By Morgan Sage, Food Security Project Coordinator
Prince Rupert has a deep connection to local food through its history and culture of fishing. However, locally grown produce is really only available to people who grow it themselves in their own gardens, or gather it from the wild. Growing food in Prince Rupert has its challenges including soil quality, climate, and deer. Many of those problems are mitigated with protected agriculture, or greenhouse growing.
Since this January, I’ve been the Food Security Project coordinator as part of Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab and my partner organization the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society. The latter owns and operates Rupert Lawn and Garden (RLG) as a social enterprise/business.
RLG has three greenhouses onsite that are used as nurseries and plant sales throughout the growing season. As the spring turns to summer the greenhouses start to empty, leaving unused valuable greenhouse space. My project is using this space to produce food. Because the greenhouses have gravel floors, immovable tables, and is used for different purposes throughout the year, I’m using containers to grow vegetables.
Large scale container gardening is the best way to describe what my project physically looks like. Pots upon pots of tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers, carrots, salad greens, peppers and eggplants are filling Greenhouse 3 at RLG. Planting started mid-March and from there everything has exploded. “It looks like a jungle in here!” has been uttered more than once upon someone’s entry into the greenhouse.
The ultimate goal is to increase food security for Nisga’a in Prince Rupert. Recently there was a Nisga’a household survey conducted in Prince Rupert and Port Edward that identified that the number one household need for members is food, and price was the largest barrier to accessing food. Gitmaxmak’ay already has a household food distribution program in place for traditional foods such as oolichan and oolichan grease, herring row, and salmon. This distribution setup will be used to make fresh food grown at RLG available to Nisga’a members.
However, about half of the produce grown at RLG will be available to purchase by the general public at Rupert Lawn and Garden to help cover some of the costs of production.
So far there have been three harvests of salad greens, that have went to staff at Gitmaxmak’ay and Rupert Lawn and Garden, volunteers for Salmon Fest, and the Elders Fundraiser at the end of May.
Even though growing food is the most visible part of the project, I’m aiming to initiate a few programs including a community kitchen where people can cook, eat, and spend time together over food, as well as a program for elders and youth to get their hands dirty at Rupert Lawn and Garden. Elders and youth could also share in the harvest by having their monthly meetings over a meal they helped produce.
Also as part of my project I was able to attend the Northwest Food Action Network’s Food Conference, Food Glorious Food, in Terrace this spring. While there was able to connect in person with some of the Food Action Network’s members; attend sessions on food waste; monitoring fish stocks; and attend workshops on seed starting and community kitchens. This conference highlighted the place-based nature of food security and how important food security is for the Northwest.
The North Coast Innovation Lab internships are made possible through support from Mitacs Canada.