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Seeds. Northwest Food Systems Initiative. Ecotrust Canada

Planting the seeds of a sustainable food system 

Seeds. Northwest Food Systems Initiative. Ecotrust Canada

Food has always played a significant role in human identity and society and yet access to enough healthy and culturally appropriate food stands out as a major inequity among rural, remote, and Indigenous communities. In 2021, Ecotrust Canada began planting the seeds to collaboratively address food security and food sovereignty for Prince Rupert and our neighbours in the region. This community focused social endeavour is seeking to build upon the groundswell of food security work that local organizations have already undertaken to realize lasting solutions to local food systems challenges on the traditional territories of the Coast Ts’msyen Peoples.

Why Ecotrust Canada

The Food Systems Initiative is the culmination of three years of research, pilot projects, and community engagements facilitated by a collection of community development and social change organizations who partnered with Ecotrust Canada’s North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL).

Through this work, it became increasingly clear that food security and food sovereignty are issues of great importance to community members. Global supply chain disruptions, large monocultures, and produce with poor nutritional quality, highlight the need for more resilient sources of local, fresh food. In light of these challenges, we realized that we need to focus our efforts toward food-focused projects on a larger scale.

The Strategy

Along with our partners, we’ve identified three strategies we believe will transform our region’s regional food systems. We aspire to bring all three strategies together by creating a marketplace and food hub that serve as a collaborative space for growing rich food culture and economy in Prince Rupert. The Kaien/Kxeen Island Urban Market will sell local food grown by regional producers and food grown in the urban farm itself.

Sndoyntga Lax Kx’een ada Maxłaxaała: an urban farm in downtown Prince Rupert

British Columbia’s Northwest Coast has a reputation as a place where growing fruit and vegetables is a challenge due to the wet climate, short growing season, and lack of arable land. Yet, the community of Prince Rupert is ripe with backyard gardeners, foragers, and traditional food harvesters who regularly overcome these barriers and enjoy fresh, healthy foods from the land and sea.

Our aim is to revitalize a vacant space in the downtown core, grow fresh produce for those in need, and invite our community to plant, grow, harvest, cook and preserve fresh, local foods. The urban farm is a welcoming and inclusive space for all, where community members can learn to grow healthy foods together.

A local food distribution network in Northwestern BC

The vast, diverse regions of Northwest BC are home to a variety of growers and foragers who work on land and ocean to produce foods for our community, the rest of Canada, and beyond. Global crises, such as COVID-19 and climate change, are threatening global food and trade systems, and many are looking for opportunities to regionalize food production and distribution. By shortening and strengthening supply chains, our region can expand fresh food access and diversify local food economies.

We aim to bring food producers, distributors, and retailers from our region together to better understand our food systems and to explore opportunities for a resilient food system in Northwest BC. We imagine a vibrant food economy that connects our marine, rainforest, and farming communities grounded in traditional local foods and food sovereignty.

Build momentum for Regenerative Ocean Farming

We are grateful to continue working with Metlakatla First Nation to foster a regenerative and community-orientated aquaculture industry on the North Coast of BC through Regenerative Ocean Farming (ROF). ROF is a method of ocean polyculture. Multiple marine species are farmed together in 3-D farming systems that use the entire vertical water column, enabling an abundance of seaweed and shellfish to grow with zero inputs and space. The idea is to grow safe, delicious, and locally desired marine plants and filter feeder species, which grow symbiotically while enhancing the health of surrounding ecosystems.

This innovative method of producing seafood has the potential to positively impact food security for coastal communities in a manner that complements territorial stewardship and environmental restoration efforts. Ecotrust Canada and Metlakatla First Nation will continue working together to provide research and innovation capacity to support ROF development, exploring pathways that continue to foster sustainable and inclusive ocean-based economies.

Outcomes

  • Collaborate with local organizations and individuals on projects with the aim of increasing local food access and recognize food as a driver of community well-being.
  • Establish a demonstration urban farm and marketplace in downtown Prince Rupert, revitalizing a vacant space while providing fresh food for community members in need.
  • Identify and connect local and regional food producers in a Pacific Northwest BC food distribution network, putting more local food on community member’s plates.
  • Explore and advance Regenerative Ocean Farming as a pathway for enhancing territorial stewardship and marine food security and sovereignty.
  • Prove the possible for rural, remote, and Indigenous communities across Canada in the pursuit of greater food security.

The Team

Key Learnings

  • Past and contemporary food security initiatives throughout our region provide an invaluable source of knowledge and should be used to inform the path toward greater local food access.
  • Tangible demonstration can galvanize a community toward active engagement in local food systems.
  • Food producers and communities on the North Coast of British Columbia are ready, willing, and able to take on the challenges of food insecurity. Connecting our efforts toward this common goal is the next step.
  • Through building on examples of traditional foodways preservation efforts, and increasing access to local food sources, we can enhance our community’s sense of food sovereignty.