Pick, Process and Share

Learning how to nourish ourselves

Students have been picking berries, gathering seaweed, fishing for salmon and halibut, growing veggies and hunting deer. And, these foods have been making their way into school kitchens where cooks, teachers, students and helpers from the community prepare and enjoy them at school meals. Recent menus have carried halibut burgers, venison stew, fresh carrots and garden salads. Most of these meals are served to students free of charge thanks to Gwaii Trust, a local community funder.

The work of getting local foods into schools involves many players, challenging logistics and varied approaches. For example, in order to make ts’iljii dried halibut, a favourite snack at the Gaw Masset high school, staff need to address safety concerns, arrange transportation, work with local fishermen, have a place to process, and store the fish until it is dried. In past years, the Local Foods to School and Pantry Program and the many people they work with have been there to lend a hand. The core team includes a Local Foods to School coordinator, a Northern Health dietitian and two Pantry Coordinators. The programs are overseen by a Haida foods committee to ensure the work is done in a respectful, meaningful and culturally appropriate manner.  

For fisherman and artist Reg Davidson, the new focus on local foods is a welcome change and one that reminds him of how food traditions are passed on. “What I enjoy about it is the way we learn, our family took us out fishing and taught us how to fish so we can look after ourselves,” he said. “It is good the school is adapting to this area.”

Collaborations and community support have been key to addressing some major challenges such as getting venison and fish into schools. In the past, food safety regulations and other hurdles prevented schools and other public organizations from using meat or fish that doesn’t come from a grocery store. By working closely with Northern Health and a local meat processing facility, the Local Food to School program has been able to help develop a system that meets all food safety requirements. As a result, the schools and community programs are able to receive donations of venison from Gwaii Haanas’s Llgaay gwii sdihlda Restoring Balance project. The project is an initiative to remove deer from Ramsay Island so that the natural flora and fauna has a chance to repopulate the area.

“Once the system was in place, we were able to work with Gwaii Haanas and Baru Farm to provide large quantities of venison to schools and community programs,” said Kiku Dhanwant, the Local Foods to School coordinator. “Thanks to the Restoring Balance project and donations from local hunters, we were able to distribute over 1,000 pounds of donated venison last year to the schools for kids to enjoy.” In a remote area where store bought food is expensive, this is huge benefit.

The program was also able to supply schools with halibut, salmon and other seafood procured from the Council of the Haida Nation and others  which were processed at Haida Wild, a certified seafood processing facility. 

These stories are not only about the nutritional value of locally-harvested food, Dhanwant said. They are also about preparing and sharing food. Eating together fosters stronger relationships between the students, their teachers, parents, elders and community.

“Kids are making food – like halibut burgers – then they go home and talk about it, now the parents are talking about it,” Dhanwant said. “Food brings people together and everyone benefits.”

Elder, Margaret Edgars, knows that local food is much healthier than the products that arrive here by truck and ferry to be sold in stores. “I am really happy that this program has started because the foods that are gathered here are so rich in nutrients,” she said. 

Eating good food from close to home and continuing the connection to the land and cultural traditions builds a healthy foundation for community well-being. “Youth learn respect for the food and each other when they come together to gather, prepare or eat food from home,” Dhanwant said. “When kids work with elders they learn that everything is interconnected and to take care of ourselves, and the places that our food comes from.”