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YOUTH PROJECTS TACKLE FOOD ISSUES IN NORTHERN, REMOTE AND MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES
By Cori Marshall
Remote and marginalized communities not only have to deal with water security, they also have to deal with access to healthy, fresh, affordable food. In some hard to reach areas a variety of fresh produce is not only hard to find but is astronomically more expensive than what you would find for the same items in Southern Canada. There are many socio-economic issues that contribute to to food insecurity, luckily there are some great young minds at work on the issue in Atlantic Canada.
Enactus Canada, a "community of student, academic and business leaders" that use conscious capitalism to make a difference in the world. Teams from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia Community College – Pictou Campus have achieved award winning status. Both projects make an impact on issues of food security.
Emily Bland, Team President of Enactus-Memorial's Project SucSeed said that the project is "a self sustaining social enterprise that employs at risk youth to build hydroponic systems which are then used to offset food security mainly in Northern Canada and across Canada in general."
The system is compact and can be used in a number of settings, Bland added "we developed this hydroponic system [that] fits in the corner of your hall." The target markets for the system were northern communities, the team wanted to design a product "that was low cost to operate, would have a long lifespan and could also grow a variety of food and make a substantial difference in an average family's life."
Bland explained that "agriculture is the leading use of fresh water resources globally." In regions like "Newfoundland and Labrador or Nunavut finding fresh water is tough sometimes a lot of communities are on boil water advisories, or even reduction of use of water during the summer." With increasing populations agricultural output must increase.
Bland warns that increases "can't be done with traditional methods because we don't have the fresh water supply for it to be done sustainably." The system developed by Project SucSeed not only benefits remote communities that may not have a long growing season it also helps areas like Newfoundland that tends to have harsh weather and poor soil. The hydroponic system developed by these students "uses 90% less water than traditional agriculture."
This project has had reach into unexpected areas. As the team fielded requests "correctional facilities, food banks, soup kitchens, educational institutes, we realized that the demand for this product went beyond food security and could be used for educational purposes and job training."
The at-risk youth that were employed by this project had never held down a job before. SucSeed has positive socio-economic impacts. Through this venture many managed to get "off social assistance and unemployment", many transitioned to "full-time employment and post secondary education."
SucSeed has even made it into the classroom. Aiding in teaching children about agriculture, the compact nature of the system allows for the growing of "hydroponic strawberries and tomatoes and lettuce" in the class. Bland adds "you see kids getting excited about something that I haven't seen them get excited about before."
Project SucSeed was a victim of its own success. Once the initial prototype was finished the team was flooded with a hundred requests to buy the system. Bland explains this created a problem, they "didn't have the production capacity, or a facility." The team projected to produce fifteen systems and now have surpassed five-hundred Bland states the experience "blew any expectations that we had away."
We also had the opportunity to speak with Emma Spaulding, Project Manager for Enactus – Pictou's Raising the Roots project. With a partnership with Pictou Roots for Youth shelter, the team "installed a raised garden bed, and planted a variety of crops." The fact that the beds were raised extended the growing period marginally as the crops are not directly in the ground.
The inspiration for the project came from learning that many of the youth staying at Roots for Youth "have never had access to greens, or fresh produce." The team focused on enhancing "healthy living, and encourage responsibility and independence" through the project. The goals of the project were achieved through the youth maintaining and caring for the garden which gave them access to fresh vegetables which in turn cut grocery costs.
The project only lasted six weeks but had a definite impact. Spaulding informed us that the project "provided thirty healthy meals for eleven youths" over that same time frame. Raise the Roots saved the youth shelter $300 on its grocery bill.
Raise the Roots was a winner of the 2017 regional Youth Empowerment Challenge. The team has plans to expand the operation at the shelter by "installing a second raised garden bed, using a greenhouse model." The team expects to use plexiglass for the greenhouse and this can extend the growing season even further.
We saw how both Project SucSeed and Raise the Roots can have an impact on communities and marginalized groups. We needed to see what the situation really was in a remote community. We contacted the Bearskin Consumer's Co-op in Bearskin Lake First Nation. We spoke with Tom Kam a worker at the co-op and community member.
In our conversation with Kam we learned that availability and accessibility to fresh produce is affected by many different variables. When asked whether the co-op had a good variety Kam told us "not really, at the moment." The Bearskin Consumer's Co-op has had difficulties in the recent past and had been shut down for a number of years.
Kam hopes to be able to start getting shipments of fresh produce on a more regular basis in the next few week as weather gets better. The way the co-op provisions itself is that they "go down south and buy everything retail." Bearskin Lake is a fly-in community and the logistics impact accessibility heavily.
Kam said that "freight costs alone automatically double the price of produce in Bearskin Lake." Today, for example, the price of Iceberg lettuce at Real Canadian Superstore in Thunder Bay is $1.68 each on sale. The same head of lettuce in Bearskin Lake would be around $3.36, and that's before employee salaries are factored into the equation.
The community of Bearskin Lake could definitely benefit from the approaches put forward by Project SucSeed and Raise the Roots. Hydroponic grow systems and raised garden beds, would help increase the availability of locally grown produce and possibly drive price down. The problem, according to Kam, is space, "most of the buildings around here are contaminated with mold."
Both Project SucSeed and Raising the Roots are looking to expand the operations in the future. Raising the Roots plans on installing a second garden at the shelter while for Project SucSeed "global expansion is knocking on the door." Both these ideas are rooted in helping communities and having an impact in individuals lives. There are still many marginalized communities that need help. What better way to ensure the well being of both the local community and the global one than by offering access to healthy, fresh, and affordable food.
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