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Culturally relevant food literacy and food security programs

Carly Checholik is the Food Security Project Coordinator with the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society and the North Coast Innovation Lab for summer 2020. She is currently completing her master’s of science in anthropology at the University of Toronto.

Coming from academia, my master’s research has focused on evaluating top-down government responses to high food costs in remote northern communities. This summer, I will be working on tackling food insecurity in a remote North Coast community from the bottom up.

Through my internship as a Food Security Project Coordinator with Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL) and Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society, an Indigenous non-profit organization serving Nisga’a citizens in Prince Rupert, I will put my academic knowledge into practice, while continuing to build on the 2019 Food [in]Security Project.

“Many causes of food insecurity are rooted in the colonial structures of society and working to reconcile these systems is an extensive and ongoing process …”
— Carly Checholik

Ensuring food security is a step toward improving our mental and physical health, as well as overall community well-being. The 2018/2019 Nisga’a Nation Quality of Life Survey has identified food insecurity as a concerning issue facing Nisga’a citizens. The survey indicates that approximately 80 per cent of members are food insecure and have difficulty accessing healthy and preferred foods due to high costs. This is particularly worrisome in light of the COVID-19 pandemic where there is some concern that the cost of vegetables, in particular, may increase[1].

Year 2 of the Food Security Project

Last year, Morgan Sage, the NCIL intern with Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society ran a successful gardening program that taught Nisga’a citizens how to plant and harvest their own vegetables in container gardens. This program ignited a desire in Nisga’a members to have access to affordable, fresh, locally grown produce. However, growing produce in Prince Rupert is difficult due to the wet climate and acidic soil. To address this, the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society has turned to hydroponics, allowing them to grow fresh vegetables in a controlled, indoor environment.

Developing a Food Hub

This summer, I am researching and developing culturally relevant food literacy and food security social programs, including nutrition workshops and cooking classes. I am also researching best-practice case studies for the development of a Food Hub, from which we could distribute food grown in the hydroponic unit and provide educational activities.

Blair Mirau, CEO, Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society, inside the new state-of-the-art, Canadian-made hydroponics greenhouse based in the Seal Cove garden centre property. (Shannon Lough/Ecotrust Canada)

Building connections remotely

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has meant that I was not able to travel to Prince Rupert until July, two months after I was originally supposed to arrive. Completing half of the internship remotely from Edmonton, Alberta was challenging at times, but thanks to the willingness of everyone involved, we made it work. Now that I am in Prince Rupert, I look forward to contextualizing the research I have been doing and hope to engage with community members in a more direct, yet physically distant manner. My goal while I’m here is to pilot an educational food-related program, such as a cooking class or gardening workshop, either in-person or through an online delivery platform.

Improving food security for a population is not a simple task. Many causes of food insecurity are rooted in the colonial structures of society and working to reconcile these systems is an extensive and ongoing process that will continue long after my four-month internship. My hope is that the work I accomplish this summer will be useful for the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society as they move forward with food security initiatives in the years to come.

[1] Canada’s Food Price Report ‑ Revised Updates. (2020, March 31). Retrieved June 22, 2020, from—revised-updates.html