Supporting Kanesatake’s Food Self-Sufficiency in Times of Pandemic
In Kanesatake, what was supposed to be an economic development project aimed at selling vegetables has finally become a social initiative, The Gardens of Hope project. Here is an example of a project that, in the context of COVID-19, took an unexpected turn, but which was able to respond to a community need.
In 2019, the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) carried out a strategic planning exercise in economic development, and the development of eco-agriculture has been identified as one of the orientations to be implemented. This is a strong orientation, because it aims to strengthen the food orientation of the community. The population was therefore largely in agreement during the engagement sessions that took place in the winter of 2020.
The team of the Kanesatake Business and Economic Development (KBED) therefore set to work to carry out a community economic development project whose goal would be to sell vegetables, while at the same time training and employing community members. But in Kanesatake, there is no community-based business. Therefore, the KBED team could not rely on the expertise of an internal resource of the MCK to manage the new business. For this reason, the KBED employees decided to take a one-week project management training course in order to be able to set up their business project. But, it was without taking into account the COVID-19, which came to put obstacles into their wheels just a few days after the end of the training. With containment, nothing that had been planned could be achieved anymore; so, Manon Jeannotte and Karyn Murray, the two people in charge of the project, went back to work in order to rethink the project. Keeping in mind the idea of food self-sufficiency of the community, they decided to grow and distribute free vegetables to community members during this difficult time. This is how the The Gardens of Hope project was born.
Preparation and cultivation of the garden
The initial project included the cultivation of two gardens. But the context of COVID-19 has made it more complex to search for a « community » piece of land to cultivate. Consequently, they decided to make a single garden that would be situated on land owned by Karyn’s family and which had already been cultivated for several years. The garden is about ¾ of a hectare in size, and in order to make the land suitable for « cultivation », preparatory work was necessary. They started the work by hand with a small team, but they were also able to count on the help of Jardins Vegibec inc., a business operating in Oka, which volunteered 7 to 9 hours of its time to work on the land.
A major planning exercise was required to plan the garden, decide which varieties of vegetables would be grown in order to maximize its production. To get there, Karyn, who is an eco-egriculture consultant, was able to rely on her training in horticulture and on coaching offered by the MRC of Argenteuil, which grows large community gardens every year. The objective was to cultivate the garden as much as possible in an organic way, what she has been able to do through plant companionship, a technique that consists in planting plants in close proximity to each other that can be exchanged for « services », such as improving fertilization, keeping pests away, etc. The different varieties of vegetables were chosen based on two criteria: they should not require too much maintenance and they had to be easy to distribute and without too much handling. Karyn also made sure to plant root vegetables capable of withstanding cooler temperatures, which would extend the harvesting season. Cucumbers, carrots, different varieties of tomatoes, herbs, different kinds of onions, squash, lettuce, have been planted. Interesting fact to mention, the seedlings of the different plants were purchased from a company in Kanesatake, Tall Tree Learning Center, with whom, the KBED team was also able to make an exchange of services. In terms of garden maintenance, Karyn was able to count on a team of seven gardeners for most of the summer. Thanks to everyone’s hard work, she expects to have harvests until mid-October and if the fall is mild, it could even go until the beginning of November for some root vegetables.
The vegetables are distributed by the Kanesatake Emergency Response Unit, which coordinates the actions of the community in the context of COVID-19. The Unit created a food bank to meet the needs of community members, and it is through the Unit that the vegetables are distributed. During the harvest weeks, they picked vegetables every day and prepared bags stamped with the KBED logo and the current date. Each week, approximately 125 households were able to receive a bag and the seniors’ residence was also supplied with fresh vegetables.
A mobilizing project
This project was made possible thanks to the mobilization and financial contributions of several stakeholders, including the Kanesatake Health Center, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Ministry of Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ) and the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux des Laurentides.
Basically, this project was supposed to be an economic development project, so in order for it to be back in 2021, this component will have to be more important than the social component. But, there is a real willingness to repeat the experience next summer, because the project has created opportunities and links between different groups and businesses. As an example, the eco-agriculture team of KBED went to give a hand to the Karenhatase Karhata’keha blueberry farm in Kanesatake, and this, in a perspective of agricultural mutual aid. This new network will be nurtured and it could eventually be used in the realization of several project of the KBED. Finally, the KBED team has the will to see this project as part of a larger initiative, which would be to set up an eco-agricultural cooperative in Kanesatake or among the First Nations. To follow…
Want to know more about the economic development of the community of Kanesatake? We invite you to read these articles:
- Many Projects on the Drawing Board
- A Community with a Strong Entrepreneurial Mindset
- Company Profile: First Nations Paramedics
Further information on the Mohawk community of Kanesatake can be found at kanesatake.ca