d “share them with the other people,” which volunteers spent the afternoon doing.
Dozens of people divided the produce into equal portions to make sure every household in the community of 3,000 would get an equal share.
As families arrived to pick up their produce, Bart Meekis, the chief of Sandy Lake, talking over a loudspeaker, kept the atmosphere light and fun, with the mood resembling a carnival more than a food line.
“The carrots that are there, they’re really good for you. they’re good to cook them with rabbit soup and moose meat soup and beaver soup and moose meat soup.”
But the advice from Meekis wasn’t just chatter. It was valuable advice for people in a community where fresh produce is a rarity.
The supply at the local grocery store is usually scarce, and what is available is very expensive, with a single green pepper costing $9.
However, with these 4,000 kilogram shipment, people will be able to experiment with new, healthy foods and learn from each other, said Gary Manoakeesic, with the Sandy Lake Diabetes prevention project.
“It’s not just one family having these foods but everybody will have a chance to try out the food, but most importantly to try out some other recipes versus what they always eat,” he said.
The irony is that much of the food that is so welcome here, would have gone to waste down south, said Michelle McCormack, a volunteer with the Gleaners of Southwestern Ontario, who helped gather the food for delivery.
“Some of this produce would have gone to a landfill. See this carrot, it’s too big or it’s broken in half, so it’s not going to go to a normal grocery store but it’s still perfectly good to eat.”
“I feel it in my bones,” said McCormack, “this is the start of something wonderful.”
The initiative, which was part of CBC Thunder Bay’s Sounds of the Season, was a partnership among the Gleaners, the Regional Food Distribution Association in Thunder Bay, and Wasaya Airways, a First Nation-owned company.