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Group cooks up new initiative to tackle food security

"We’re seeing connections between some of our community members we didn’t expect..."

Food security is an issue that has always been in the community but wasn’t prominent until the COVID-19 pandemic started, say members of the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) in Timmins.

When the pandemic started in mid-March and the provincial restrictions kicked in, there was a lack of groceries available at the stores which prompted the ONWA to come together to discuss what can be done.

Organization members distributed bags of non-perishable foods which included dried noodles, canned soup, crackers, pancake mix, syrup, pasta and Kraft Dinner to individuals and families in need.

Mary Boyden, Anne Iserhoff and Angela Julian, who are members of the Timmins office, also came up with a new initiative. They launched the Food Skills Building workshop that teaches participants sustainable ways of food production and how to rely on themselves while providing a virtual hub for social gatherings.

“As much as (food security) has always been an issue, (the pandemic) gave a reason to work on it together with a targeted approach, targeted strategy, targeted resources and actually doing something,” Boyden said. “We can’t just rely on the way things have always been and we’re actually stretching beyond in trying to bring out the best.”

For the workshop, participants work from their own kitchens and receive recipes as well as a bag of the food being used.

There have been three workshops held so far. Twenty families took part in the first session where they learned how to wash and cook a turkey properly and how to make more meals from its leftovers.

The second workshop focused on recipes using dry beans and the third one was about slow cooking. The ONWA also provided slow cookers to some families in need, and during the workshop, while participants were prepping one meal for dinner that night, they also made three more meals and put them in freezer bags for later consumption.

“We wanted to show participants how to cook with certain meats and bring in different recipes and ideas and how to stretch that out for a few days,” Iserhoff said.

The next workshop will be held Friday, June 19, just a few days before the National Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated on June 21, and will revolve around cultural celebrations and eating naturally from the land.

The non-profit also partnered with local farms and suppliers to shop for locally-grown produce, and Anti-Hunger Coalition Timmins to get Good Food Boxes and re-distribute the groceries to families while teaching them how to use and eat fresh seasonal food.

“Real food security is from the land,” Boyden said. “Real food security comes from our own natural ways of working and feeding our families that we’ve forgotten over time from living in a city, being restricted and maybe not having the money or the ability to get out of town.”

“It’s promoting that ability to be self-reliant, understand what your own family needs and then figure out how you’re going to make it happen for yourself.”

During a Seeds to Table workshop, which was originally called Seeds to Soil Planting, participants learn how to grow their own crops and veggies from home. The ONWA provides 63-litre bins with soil, plant pots, plant markers seeds and growing instructions, and participants are encouraged to share their growing process through photos.

Having something to work with at home while connecting virtually and sharing photos is really important as it stimulates and builds “community excitement”, Boyden noted.

“It was very practical. People had something in their hands to work with, experiment with, talk about and ask, (it) made it very real,” she said.

Eventually, participants will also be able to grow and make their own natural tea for the winter.

“With this pandemic, there was barely anything in the stores. But we can grow vegetables to take care of ourselves and it just builds on that,” Julian said. “For some people, it’s a match that started the fire to take this bigger and make more of it."

The workshops provide an opportunity for people to stay connected and be engaged in community building while being physically distanced.

“The other great thing is that what you might think would come out of these workshops, there’s stuff beyond and above that. We’re seeing connections between some of our community members we didn’t expect or someone really being involved and invested in what they’re doing,” Julian said.

She said there’s a possibility the Food Skills Building workshop will continue in the future as well.

“Offering people the knowledge of how to depend on themselves will continue to be a priority, I think, at least for the Timmins office, for sure.”

The organization is also hosting weekly virtual check-in sessions where participants can share their experiences and feelings while building relationships and connecting with others, cultural teachings and land-based programming.

Workshops are held virtually and are free of charge. Registration is required to ensure there are enough supplies for participants. For more information, contact Mary Boyden at [email protected] or Angela Julian at 705-262-7231 or [email protected].

The ONWA Timmins also offers programs and services related to trauma-informed care, mental health, family violence and child welfare.

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Dariya Baiguzhiyeva

About the Author: Dariya Baiguzhiyeva

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering diversity issues for TimminsToday. The LJI is funded by the Government of Canada
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