Feeding a village: a community garden project is developing for Ahtahkakoop

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Not only do they grow food for 2,000 community members, but they also try to make their community self-sufficient.

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Not only does Dorothy Ahenakew – through the Ahtahkakoop Community Garden Initiative – grow food for 2,000 community members, she also tries to make her community self-sufficient.

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“If we have our food, grow it ourselves and distribute it to our people, that’s food security,” she said.

Ahenakew was the food security coordinator for the project for three years. With the help of the Ahtahkakoop Band, Tribal Chiefs from the Battlefords Agency (BATC) and Canadian Feed the Children, she promotes gardening for the entire community of Ahtahkakoop, located approximately 70 kilometers north. -west of Prince Albert. She says she doesn’t want those around her to depend on farmers or grocery stores for their produce.

During the school year, she will bring notes from Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation High School to help in the garden, and she offers her expertise and seeds to anyone in the community who wants to start their own garden. Ahtahkakoop Band Councilor Pat Isbister says she hopes all of Ahenakew’s hard work will spark a lifelong love of gardening, especially among young people.

According to Canadian Feed the Children, which partners with Indigenous communities across the country to support community-based food programs, Indigenous children are 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty, and “food security for children and adults living on and off reserve 21 percent to 83 percent, compared to three percent to nine percent for Canadians.

Keeping a garden big enough to feed 2,000 people is a lot of work, but Ahenakew has help, employing six full-time staff through the Youth Employment Program and BATC.

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“I am their mentor, so I teach them everything they need to know about growing a garden,” Ahenakew said.

There have been challenges along the way. Product storage has been a problem, for example. Last year they had nowhere to keep their potatoes. The solution: she arranged with the local school so that each student could take home a 10 pound bag of potatoes.

The program is growing and by the fall the garden will hopefully have a root cellar in place where the vegetables can be stored, she said.

For the most vulnerable in the community, including seniors and people on social assistance, this community garden means better access to healthy and affordable food. For Carmen Little, administrator of the Ahtahkakoop group, Ahenakew’s work is not limited to food, but to a comprehensive and holistic approach to a healthy community.

Meeting the needs of the community – from staple vegetables to community events, from the weekly soup kitchen to the opportunity to sell the vegetables at a more competitive price – Little sees the program expand to meet all of the community’s needs. With new expansions coming to the garden, Little is excited about the day they will have their own greenhouse and expand their business to grow vegetables for sale at a reduced price. Not only will this reduce the costs of fresh vegetables for the community and make healthy food more affordable, it will also support local businesses.

“A large part of the programming, we implement it not only with our health center, but also within the First Nation. In our school we run a nutrition program, so we try to provide a healthy snack or a healthy meal for children at school during school days… a meal that you can grow a healthy child on ” Little said.

“You have to feed the spirit to fuel the growth of their education. “

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