Trillium Grow Grant supercharges food security for Island communities

MANITOULIN—Inch by inch, row by row, community gardens will be growing thanks to $651,900 in funding from an Ontario Trillium Foundation Grow Grant to Noojmowin Teg Health Centre for the Child Poverty Taskforce.

The funding, over three years, will help with several projects, each with a focus on locally grown food and the community gardens found in all of the seven First Nations Noojmowin Teg serves.

The three years of funding will make the work the taskforce has been doing, on a very tight budget, sustainable, explained Noojmowin Teg executive director Pam Williamson.

“They’ve been doing some amazing things on a small budget,” she added.

The project lead for the Child Poverty Taskforce is Kristin Bickell, who noted that the Good Food Box program was the first of the initiatives.

“We went to the First Nations communities and talked to them about the local food system with a focus on community gardens,” Ms. Bickell explained. “From there, things presented themselves: a need for fencing to protect gardens from wildlife; composting systems; storage sheds for gardening tools and implements; plot sizes; and raised beds.”

All seven of the Noojmowin Teg-served First Nations are on board with community gardens, as are Central Manitoulin, the Northeast Town, Gore Bay and Assiginack. “We have representatives from all of the communities on the taskforce,” Ms. Bickell noted.

Thanks to the funding, the group will be running 24 workshops per year throughout the communities, based on the growing season. Transportation to and from the workshops will be made available.

“The workshops will be available to everyone, regardless of community,” Ms. Bickell said.

“We will also be hosting four community forums per year based on a theme, which are also rotating,” the coordinator continued. “This year the theme will have a focus on growing in Northern Ontario.”

Ms. Bickell said the group will be working with Justin Tilson of Northern Ontario Permaculture Research Institute to build an all-season greenhouse (eventually four of them), with the main focus of the greenhouses to provide the community gardens with transplants as well as education on growing.

The funding will also provide for the Family Garden Project, which seeks to provide families with the necessary tools to garden at home. There are 17 families signed up so far, but Ms. Bickell said an expansion for more families will happen for years two and three.

This increase in food will also allow for more support for the Good Food Box program which brings fresh produce into people’s homes for a nominal cost, she added. Ms. Bickell said the Good Food Box will see greater marketing with a focus on traditional foods. “It will see expansion to beyond just growing, but also harvesting wild edibles, fishing, hunting and canning and preserving too,” she added.

And it doesn’t end there. The Child Poverty Taskforce will also be producing a family garden guide, specific to Manitoulin.

“Overall, the initiative will assist with food security, food literacy and give people the choice to choose where their food comes from, healthier options, and giving people a chance to connect with their food,” Ms. Bickell said.

Ms. Bickell thanked her team of Cody Leeson, Noojmowin Teg Child Nutrition Coordinator, Ms. Williamson, and the Sudbury and District Health Unit’s Katie Gilchrist and Bridget King. Ms. Bickell also gave a special nod to Chuck and Linda Willson of Kids Can Grow for their support.

The program officially rolls out May 1 with garden mentoring sessions likely among the first workshops to be offered. See future editions of this newspaper for further details.

“This is to be seen as an Island-wide initiative,” Ms. Williamson noted. “Food doesn’t just grow for a part of the sector. It’s about getting fresh food back to the community.”